By Pauline Perenack
Louis Herthum has played a lot of characters in his storied career, from Deputy Andy Broom in Murder, She Wrote, to JD in True Blood, to Omar in Longmire. And while he’s played supernatural characters before, none can compare to his truly chilling portrayal as the robot “host” Peter Abernathy in the HBO series, Westworld. Last season, because of a glitch in his programming caused by seeing a picture of New York City, Peter was put into cold storage until he was brought out, so that 30 years of park data could be uploaded into his system.
With the promotion to series regular for season two of Westworld, Herthum will have a chance to go even bigger than the fan favorite, “Meet your Maker” scene he did with Sir Anthony Hopkins last season, and will be sure to surprise fans as the season progresses. When he’s not acting, he’s probably working on restoring his ’68 Mustang (which he named after his daughter) to emulate the car from Bullitt, or driving his newly found 1971 Corvette Stingray T-Top.
With the Westworld season two premiere only a couple of weeks away, we caught up with Herthum to talk about classic cars, an upcoming guest stint on Lucifer, and of course, Westworld.
So first of all, congratulations on your promotion to series regular in Westworld this season. But, before we get into that, I’m curious, what made you get into the film industry?
My dad took me to see a movie in 1968. I was 12 years old and the movie was Bullitt with Steve McQueen, and that car chase is what inspired me to get into show business. I told my dad walking out of the film, I want to do that when I grow up. And he goes, ‘what do you mean?’ And I said I want to drive cars in movies like that. So my goal from that moment on was to move to Hollywood and be a stunt man, and specialize in stunt driving. I was always kind of an aggressive driver as a kid through high school. All through elementary school, high school, and a little bit of college I did go to at LSU, the plan was always to move to LA and be a stunt man.
Before I made it out here, I had been modelling – I worked for a men’s clothing store and did some modelling for them which ended up segueing into me doing some more modelling and TV commercials. Then I got an agent and all the while, expecting to be a stunt man. But then my agent said, ‘Why don’t you take an acting class?’ Which I did. I took a little beginning acting class, and it was fun. And I said, you know, I kind of got a knack for this. And then one day I walked into the office and, in another moment in time I can remember vividly, she hands me a Samuel French play. I’m like, what’s this? She goes, it’s called The Rainmaker, and they’re doing it in the little theatre, and you should audition for it. I didn’t think I was ready for it, and she said, just read it.” So I read it, and was like, wow, this is really fun, it’s great. She said, ‘just go read for the younger brother’ so it’s more of a supporting role. It’s a great little role. I said, you know, if I don’t have the guts to do this, how am I going to drive cars at 100mph, skidding along the road and that kind of stuff, so I went and read, petrified, because it was the biggest play of the season, and there were so many people there and I had never done an audition. And you had to do it in front of the entire crowd. I mean, you were in this big room and people would be called up to read. Anyways, long story short, I ended up getting the lead. They cast me as Starbuck, and that changed my life. I got two award nominations for it, won one of them, and thought ok, maybe this is what I’m supposed to do. This was 1981. Within less than a year from that point, it was March 1981, I was in California. I stayed around and did Oklahoma in that theatre, I did Kenickie in Grease, then I moved out here. And while I became an actor, I’ve been fortunate enough to get my fix of stunts. I do a good many of my own stunts. Fight scenes mostly. I boxed for many years, so fight scenes. I haven’t been able to do any of the kind of driving I thought I would, but I’ve done some precision driving which is always fun.
Talking about Bullitt and that epic car scene, I read that you restored a ’68 Mustang, the Bullitt version.
Yes. I am not quite finished. I mean, it’s drivable. I bought one online that came out of Pennsylvania, and the guy that I bought it from, after I made a deal with him, I found out he restored Mustangs, and I said I wanted to make a Bullitt clone. Or, at least an homage to it. I didn’t particularly care for the green [color], I mean, I like the green. I love the car period, but I thought there are so many exact clones out there that maybe I want to make mine a little different, so I painted it black forest green, which means when you see it in the shade it looks black, when it’s in the sun, the green pops. I might have chosen a different color – it’s a little too black for my liking, but the interior is identical to the Bullitt car with the woodgrain. I had to do some modifications, so it’s getting some of the finishing touches right now at the shop. But yeah, that was a lifelong dream since I was a kid to have one of those cars, so I thought I better go ahead and pull the trigger and get that thing.
