Now that we’re done filming [Westworld] and it’s coming out, I kind of reverted back to being a fan almost.
Saddle up. After what seemed like an eternity—in reality about 16 months—Westworld is back.
Westworld isn’t exactly easy to sum up or explain. Simply, the show is based on a 1973 Michael Crichton film, although the scope of HBO’s offering goes way beyond its source material. Still, the basics are the same. It’s about a futuristic, fully immersive, Wild West-themed park where lifelike robot “hosts” can be snuffed out by human “guests,” but not the other way around. At least that’s how it’s supposed to work. When the hosts become sentient and start going off-script, it mirrors the behind-the-scenes chaos at the insidious HQ that controls everything in the park. You’ve seen it.
Considering it’s Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy running the show here—more on the scheming duo in this interview—it’s not too surprising that we don’t know much of anything as to what to expect in season two. When season one ended, there were still so many questions left unaddressed and so many Easter eggs left as clues as to what will happen in the second go-around. Into the vacuum left by Westworld’s seemingly interminable hiatus spouted a frenzy of fan theories, fueled by cryptic interviews with the show’s creators and Reddit’s tireless community of pop culture detectives.
Joining Westworld this season is Patrick Cage and he’s as tight-lipped as the show’s returning cast and crew—because he’s smart. What we do know is that he plays Phil, who HBO describes as “a technician who is dragged into a chaos-filled journey by Dolores Abernathy (Evan Rachel Wood).” Sounds like a Felix (Leonardo Nam) and Maeve (Thandi Newton) situation… We know nothing.
Westworld returns this Sunday, April 22 on HBO.
Westworld is pretty much the get of all gets in TV right now. Congratulations.
Thank you very much, man.
Were you already a fan of the series?
I’ve been a fan of the Nolan brothers for years so when I found out that Jonah was gonna have his own show, I was immediately strapped in. Then after watching the show, I was hooked! Booking this was a dream come true like, “Don’t mess up your favorite show!” That year [when season one aired], I think I was only watching Westworld and Atlanta.
Who do you think had the best storyline in season one?
Maeve. I was in love with her storyline. When she started waking herself up to what was going on and then when she didn’t get on the train, I was so interested to see where this would be headed.
How many episodes of season two have you actually seen?
Just the first one. I mean, I only ever got pages. I haven’t even read a full script. The secrecy on that set is very intense.
Jonah and Lisa Joy are notoriously tight-lipped and extremely deliberate in the way they tease the show. What do you imagine might happen if you let something slip? TV jail?
Yeah, probably. [Laughs] I think the fun of the show is finding it all out together so I don’t want to slip and say anything. I want everybody to go on the journey with the characters and with the other fans. The energy that people feel as they all discover it together is kind of the fun of Westworld, really. I was talking to some of the cast at the premiere the other night and when they started having conversations [about the show], I just had to walk away because even I don’t wanna know fully. Now that we’re done filming and it’s coming out, I kind of reverted back to being a fan almost. I want to see and experience it with everybody else.
So what can you actually talk about? For instance, there’s already word that we’ll be going beyond the park for sure. Then you get into the Reddit territory.
Yeah, I feel like the Reddit forum knows more than the journalists do sometimes. [Laughs] I only know as much as Phil, my character. I can tell you that the first episode is gonna be amazing.
Let’s talk about Phil then.
Phil is a tech who’s really just there to do his job and get the check. His journey is definitely an unforeseen course. I mean, that’s pretty much all I can say at the moment, but you’ll definitely be excited and terrified for Phil and just really captivated by the whole journey and how everybody plays into everybody else’s story.
Westworld is just so intricate. I remember Jeffrey Wright saying at a press panel that he went back to watch the pilot after shooting season two and he couldn’t believe just how many details he had missed that foreshadow what goes on in the upcoming episodes.
I did that same thing. After we finished filming, I just watched the whole series again. I will say, Jonah and Lisa are very specific in the words they choose. If you are truly listening and paying attention, you could figure things out. But it takes a lot of focus.
Being on that set must be pretty surreal.
Oh, it was completely surreal. Like I said, I was a huge fan of season one so when I showed up to set, it was truly amazing. It was like being a kid in a candy store for me. I got to work with a bunch of amazing, incredible actors that I’d been a fan of since forever. Evan Rachel Wood—that woman is incredible. She is a badass. She’s one of the strongest women I’ve known. She cares so much about Dolores and I think that love is such a beautiful thing. When she was on set, it was Dolores. You saw Dolores, you were talking to Dolores, and you were hanging out with Dolores the entire time. Then when you left the set, you finally got to see Evan. I think her commitment level really shows on the screen. Evan added so much humanity to it.
