'Westworld' Star on Subverting Expectations With His "Empowering" Nude Scene
Actor Simon Quarterman speaks with THR about how his breakout moment in the premiere goes beyond his character's journey and the season's greater themes.
[This story contains spoilers for the season two premiere of HBO's Westworld.]
Any given ranking of the greatest characters on Westworld likely contains a few reliable players toward the top: Maeve (Thandie Newton) and Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood), certainly. Lee Sizemore (Simon Quarterman), however? Maybe not so much.
Indeed, by many accounts, the park's narrative director is likely near the bottom of most of those lists, and it's not hard to see why. Throughout the HBO show's first season, actor Simon Quarterman brought Sizemore to life with a stunning mix of pettiness and self-righteousness, the poster boy for narcissism and the fragile human ego fully flayed and displayed as a key shade in Westworld's greater thematic portrait. The fact that Sizemore regularly abused hosts and openly whined about not getting credit he felt he was owed didn't help endear the character to audiences, certainly not with so many mechanical gunslingers and machinating string-pullers to consider.
Consider it one of the great surprises of season two thus far, then, that Sizemore stands front and center in one of the premiere's single most arresting moments, at the start of a rich new narrative alongside Maeve and Hector Escaton (Rodrigo Santoro). With all hell breaking loose throughout the park, Sizemore quickly links up with Maeve and forms a deal: if she provides protection, he can lead the way on her quest to find her daughter. Granted, the self-serving Sizemore immediately tries to break the deal when security forces show up, but the bargain resumes once Maeve dispatches these men with ruthless efficiency.
Once teamed up with both Maeve and Hector, Sizemore and the hosts prepare to venture out into the increasingly wild Westworld, dressing for the part appropriately. First, before donning the Western attire, Maeve gives Sizemore a taste of what life is like on her side of existence: by commanding him to strip completely naked. Sizemore begrudgingly obliges, leaving both Maeve and the camera staring on at the man's nude form with an unflinching gaze.
While Quarterman's nakedness in the premiere is not the first instance of full frontal male nudity in Westworld, it marks an important moment for the series. Throughout the first season, humans lorded over naked hosts with casual regularity. Here, through Sizemore, Westworld subverts an image that became all too common in the show's inaugural year. It quickly establishes just how much the status quo has changed as creators Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy chart out the next movement in their epic.
For his part, Quarterman not only sees his nude scene as subversive within the confines of Westworld, but as a "liberating" image on the grander stage of modern culture and the show's mission of female empowerment. In terms of his character, Quarterman sees the moment as a new beginning for Sizemore, who's about to dive into much deeper territory than he ever glimpsed in season one.
Speaking with The Hollywood Reporter, Quarterman opened up about watching the revealing scene in front of a packed crowd at the season two premiere in Hollywood, why he considers it "the most liberating thing" he has done in his career, how it serves to launch Sizemore's story in the weeks ahead, and his crucial role this season as two species come to learn and understand one another.
What was it like to watch the episode on the big screen at the Hollywood premiere?
It was amazing. I had actually watched the first episode, much to Jonah [Nolan's] disgust, on a little iPad. (Laughs.) I wanted to steel myself first by watching it on a tiny screen, before watching it on the big screen. I'm so glad I did it that way. It was incredible, watching it with such a big crowd. They seemed to really enjoy it. It was a hell of an experience.
It's certainly a sensitive episode for you. Is that why it was important to watch ahead of time?
That's why I'm glad I saw it on the small iPad, to break myself in before seeing it all on the big screen. I'm really glad I was able to watch it by myself. It's a very revealing scene for me. I had never done anything like that. I was curious to see how it all came out and how it was tackled. I'm really happy with how it was done. I felt like it really went well.
It's a powerful scene on a few levels, including how it subverts Westworld. Humans speak with naked hosts with casual regularity on the show, but seeing a host command a human to strip down naked quickly and visually expresses how much the status quo has changed. Was that how you interpreted the scene?
There's a few moving parts in the scene. There's the shift in power, in those terms, especially in seeing this happen with one of Maeve's creators, someone who writes her storylines and has controlled her actions and her mind. Seeing her take her creator and stripping him naked … we're seeing that shift in power now. The hosts are now in control.
But what's also interesting about the scene is how it relates to the masculine and the feminine. The feminine is now coming into power, and the masculine is being emasculated and put in a very vulnerable position. I think that's very important, particularly with this show. The women are the driving forces. Dolores and Maeve are the driving forces. I really enjoyed how we played it. Lee, even standing there, standing defiant and trying to defy being naked … and Maeve cuts that defiance down by looking away without saying a word. There's something very powerful there.
