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SYFY WIRE Interviews

How Jimmi Simpson's eyebrow adjustment tipped off his shocking Westworld arc

By Adam Pockross
Jimmi Simpson in HBO's Westworld

While speaking with Jimmi Simpson about his new Into the Dark episode, "Treehouse," we would have been remiss if we hadn't brought up Westworld. At least the very least, we should try and find out if Simpson is coming back for the show's third season to play Young William, a role that earned him an Emmy nomination last year.

"I haven't heard anything, really. I've been so swamped, beautifully swamped," he insisted, who was speaking to SYFY WIRE from Santa Fe while shooting the upcoming EPIX series Perpetual Grace, LTD. "I'll finish in a week and I'm sure I'll hear if they'd like to have me then, but as of now, it's been quiet."

Interestingly, Simpson didn't know how big a deal Westworld was shaping up to be when he first auditioned for William; he just assumed he'd "pop in and add a little flavor" in a couple of scenes, as he's wont to do in so many shows (see: It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia). But on the first day, creator Jonathan Nolan showed him the pilot, and Simpson's "jaw dropped to the floor" as he realized he was going to be a big part of something big. But when did he realize just how vital his part was, in relation to the whole story?

"I think it was around Episode 3, and they brought me into the makeup trailer, and they were staring at my eyebrows, and they asked my permission to change them if they wanted… change their shape. And no one's ever asked me that before," Simpson recalled. His already overactive brain began working overtime trying to figure out why they would ask such a thing. "The only logical reason would be to make me look like someone else. And then I started thinking about who they could be trying to make me look like, and the only cast member I could come up with was Ed [Harris]."

Ed Harris in Westworld

Post brow-adjustment chat, he saw co-creator Lisa Joy at lunch that day and asked if he was going to turn out to be Harris' character. "She just blanched, and said, 'Don't tell anybody!' And I said, 'Oh my god, what's happening?!' And she goes, 'You have a very special arc in this show.'"

But Joy didn't really confirm it beyond that reaction, and she didn't articulate any more than that. So Simpson tried to put it in his "back pocket," to forget that experience happened and go on playing William. "But then around [Episode] 7 or 8, an adjustment started happening, and I started seeing, 'Okay, there's a transition that should be happening now.' And I just fell for it, man," he says. "So I just had the experience that you guys did. Yeah, I knew a little bit, but the way that they gave the scripts just before we'd shoot, it really allowed me to play William as long as possible before I started to go dark. So I had an inkling, but they really doled it out slow."

Simpson then went on to describe the "beautifully orchestrated" way in which the show withheld plot revelations until sharing them with actors became absolutely necessary.

"They didn't give you information till it was pertinent, so that way you could play clueless as long as possible. That's why it comes off really realistic, and all the performances are just really grounded because they're in the moment," Simpson says. "And normally with a show, you know where you're headed, and you can't help but start playing that. You know, you can't help but start indicating… because, I know this is going to happen, so I might as well start threading this in, even subconsciously. But with Westworld, they don't allow you to do that. It's kind of a gift to an actor, I think."

Westworld will be a gift that keeps on giving, as it's been confirmed for a third season by HBO, alas no release date has been slated just yet.

Blumhouse TV's latest Into the Dark episode, "Treehouse," is available for streaming now on Hulu.