Leonardo Nam on Working in ‘Westworld' & Being an Asian Actor in Hollywood
By Lorna Soonhee Umphrey| February 17, 2017 |
We chatted with Leonardo Nam about his role as risk-taker Felix in HBO’s Westworld, why he loves working with Thandie Newton, and his eternal love for The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants character Brian McBrian.
When HBO sets the bar, it seems to go higher and higher with each new show. Westworld, based on the original film, defies the sci-fi bar. Known as the gamer boyfriend on The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants film series, Leonardo Nam currently plays Felix, the rule-breaking lab technician who finds himself helping out the “enemy” in the form of a host, Maeve, played by Thandie Newton. Now renewed for a second season, he divulges on where he’d like to see his character grow.
Find out what he thinks about all that nudity on the show, what he’s learned from working with his co-star, and why we need more Brian McBrian in our lives.
Let’s talk Westworld. It is truly a unique and out-of-the-box experience. LEONARDO NAM: Yeah, I was actually a big fan of the movie. Yul Brynner was so scary. I remember thinking, of course, this is going to be a TV show. This is an amazing concept.
You work closely with Thandie Newton’s character, Maeve, and she’s naked a good portion of the time. What was that experience like to work with her? LN: She is an absolute consummate professional and every accolade that she’s been nominated for, she deserves the whole way through. When you read a project like this, or any project, as an actor, you start to envision what you think the scene needs or what’s really going on in the story. Then you show up on set and hope for the best. And Thandie just brought IT in every level, in every respect. So that being said, it was such a gift to have someone like that to play off against in the scenes. When you’re involved in such brilliant storytelling, the nudity aspect almost energizes the scene. It’s something that becomes very real when you have that many people who are nude. It does bring something else to the players on the show. It just helps, I think, as an actor.
What do you like about the show and it’s fantastical ideals about artificial intelligence and self-discovery? LN: I love it all. I recognized this morning how much I already integrate AI into my life. I have Alexa, the voice, in my house and I have her read the news. I interact in that way. The theme and subject of what Westworld is bringing up in regards to integrating AI into our lives—this really is something that is happening right now. I use Siri all the time. I think what the show is bringing up really is showing us a way [into] the future. It’s happening now. It’s a fascinating way to enter the popular culture conversation. I’m so glad that we are now finally really talking about it.
Do you have any personal predictions that you’d like to see happen in the next season? LN: First of all, I’m just as interested as you to find out what they’re going to do. I think Felix is a very brave character, very courageous. To really go for something that he believes in and have that passion—that is what I’d love to see. How he’s going to take off. He’s definitely a big fan of the stuff of Dr. Ford and the creators of the robots in the past. I think he’s super aware of that and in season one where he basically does the stuff with the bird, he is trying to find his own freedom, his own life within that part.
What are your thoughts on casting in Hollywood now as an Asian actor? Are you finding more opportunities now than when you first started in the biz? LN: I’ve been very blessed. I’ve been very lucky. I’ve had lots of champions in my life. I think that’s what anyone needs in any industry, in any career. You need champions. Like I said, I’ve been very lucky. There is definitely room for improvement, for more inclusion, more interesting storytelling. I think that this is a great opportunity for all of us to really start to look at how can we tell stories that are reflecting more of the world that we all live in. There is more of a global world that we are living in now more than ever. I feel like there is a shift that is happening and I’m so grateful to be served in that way. I’m holding on for dear life because I’m in it for the long haul.
It all goes back to when we fell in love with you when you were Brian McBrian on The Sisterhood of theTraveling Pants films. LN: It’s wonderful when I look back at that and I think of people such as Debra Martin Chase, who really is a pioneer in this industry not only as a producer, but as a force of nature. She’s a female producer in Hollywood, making studio films, telling stories from the perspective of a woman. Like I said, I had champions and she’s been a great one. She really did fight for me to play Brian McBrian. I’d get fan mail from girls and they’re like, you’re not Brian McBrian like in the book, of course referring to my race. And then one of the greatest moments, after the movie came out, that same girl wrote to me later and apologized and said, you opened up my eyes. You weren’t what I thought you were going to be and you did it. I loved Brian McBrian. I just thought, oh wow, that really is the power in casting. So yeah, Brian McBrian holds a special place in my heart and so do the Traveling Pants.