When did you first learn about the scene?
It was months before we shot it. I had seen Jonah and Lisa at a Christmas party. They sat me down and asked how I felt about being naked. I didn't even ask the context. I said, "Sure, of course." I knew there was going to be a good reason why. They didn't divulge what that reason was until I actually got the scene, months later, a couple of weeks before we shot it. Thankfully, it came up within the first episode and within the first week [of filming], so I was able to get it out of the way. I was so happy it happened in the first episode, and not episode 10, like Damocles' sword hanging overhead. We got it out of the way very quickly.
I have to tell you, it really is and was the most liberating thing I have done. I know Thandie talked about that a lot last year with her nude scenes, and I feel the same way. It was liberating and it was empowering. At the premiere, I knew the scene was coming up, and I went through a multitude of feelings about it. Once you see it in front of you, and you see yourself naked, so much falls away from you. It really didn't bother me, and I thought it might, you know? In fact, it left me feeling so happy that I had done it, and feeling incredibly liberated.
Did you speak with Thandie or anyone else who had filmed nude scenes in season one, about their experiences and what to expect?
Thandie and I talked a lot. I couldn't have done this scene with anyone better. The support from everyone — Rodrigo, Thandie and all of the crew — was amazing. It's hard to explain just how much respect these guys have when anyone is doing a scene like that. I spoke with Jonah the night before [filming the scene] and wanted to get a better idea of why this was happening, in terms of Lee's character development. It was also an opportunity to get a couple of breadcrumbs out of him, which are hard to come by! (Laughs.) And I did get a couple of breadcrumbs, which was great, and helped inform what I was about to do. In terms of shooting it, I was very clear that I wanted them to do exactly what they needed to do. I didn't want to be hiding in anyway. I didn't want them to feel like they needed to put the cameras in a certain place. I wanted them to shoot it the way they needed to shoot it in order to make the best episode possible.
The scene not only subverts expectations within Westworld and serves to heighten the themes of the series, it also subverts what we know about Lee Sizemore. He's not the most liked character on the show; far from it. In stripping him down in this way, does this feel like the start of a new perspective on Lee?
It really is. It's the beginning of the breaking down of this man. Not only are the hosts breaking their internal patterns and the loops they're on in order to grow, but so too [are the humans], Lee in particular. This is the beginning of the breaking down of patterns he's been living in. He's stepping forward and beginning to learn and earn a new voice of his own. It's the beginning of that journey for him. I found it to be a very important scene in that way.
Here's what else I've found fascinating: the response of people seeing a naked man on screen. It's a little difficult for people to process. I've been asked so many questions like, "Were you wearing a prosthetic?" "Were you wearing a merkin?" "Did they put your head on another body?" It's like it's too much to take, for him to just stand there naked. I think it's quite potent, actually. We're stripping down this masculinity. It needs to be broken down in our society. We need to see more of that, and a softening of it. This was, I think, the start of a softening for Lee.
There's an odd couple quality to Maeve and Sizemore; a very unexpected pairing on paper, but perhaps they have more in common than initially realized…
Right. They both need something from each other when they meet at the start. Lee wants to survive. He can see immediately from Maeve that she has significant power against these hosts, and knows that his best bet to survive is going to be if he's with her. That's his best bet. And for Maeve, Lee knows the park. He can provide directions to the whereabouts of her daughter. That's how we begin their relationship. It's an interesting meeting, because they're both very headstrong. They butt heads, continually. It's great fun and great drama at points. But in the end, it seems like they're also learning things about themselves from one another. They're guiding each other on their own individual journeys. As well as the journey of finding and meeting Maeve's daughter, they're going on an individual odyssey within themselves.
In that way, it's not just a meeting of the minds between Maeve and Sizemore, but a meeting of the species between human and host.
Yes, very much so. Very much so. What can be learned from each other, as a robot and host, and as a human? It's almost like for both of them, this is a journey into a new form of humanity, a different layer of it. The first season for Maeve was very much about discovering her ego, almost. This season, it feels like she's discovering something deeper, a different voice. I think it's the same with Lee. The first season for Lee, it was all about ego, full stop. That was his overriding and overarching theme, ego. This season, it's the breaking down of that ego, and the deconstruction of it.
What did you make of Quarterman's performance in the premiere? Sound off in the comments below, and keep checking THR.com/Westworld for more coverage.