It was recently in the news that HBO will be giving Evan equal pay as her male co-stars if and when season three happens. It’s great, but at season three? She’s been carrying the show as much as the male leads. I can’t imagine what that must feel like.
Yeah, we’re finally having a social movement where women’s stories are being heard. It’s about equality, which I think is completely fair. I think it’s dope that Evan is gonna get equal pay for that season. That’s going to be lit.
Most people will be discovering you for the first time with Westworld and not much is known about you yet. First of all, where are you from originally?
I was born and raised in Los Angeles, which is a rarity for people in the business out there. I’m from Crenshaw and King—a little South L.A.
How did you get to where you are now?
Well, I’ve been performing since I was a kid. When I was 4 or 5, I was in plays at my school. Around 8, my mom got me an agent and submitted me for things. It was around 15 when I realized the amount of money you can make and got really motivated to stay in it as a career. When I decided that this is what I wanna do with my life, I took a more serious focus to it. Westworld was just another audition, honestly. When I got the audition, I decided to throw myself into it completely. I went in for John Papsidera [the casting director] and he saw what he saw. He believed in it and now I’m on the show. I’m super thankful.
Do you remember the exact moment when you found out about getting the part?
I was supposed to go to Ibiza. It was such a crazy time. I had just moved into a new apartment and I slept there that night. I woke up the next day, went to the mall and got like a salad wrap or something. Then I got a call from my manager saying that I should probably cancel my trip to Ibiza ‘cause I start Westworld on Monday. I jumped up in the mall. I think my friend took a video of me getting that call. It was an amazing moment. I got chills and everything.
You’re obviously getting more offers once the show gets going. What would excite you?
I would love to do another HBO show. I love Insecure and Silicon Valley. HBO content is just amazing. I really wanna do film. I would love to do a romance—I want to fall in love on camera. I feel like that would be really cool and a really fun experience.
You were on an episode of This Is Us. Had it already become a phenomenon by then?
Yeah, This Is Us was huge by the time I heard about it and joined the cast. It’s such a family type of show, but I don’t mean to diss the genre. The set, the cast, the crew—it’s definitely a very tight and close-knit group. Actually, Niles Fitch, who plays young Randall, and I became really close after that. I think that was one of the coolest things about that shoot. I kind of gained a little brother out of it. But yeah, there’s such a love and such a family vibe on that show. It’s a lot of fun. They’re living out real situations. It’s one of those things where it’s like, you just get to be without overthinking it too much and just live naturally. It really is just a show about life, which I think is one of the coolest things.
Who were your acting heros? What kind of stuff were you watching?
Will Smith was definitely one of the actors that made me wanna do it. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, I, Robot—all of that. Will Smith was just always there. Denzel, of course. Those two definitely had an impact on my beginnings. I ended up studying with Aaron Speiser, who was Will Smith’s acting coach as well. I studied with him for three years and learned so much. I was really just trying to put the puzzle pieces together and do the game plan that I could do, and see what the actors before me had done and apply that to my own situation. As far as filmmaking goes, I love Scorsese. I became of fan of [Christopher Nolan] with Memento. Jonah wrote that. The mind that it takes to come up with a story that plays backwards and forwards at the same time and then meet in the middle—it’s such a crazy mind bender. I was so, so enthralled by it at such a young age. Also, Leonardo [DiCaprio]. Tom Hardy… I just wanna have the ability and the freedom to do anything, really. I don’t want people to think, “I cannot see him as that.” All of those actors I mentioned do a pretty good job of playing a different range of characters. All I wanna do is expand on my own range.
Do you have ambitions to get behind the camera as well?
Yes, I’ve always been interested in directing. I have a writing partner and we’re working on a project that’s hugh-hush at the moment. But I definitely plan to write and direct in the future.
I saw that you’re putting the word out on a film called Flint 6 on social media. I would love to know more. It revolves around the Flint water crisis?
Yeah, it does. It’s been 3 or 4 years now since we first found out about the Flint water crisis and still nothing has really been done to fix this major problem. It’s more than just the city’s pipes now—it’s in the pipes of homes. So even if the pipes in the city get corrected, they have to go in to repipe everybody’s houses. My friend created the script and I got attached to it. It’s really about bringing more awareness to this situation. It’s very unfortunate that this is happening to our own people, done by our own people. I love being a part of this project. We’re still in the development stages of raising funds for it to go into production. I definitely think this movie will bring more awareness to a subject that I think some people have sort of forgotten about. I think Flint Township is the only place that has clean water. The City of Flint is still having contaminated water issues. People are still breaking out with rashes. It’s a really sad situation up there.