I also was doing a film in Boston last year and I was showing the stunt coordinator my Mustang, and he said, I have a 71 Corvette T-top sitting in my garage gathering dust. And I went, why on earth would you let a car like that sit and gather dust? He said, I don’t know a thing about cars. I bought it with a friend about ten years ago and he said it was in really good shape, and just needed a new interior and we were almost done, and he died. And he said, I kind of inherited the car – it’s mine. So I said, what are you going to do with it? He said I want to sell it. So I said, send me pictures, and he sends me this video and I really couldn’t even tell it was running until he went behind the car. I mean, it just purred like a kitten. The seats had been redone, the carpet was new, but the console was torn up. Long story short, I said, it’s going to cost me a grand to ship it, I’ll give you 7500 cash for it. And he took it! I mean, those things go for 25-35 out here, and the good thing about it, I bought it, put in new brakes, master cylinder, calipers, everything. I doubled what I paid for it, in bringing everything up to speed – shocks, brakes, wiring, just basic stuff, and I bought it, really, I was like, wow, I can sell this and put it towards the Mustang, but I’m having so much fun driving it that now I have two.
Let’s talk about Westworld. In season one, you had that iconic scene that everyone talks about — the ‘Meet your Maker’ scene. But after that, your character’s storyline was only kind of hinted at. Now that you’ve been promoted to series regular, were you given the overview of the full Westworld story arc so you could see how Peter Abernathy fit into future seasons? Or were you left in the dark?
Left in the dark. Completely. I wouldn’t necessarily state it like that because it sounds like they’re trying to keep things from you. The interesting thing is I don’t believe that, I’m not 100% sure, but I don’t think they had a real storyline for Peter when we shot the pilot. I think Peter was going to be put into cold storage and there was nothing else, because [Executive Producer] Lisa Joy told me, I’m not sure where this character is going, but she appreciated the work I had done in the pilot. That was a guest star role and there was no talk of future episodes. At all. And so then they started having me back to do these little pieces and then I did do a scene that did not end up in season one. It could end up, because of the storylines, or the timelines, it could definitely come back at some point, so I did go in and shoot a scene. And that was encouraging. It looked like they were finding ways to bring me back and then of course the scene in episode 8 when they came into cold storage and downloaded Peter with all the data. That certainly let me know there was a future for the character. But, that was it. They didn’t tell me anything. I just remember giving Lisa Joy a big hug on set that day, saying thanks, because it was clear there was a future for Peter. So, then at Christmas of ‘16, I was about to go to Louisiana for the holidays, and I get a call from my manager and whenever the receptionist says, “Louis, we’ve got the whole team on the line,” I’m like, oooh, that’s always good news because they all like to be part of the good news. So I’m like, “hey guys, what’s up?” And my agent, Gregg Klein says, “Louis, if you could have one Christmas present, what would it be?” And I went, “that’s easy. Series regular on Westworld season two,” and he went, “ta da!” And I just went, “wow.”
But, going back to the question, no, they don’t really tell you anything. I actually like that. You just get the script for the episode you’re in, and there may be some things I have to ask questions about, but the one thing I respect about Lisa and Jonah [Executive Producer, Jonathan Nolan] is that once they’ve made a decision about a cast member, they really trust them to get what it is they want. When I was doing the scene with Anthony Hopkins in the pilot, after the first take or two, Jonah came up and gave me a note, and I said, are you happy? And he said words I’ll never forget, “I’m f**ing ecstatic.” And that’s what they do. They trust the cast that they’re going to give them what it is they need. I mean, the way I look at it, Peter Abernathy knows what he knows. He’s programmed, and the whole reason he started glitching is because he knows what he knows, and then suddenly he sees something that doesn’t work in his mind, and it doesn’t compute, and that’s that photograph. And so there’s no real need for me as an actor to know more than I have to know, or that Peter knows. And if it’s something Peter is trying to figure out, then that’s cool for me. I’ll try to figure it out as Peter. It just sort of works. I can’t speak to the rest of the cast, but that’s my experience.
Last year actors were on a need-to-know basis in regards to scripts. Was it the same this year?
I would say so. I only got scripts that I was in. I, to this day, I do not know what happens in this season. I know it’s big, and I know it’s loaded with surprises. There are some stuff I know, because the episodes I was in, I was able to read the script, but there is so much going on that I don’t know about. But I’m a fan just like the rest of them. I can’t wait for this thing to start so I can have fun watching it. I became a fan from the start, and of course I remember the original movie, and was a fan of the original movie and it kind of freaked me out way back when. I was young, and it seemed so creepy, and looking back on it, it was so far ahead of its time. And it’s now so timely.
