TV

Leonardo Nam on How “Westworld”—And Gay Fatherhood—Changed Him

"It was very difficult for me growing up to find my voice and stand proudly rooted as my own man."

Television has a way of predicting and imitating life, with certain shows coming along at the right time to speak almost directly to the moment. Think of The Handmaid’s Tale debuting three months after the Women’s March and the dawn of the Trump administration with its draconian opposition to reproductive freedom. Or the second season of Showtime’s Black Monday premiering just days after the stock market experienced its worst drop since 1987.

The first season of Westworld addressed our fears of artificial intelligence getting too smart for its, or our, own good. The third season, currently airing on HBO, shows the ramifications of Season 2’s robot uprising, as the automatons infiltrate the real world and disturb the precarious balance of human life. While COVID-19 is a far more existential threat than machines with an ax to grind, fans will no doubt find plenty of virus-related metaphors and allegories to dissect and debate this season.

To get a clue about what’s in store, NewNowNext tracked down Westworld’s Leonardo Nam, who plays Felix Lutz, the handsome but constantly befuddled technician who helps sentient host Maeve (Thandie Newton) escape from her mechanical prison.

Considering how disconnected we’ve all become in recent weeks, Nam thinks Felix has something special to offer audiences this season—namely, a little kindness. He says the character has also been good for him, providing him an opportunity to finally feel seen. Nam is of Korean descent, but he was born in Argentina and raised in Australia—an origin story that affected the way he was perceived from his earliest days.

“I’ve always been something that, when other people look at me, they see me as other,” Nam says. “Then you layer on my gay identity and there’s like a double minority role happening. So it was very difficult for me growing up to find my voice and stand proudly rooted as my own man.”

On what happened to be the third birthday of his twin boys, the 40-year-old actor talked about returning to Westworld, how the show parallels what’s currently happening in our own world, and the joys of gay fatherhood.

You’re returning to Westworld now, when it seems like we’re living in a dystopian future and social structures are breaking down.

You know, if the first season of Westworld was out now, I think it would be a little too far behind the times. When it came out, it was kind of mind-blowing because AI was really beginning to explode. It was kind of scary. I laugh with [show creators Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy] all the time—like, “You’re going to scare the shit out of people!” But I watched the first episode of Season 3 at the premiere and, you know, one of the things I noticed were all these people walking around wearing masks [in the show]. It is really eye-opening to see the world they’re painting and how similar it is to the world we live in now.

When we originally sat down with [Nolan and Joy] I kept asking, “What year is this show?” They tried to not be very specific, but they would leave it in the range of sooner rather than far in the future—like in the 30- to 50-year zone. Now I’m thinking, Wow, maybe Season 3 is like a 10-year or five-year gap from where we are now.

Wil Cohen Photography
Leonardo Nam.

What can you tell us about what happens with Felix this season?

Well, I’d love to tell you everything [laughs], but the show is very good about keeping secrets and twists and turns very close to the chest. I do have to say that I’m very lucky to play a character like Felix. I came up in Hollywood always being seen as a minority, as a subsidiary, one-dimensional character and not a leading man. Westworld has really provided me an outlet to play a three-dimensional character.

In Season 3, you see another side of Felix. You see another very human side to him and his relationship with Maeve and the rest of the characters of Westworld. But it’s still rooted in the same context [in which] Felix started the show. He is very kind and compassionate, and I think it’s important to have a character like that in a show that can get so gruesome and dark. The idea I believe in, and I think it’s true about Felix, is that kindness shows the gentleness of the soul. Right now, we need more kindness and more consideration.

Wil Cohen Photography

Speaking of kindness and consideration, how has fatherhood been treating you?

Oh, it’s fantastic! Being a father has been one of the most eye-opening experiences of my life. I never thought I would be a father, and now that I am it’s almost part of my DNA. I’m grateful to share this life’s journey with my kids. I find myself looking at my values and the ways I live my life and the ways to pass that on to my children as a big gift that I never thought I would be able to have. Now that I have it, I’m so grateful to share it with not only my family, but also outlets and other communities. I feel much more connected to the world now because of being a father.

How do you feel about the current state of affairs?

Even though we talk about living in this dystopian future, there is such lightness in this world. It’s great to see how far we’ve come as a community and a society as a whole in being able to understand that diversity makes us stronger—accepting people for who they are and accepting the love that they offer. That’s what it really means to be human.

Lester Fabian Brathwaite is an LA-based writer, editor, bon vivant, and all-around sassbag. He's formerly Senior Editor of Out Magazine and is currently hungry. Insta: @lefabrat