The robot uprising is upon us, and from the looks of Westworld’s season-two premiere, “Journey Into Night,” nobody is in for a greater reckoning than Lee Sizemore. The park’s “narrative editor” was in charge of writing the scripts and scenarios that guests enjoyed in season one, but now he’s little more than a prisoner controlled by Maeve (Thandie Newton) and Hector (Rodrigo Santoro). Actor Simon Quarterman got on the phone the day after the Westworld season premiere party in Los Angeles to discuss how the tables have turned on his self-aggrandizing character, the importance of Lee’s new relationship with Maeve, and why his surprise full-frontal scene felt “liberating.”
Do you think of season two as a reckoning for Lee Sizemore?
Yeah. I think the first season was obviously very much about … we see it as one-sided with his egoic tendencies, let’s put it that way. The start of this first episode is very much about the breaking down of that. We see him in an incredibly uncomfortable position with Maeve. In many ways, he’s looking to her for survival. The tables are turned. Lee has a very particular view of the hosts in that they’re there just to tell his stories. They’re just props to him. So, yeah, it is a reckoning.
The show tends to be very dark, but your character delivers some welcome levity. Do you approach the role as a more comic part?
I don’t see him as comic relief at all. I just like playing him. In a lot of ways, he’s more of a caricature of a human than the hosts are. The hosts are, in a lot of ways, more human than he is. But then, it’s been fun to explore that part of us in a deeper way, and I’m talking about the ego. The first season was all about that absolutely, and I think there’s some innately funny parts to our egos. Some of it is just ludicrous and bizarre, but it’s human behavior.
I enjoyed the line where Maeve says something you wrote and then notes that it’s a bit broad.
Yeah, that exchange went down as a treat in the premiere last night. Even in that moment, he still had to find another way to give himself a pat on the back. I think that’s the other part of Lee — he just likes to be seen!
It’s obviously a very revealing moment when Maeve forces Lee to strip naked. What was your initial reaction to that?
Well, I actually knew about this months before we started. Jonathan and Lisa talked to me about it and asked how I’d feel about doing that. My immediate response was, “Sure, whatever you need.” It’s not often that we see a man naked. It’s a rare thing. Women have to reveal a lot all the time, and it felt so in keeping with what we were doing with the themes and with the tables being turned. And obviously, doing it with Thandie, who spent most of the season last year naked. I found it incredibly powerful, actually. When we were shooting, I was very clear to the team that they could shoot it however they wanted to. I thought it was important for that scene to happen. Although, it’s been a very interesting experience to go through [the premiere] last night.
Actually, I’d recommend it to anyone. I was really concerned about that moment. As you can imagine, you’re sitting in an auditorium full of a bunch of people. You know it’s coming up and you’ve built yourself up to this. And it’s coming, I’m about to get naked in front of everyone here. After it occurred, it’s quite liberating because it is shown now. Can’t go back, can’t hide that anymore. It is just a body. I mean, we’ve all got one. It’s very liberating.
It was surprisingly impactful to see that reversal.
Yeah, I think that’s the beautiful part of it. But it was surprising. I don’t think anyone was ever going to expect anything like that happening. Like I said before, it was very much about the tables being turned and the hosts suddenly becoming in control. It’s a mirroring of what these hosts have to go through.
For Lee, it’s about the breaking down of this egoic construct and chipping away at the rules of that. The stripping down of it. Maybe there’s something lurking underneath.
Did you have any trepidation approaching the scene? Did you ask for anything to make sure you felt comfortable?
Yeah, it was all dealt with an awful lot of respect. The team were incredible and they make sure that you are feeling so comfortable about it. I talked at length with Jonathan the night before and once we talked through it all, and then working with Thandie, who is like the best person I could possibly do it with. You know, everyone’s just so supportive on set and you just got on with it. You just did it. I was taking my clothes off for the whole day, I don’t know, getting naked. Once it was done once, that was it.
How was it establishing that antagonistic chemistry with Thandie Newton?
It is funny. The first day, we shot pretty much in sequence for that episode, which was really useful, particularly at the start. As soon as we started, there was this energy in the air and we just hit the ground running. I love working with Thandie so much. She is not only an extraordinary actress, but an extraordinary human being. We just had a ball, just the two of us, pretty much the whole season. There was a lot of self-discovery along the road, not only for our characters but for ourselves. It was quite an experience. We just work really well together.
The characters have such an interesting niche. There’s so much disdain for these hosts, because [Lee] doesn’t give a shit about any of them. And then you’ve got this sentient being that’s growing by the moment in front of him. It’s forcing him to look at parts of himself that he’s never really even thought of looking at. Both of them, in one way or another, they are guiding each other.
What’s it like of being on a show that’s part of the Zeitgeist?
It’s crazy. The first season really challenged me, to be honest. I have never been a regular on a TV show. Then, finding myself a regular with this type of cast, it was momentarily overwhelming. When it came out, I didn’t really know how much it was going to grab people and become so quickly a part of the cultural Zeitgeist. It was quite astonishing. It has been a ride and I’m really enjoying it.
Is there a fan theory that you’ve enjoyed in particular?
I’m going to be honest with you, I don’t read any of it. I stay out of it. I have heard that there’s these fan theories, but I don’t read any of them at all. I try to keep myself kind of separated from everything. I don’t have any social-media presence. I just keep myself very, very apart from it. If you start going down the old internet rabbit hole — I have done that in the past — you always find the stuff that you don’t want to read. I came to the point where I just let everyone have fun with it the way they’re going to have fun with it and I’m just going to keep my stuff to myself.
Are you curious to see what the online reaction will be to your character in the premiere?
I’m very interested … nah, actually, no, I’m going to have to bury all the tools to delve into that. I’m going to keep myself away from that.
This interview has been edited and condensed.