There’s a movie called Do You Trust This Computer?. Jonah Nolan is in it, and talks about AI. I can’t wait to watch it. It’s about artificial intelligence, where it’s going, how dangerous it could be, but as Jonah has said, Westworld is a huge, huge story. So it’s going to take several seasons to tell the story, and I have no doubt that they know, they could tell you what the last episode of the series will be. But as they said, this is the dawn, or creation of a new species on the planet, and it just so happens it’s an intelligent species. And it just so happens it could very well be a lot smarter than those who created it. It’s also a look at what happens when oppressed people take on the traits of the oppressor. And that usually doesn’t end well. Again, going way back to [2001: A Space Odyssey] when Dave is trying to get Hal to do something, and Hal says, “No, I don’t think so, Dave.” It’s figured out that’s going to be to my detriment. Well, these things are going to be programmed to learn, they’re going to learn, AI is going to learn, it’s going to get smarter than the people who created it and will figure out that some of the things they want it to do are not a good idea, either for themselves, the AI itself, or even just for humanity. Let’s hope. It seems science fiction, but it’s science reality.
What can you tell us about your character this season? Is it going to be Peter? Is it someone else since you have this new data upload in your system? What can you describe?
I can’t really tell you much about that. I’m trying to figure out what I can tell you. It’s all so close to the vest. All I can tell you is that Peter is no longer in cold storage. But you know that. Peter does have all the data that the park of 30 years downloaded into him. But you know that. Peter will be around…I just can’t really say much about it. It’s actually a loaded question, and you don’t realize it is, but it is. I’m just so careful.
I like asking questions like that. I interviewed Tricia Helfer for Lucifer prior to this season, and I asked, “are you actually going to be Charlotte” and she couldn’t answer the question, and I knew where this was going.
I just did Lucifer! Last week!
I was going to ask you about that because we also cover that show and it’s one of my favorite shows personally, so tell us a little about that!
Ok, well, I play…see, now, I can’t tell you who I play! Because I think it will give away what they’re doing – they’re trying something a little new. But I will tell you this, that working with Tom Ellis, and Lauren German, and the whole crew, they were really the only two actors on the show that I worked with. I didn’t work with Tricia, or, I saw them at the table read, but that was in and out. Just a wonderful, wonderful experience. Two of the more lovely actors I’ve worked with. When you guest star on these shows, the whole feel of the set, the whole, oh, and Kevin Alejandro who by the way directed this episode. Kevin, this was his network directorial debut. I didn’t work with him as an actor, his character Dan, was not in any of the scenes I was in, but obviously got to work with him as a director, and Kevin and I had the same manager, Main Title Entertainment – Tracy Steinsapir and Stewart Strunk, so that was cool, and I’ve known Kevin from True Blood and just seeing him out at events because we have the same representation. But, it was lovely. The whole feel of the crew and the set, it’s all dependent on your stars, and if your stars are really lovely people, everybody is happy and has a good time, and that is definitely what this set is like. It was an absolute joy. Such a pleasure. Tom is just the sweetest guy, and Lauren is just, oh my god, just so delightful. I had a great time. I really did. If you look at the Imdb listing for the character I play, it might give you a hint. **writer’s note – It really does give you a hint. Check it out if you want a great mini-spoiler. [Ed: this particular episode, which once carried the title of “Once Upon a Time,” directed by Kevin Alejandro, with a story by Ricardo Lopez, Jr. and teleplay by Ildy Modrovich & Joe Henderson, will be one of two episodes moved to a potential fourth season.]
Tom was actually very complimentary of my work, and said “You must come from the theater,” and I said I do, I’ve done a ton of theatre, and my manager was standing there, and he goes “How could you tell?” And he paid me a very lovely compliment, he said “Because he’s prepared. He comes in with something. He comes in knowing what he’s going to do.” I said, “Well that’s true, I like to prepare and know what I’m going to do when they turn the camera on.” So I said, yeah, I miss the theatre because from 1981 to about ‘95 I did tons of theatre and then I started producing independent films, so for the next 10 years from ‘95 to ‘05 I produced 6 films and that sort of took me out of the theatre. I said I really miss it, and he goes, “Well, we should do something,” and I said, what? Let’s! So, I don’t know if that’ll happen. But he actually told me of a play to read, I’m going to read it, and you know, who knows. I would love to work with him.
On Westworld, can you tell us which character, or characters you get to interact with most in season two?
I have the great pleasure of working with Jeffrey [Wright] again, and of course Evan [Rachel Wood], and there are dribs and drabs of characters coming in. James [Marsden], Luke [Hemsworth], Tessa [Thompson]. I will say this, because people have asked me, ‘do you have a scene that tops what you did season one with Anthony Hopkins?’, and I said look, I’ll put it this way. I was challenged, and as an actor that is a blessing, I mean, that’s what I love about this show is that it challenges all of us. All of us are so challenged by this and so I was challenged, and I was delighted with the challenges, and I feel very good about them, and I think they do too, so yeah. It’s now time to unleash it to the world.
