'Westworld': Jimmi Simpson on His Return -- and How Ed Harris Broke His Pinky (Exclusive)
By Jennifer Drysdale
William was forced to confront himself -- times four -- on Sunday's episode of Westworld.
The (former) Delos boss returned to the forefront this week, shortly after Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) released everyone's Incite profiles. Unfortunately for William (Ed Harris), that meant the employees of his psychiatric facility went AWOL, leaving him in a simulation where he came face-to-face with his child self, himself as a young man (Jimmi Simpson), himself as a married man and established Delos leader (Harris) and the Man in Black (also Harris).
The scene -- which also included William's father-in-law, James Delos (Peter Mullan) -- was incredible to watch, as the character was challenged by the most formative versions of himself. Earlier in the episode, he had admitted to killing his daughter, Emily (Katja Herbers), back in Westworld; now, seeing his former selves, he realized that the only way to move forward was to destroy them all.
Only once Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) and Stubbs (Luke Hemsworth) arrived was William taken out of his simulation. Before then, it was a hell of a lot of violence -- and fun for Simpson.
"Jonah [Nolan] and Lisa [Joy] know they have standing access to me for as long as I'm around, and if they ever reach out, I'll put what I'm doing down and and join them, because Westworld's one of the greatest television shows of all time," Simpson tells ET.
The 44-year-old actor was nominated for an Emmy for his performance in season two of Westworld, but had since moved on to other projects. He was filming a movie in Louisiana when he got the invitation to come back for a two-day shoot for season three of Westworld -- with very few details.
In an interview with ET, Simpson opens up about reprising his role as Young William, explains how Ed Harris left him with a broken pinky (he still doesn't know about it) and reveals what's up next.
ET: So, how did this all come together?
Jimmi Simpson: I got the email saying, "Here is this." "What is it?'" "It's an invitation to do a hit on Westworld." "To do what?" "We're not sure yet." "I am so in."
Before I even saw any material, I emailed Lisa Joy and was just like, "I can't wait to come back." ... In this situation, I didn't even have a full script of my episode. So, I really just showed up at their behest, ready to do whatever they needed.
Did Lisa offer you any context or explanation of what had been happening this season?
They always give you whatever information you need to play the scene. But Young William didn't need any context to be just in that situation that you saw him in. They placed him as post-park, so he had that epiphany. It's a terrible darkness of like, "The world sucks and I’m gonna make it suck harder." But other than that, [I had no information]. That scene was that scene.
You're one of the only Williams in that scene who is not played by Ed Harris. Did you film it multiple times, so Ed could deliver his lines as each of the other Williams? How did they put it all together?
It was a brilliant thing to behold. They had it worked out so beautifully and Ed Harris, he's one of my favorite actors of all time. He's that die hard theater professional who, you'll never see someone more prepared than Ed Harris. So, he'd come in and I think it was over two days, play himself, but four times.
Each one was nuanced and in different stages of life and compelling as hell and completely committed. Peter and I were playing the same characters, but Ed Harris, each new set up, he would come in a different outfit, and he'd be doing something different. There'd be someone that looks similar to him sitting where he just was sitting and then he'd do the whole performance again. It was just spectacular to watch.
It was so fun to watch him interact with different versions of himself -- and go after them, even though, like your William argued, you're "the best one" of him.
I know! (Laughs) He disagreed.
He disagreed so much that he was beating you with a chair.
Well, here’s the thing, when you have such a committed actor like Mr. Harris -- I'll call him Sir Harris -- he gives it a thousand percent but he'll also make sure you're safe. I come from theater too, and was like, "Give it full and I’ll receive it." And luckily, everything he hits me with is a slightly softer version of what it looks like. But man, he commits. He doesn't pull his punches.
(Laughs) I didn't even tell him this, because I didn't realize for two week, but after he gets done kicking my a**, Ed Harris is exhausted because he has given his all to this eradication of this young version of himself. And so he’s just beating him silly. He got off of me and landed on my finger. Unfortunately my pinky was sticking up and I broke my pinky that day.
He broke my pinky. There was a snap. After an hour I started going, "I guess I really bruised the bone or something there." I didn't tell him because I didn't want to throw him off and make him frightened to come at me hard again. So then I went and talked to the medic. He said, "Yeah it's swollen. Keep it iced." Two weeks later, I couldn’t play the guitar anymore. I went to the doctor, and I had broken my pinky clean.
I had no idea, but that’s the thing with Westworld, with Ed Harris -- you get so sucked in. I was so, so deeply into the scene that I didn't notice. And it just really translates too, huh? It looks great.
It does! But back to William -- this whole battle with his former selves is all a simulation. He believes he needs to defeat them in order to be free... what do you think?
I think it’d be immensely conducive to your brain problems. To actually have a physicalization of the part of you that you have an issue with, to actually look it in the face and go, "F**k you! It's me now and I’m here!" and then own that space [would be great]. To actually be able to confront them and beat them to death with a chair -- I mean, I can’t think of anything more therapeutic than that.
Have you been keeping up with Westworld this season? What do you think of it? It's such a different world.
Oh, I think it's fantastic. It's stunning. Everybody is at the top of their game. I love how Caleb [Aaron Paul] and Dolores find each other as they’re both rejecting the world they’re from, and then the spin on that nothing happens to us by chance and these predictive models and the past. There’s no free will. I could never come up with something this thoughtful and clever, but it’s what I expect from Jonah and Lisa.
Could we see you come back for more Westworld?
This is [my only] appearance [as William] this season.
I would always love to [come back] and it's a great program. I would say just having seen that scene, it kind of feels a bit like we’re moving on. There's just so many other stories to tell. Young William’s story was part of the DNA of Westworld, but that was that. That was the beginning. The scope has pulled so far back from there and we’re talking about much larger issues. So, I wouldn’t be surprised if Young William vapored off into the ether.
Well you also have so much on your plate, between Unhinged with Russel Crowe, Psyche 2, Breaking News in Yuba County. What are you excited for fans to see when we can all get back in theaters?
Yuba, Unhinged -- Silk Road is a movie I did that was going to be at Tribeca. That’s a story that not enough people actually know. Then I did Twilight Zone that actually will probably come out before we’re allowed to go to theaters again. It's the new Jordan Peele one. I love it. It’s funny, it’s weird. It’s actually weirdly about kind of social distancing.
Well, that's topical.
It’s strange, and we shot it in January, so if it does come out while this is still going on, it’s gonna be eerie. It’ll be very strange. but it's like a classic, really well done Twilight Zone episode. And I’ve been a fan of them since I was a wee child. So, that’s something you should look for, because it’s basically just me for an hour, going through some serious sh*t. (Laughs).