You mentioned you’re a fan of the show as well. Do you read any of the fan theories out there, and if so, which is your favorite?
I did read them last year, I haven’t been reading any this year. There was somebody that sent me a tweet saying, Louis what do you think about our predications for season two? And I started to read them and I just stopped because I don’t want to know what other people – I don’t want this to sound harsh – I prefer to see what Jonah and Lisa came up with for this world. I did read a lot of the fan theories last season. One of them I thought was interesting was that it wasn’t on planet earth, but I think this is earth, personally, but who knows? Obviously the biggest one they were right about that William was Man in Black, but again, I don’t get as caught up in that because I’m just so much a fan of what Lisa and Jonah come up with, but listen, some of these people are quite smart. They figure out stuff. And so it’s like a spoiler. In a way, it’s a spoiler because it’s almost like if someone gives you a hint. I tend to just want to wait. What about you? Do you have any theories? Have you read any, or are people predicting what’s going to happen in season two?
They are, and I’ve read a couple where it’s so good, where that person is either 100% right, or it’s that’s almost how it should be. It’s always interesting. It’s hard today with social media, because it’s there, so you want to read, but then you also want to stay away and be surprised.
Exactly. And when people are asking me, what do you think about our theories, I can’t comment. And so I just try to sort of stay away from it and let the chips fall where they may and know that it’s going to be brilliant, and know that, I mean, you look at that US trailer, and the music, using the Nirvana song, it’s just, it takes your breath away.
Just the music in general on the series is incredible. It’s so well done and placed so well.
I mean, look at even the title sequence. At the HBO Emmy party, I met the guy who did it, I can’t remember his name, but I was just like, aw, dude, you got robbed, man. But then, I think everybody who didn’t win an Emmy got robbed. Sir Anthony Hopkins for example. We’ve never seen him do an arc like Dr. Ford. We’ve seen Hannibal Lector, who is the biggest single character we’ve ever seen him portray. We’ve seen that in three films, but he’s pretty much the same. But when you look at Dr. Ford in the pilot, he looks like this sort of benign, benevolent man who is a genius but is on his way out, and then to see, about the time he has that lunch with Theresa where, when the waiter pours the wine and overflows the glass, right about that time, you go, ok. There’s more to this man, and by the time he says, ‘they’re controlled by me.’
He’s an evil dude, that’s for sure.
Yeah, but in the end, he set them free. And the funny thing is, and you probably know this, but as early as episode 6 they telegraphed the ending. With Tessa coming into his office and it’s all laid out there.
I really enjoyed trying to put together the pieces of the timelines to see where everything was going to end up.
That’s what’s so amazing about this show. It’s not something you can just sort of, numbly watch like you would a sitcom where you go, oh, that was funny, that was good for the moment I watched it. This is something you have to keep watching. Even having done that, when I watched the series, and I watched every episode at least twice before watching the next episode, and sometimes three times, but I rewatched the entire series before going to work on season two and when [Man in Black] and Lawrence come across Teddy strapped to the tree and he drains Lawrence’s blood to put into Teddy, he says in that, it’s a longer shot as he’s getting up, this is another thing people probably aren’t aware about is that you have to listen to everything being said off camera because a lot of times the pertinent information is given off camera when the camera is on someone else’s face. Like in the bar, and I know I’ve deviated from what I was saying, but in the bar scene with Ed and Tony and James, the camera is on Tony, and Ed says, I stopped this place from being destroyed, or makes a comment like that, and this is one of the first times you get the impression that he’s in management, of course I think maybe you’ve heard him threaten to cut the kid at the camp fire during vacation, but anyway, while he’s draining Lawrence’s blood, he says to Teddy, an old friend of mine once said, everybody has their purpose in life, or something to that effect, but it’s what Dolores said to William and that one escaped me when I saw it the first time.
I’m excited for season two because I feel like it’s going to be similar with the different timelines and flashbacks.
It’s going to be really big with a lot of surprises. I think there will be tons of surprises and I think that the scope of the series, just the production itself is going to be so much bigger than season one. I think it’s going to blow people’s minds. I really do.
Did you guys film it here in California? Or out in Utah again?
In Utah. But a lot of it is filmed here, and some of the exteriors like that incredible scene with the flat plateaus and mountains, that is Moab, Utah. Like where Peter finds the photograph, that was in the middle of nowhere. They just put that corral up because of the scenery. It was just extraordinary.
Final question, are you going to be at Comic Con this summer?
I don’t know. I haven’t been asked to and I haven’t even thought about it. I don’t know. They have a big cast, and the most prominent people usually go to Comic Con.
But you’re a series regular now!
I know, so maybe so. I don’t know. We’ll see.