I recently had the pleasure of interviewing actor Louis Herthum. The interview was extensive, frank, emotional and fun in equal measure. Louis has recently gained an astonishing level of recognition from a whole new generation of fans, thanks to his portrayal of Peter Abernathy on the recent hit show Westworld. However this veteran actor has previously appeared on many TV shows including Murder, She Wrote, True Blood, and Longmire… he also has appeared in numerous films.
PC: Can you tell me about your childhood growing up in Louisiana?
LH: I grew up in a pretty typical, southern way. It was my three sisters and me, mom and dad. In the ’60s our city was relatively small; it’s the capital of the state (Baton Rouge) and the population was about 200,000. Even for a city of that size, it was sort of cordoned off into sections; in south Baton Rouge where I grew up, you knew everybody. Until the day I left in 1982 you couldn’t go anywhere without running in to people you knew. So my growing up was done in a typical all-American kind of way for that time. I couldn’t have asked for anything better really, things were so much simpler then and easier. It was great. As kids you could run around the neighbourhood free and easy and as long as you were home before the streetlights came on, all was good.
My dad was a retired Air Force Lieutenant Colonel, he served in WWII as a CBI Pilot… or ‘Hump Pilot’ as they were called. He flew C-46s and C-47s in China, Burma, and India supply missions. When he returned home he was in the Air Force Reserves and continued flying for the state of Louisiana for a little while then, of course, privately for his own enjoyment. He was also a superb gunsmith and did both of those things but only as hobbies. He worked for the Louisiana State Highway Department until he retired. My mom worked as well and spent about 47 years in the work force always as an administrative assistant to high-powered CEOs or state officials. She could type so fast that it was hard to believe that she was actually typing words and not simply punching keys! She was such a sophisticated, elegant and eloquent woman. Very impressive to all who met her and certainly, my hero.
I went to a Catholic school for the first eight years then went to public high school, Baton Rouge High, which was quite a culture shock at first, but it was a great school. In fact we regularly have reunions and my classmates always pick up where we left off and I love them! Many of us stay in touch all year round. Go Bulldogs, Class of ’74 baby!
PC: Jumping right into your career, I have read you were heavily influenced by Bullitt. What was it that appealed to you about that movie?
LH: My dad took me to see that film when it came out in 1968. And frankly, it was actually the chase scene that was the influence. I hadn’t a clue about acting at that time and didn’t harbour any desire to be an actor but when I saw the film, and more specifically, that chase scene, well I wanted to be a stuntman from that point on. I had never seen anything like it. In fact, I don’t think anyone had ever seen anything like it. By placing the cameras inside the car, it felt like you were riding along with it, especially when watching on the big screen. It had an amazing impact on me. I can remember the exact moment in time, the exact spot, almost as if it was an out-of-body experience when my Dad and I walked out the theatre… and I said, ‘Dad, that’s what I wanna to do when I grow up.’ And he said, ‘What’s that son?’ I said, ‘I want to drive cars like that, in the movies!’ And he said, ‘Oh well that’s good son.’ It was a life-changing moment and it is frozen in my mind.
Just to continue on that path: I started doing TV commercials for a men’s clothing store where I worked and did several modelling gigs and TV commercials for other products; mainly because I could and because people were interested in me for that. So I kind of ran with it but it did not dilute my desire to be a stuntman. It wasn’t until the beginning of 1981 when I started acting in earnest. I mean, I had been inspired to a degree and had some inclination to be an actor because in the late ’70s when I started doing TV commercials, I was meeting a lot of other actors and felt like this was something I could do… and still be a stuntman as well.
But in early 1981 my agent at the time, Dee Cothern, put a play in my hand and said, ‘Read this.’ It was The Rainmaker by N. Richard Nash. She said, ‘It’s the next play at the Baton Rouge Little Theatre and I think you should audition for it.’ I said, ‘I don’t know if I’m ready for that.’ She said, ‘Just read the play.’ So I did and it was wonderful, it was fun.’ She suggested that I read for the part of Jimmy. Which was one of the minor roles. And I thought, ‘If I don’t have the guts to do this how will I find the guts to drive 100 miles an hour in a car chase and jump off of buildings and such?’ So I did. Long story short, I got the lead and that changed the rest of my life because I realised that I did have a knack for acting and it was something I really enjoyed. And frankly, it seemed to come pretty easily for me. I received a couple of award nominations, Best Actor and Best Debut, I won the latter and from that point on it was Katy bar the door.
PC: Did you forget about being a stunt man altogether at that point? Or is there a part of you that thinks, ‘Umm, I still would have liked to have done that’?
LH: I have been able to do a good deal of my own stunts so I’d say I have fulfilled that yearning as well. Though one of my very first jobs in the union (SAG) was as a stuntman. I doubled Ian Charleston in a TV film called Louisiana in 1983. He was to jump off the second storey of an old riverboat into the Mississippi River to rescue someone. So I was happy to do the stunt. I used to box and still use boxing as a workout, and because of many of the parts I’ve played I’m often involved in on camera fights. The stunt coordinator usually sees that I can handle it and that I understand stunt fighting. I’ve also done some precision driving though nothing like in Bullitt. So yes, I have associated myself with stunt work. I recently completed work on a TV show called Training Day with the late, great Bill Paxton and I do all but one of my own stunts. It’s me doing all the fighting but not me jumping into the window of the car. I was happy to let my stunt double (Richard Burden) do that one. I also did my own stunts in a film called Cadaver, which I recently finished. So as long as I get to do my fights and some other less dangerous stuff, I’m happy. I get to fulfil both of my wants.
I want to take a moment to say something about Bill Paxton. He was such an amazing person! Just the nicest guy you ever want to meet and an absolute joy to work with. What he really wanted to do was direct and in fact he stepped in and made some suggestions to the director, of the episode I worked on, for my final scene, which made it much better, more poignant. He was a terrific director as well as being a terrific actor and terrific human. Another interesting thing about that episode is that his real-life son James Paxton plays my son in the show. James is an enormously talented young man and every bit the apple of his father’s eye. My heart is still broken over Bill’s passing.
PC: You recently told me about the Mustang you are restoring, can you talk about that?
LH: Restoring my 1968 Mustang is a direct result of the film Bullitt. I always said that I would have a ’68 Mustang one day. So yes I am building an ‘homage’, as I call it, to the Bullitt Mustang, it’s going to be very similar. The colour is still green but is called ‘Black Forest Green’ so it looks black until you get it into the light then it turns green; it’s beautiful. So yes, that’s my dream car.
PC: Are you looking to drive it or will it be on display somewhere?
LH: Yes, I’m definitely going to drive it- I originally planned to do a light restoration, one I could drive and not worry about if someone banged into it or scratched it- but that all changed when I saw the brand new, pristine, incredible paint job. It makes the old glass and chrome look worse. So I am still going to drive it but it will be a lot more of a show car than I had first envisioned it to be.
PC: Getting back to your acting: how did you jump from theatre to film and TV series?
LH: In 1981 I did The Rainmaker then I immediately did two more plays at local theatres in Baton Rouge. I did Oklahoma playing Will Parker then Grease, playing Kenickie. That was great fun and really solidified my love for theatre. I was 25 years old by then and was pretty anxious to get out west and see what I could do. So about three months after finishing the run of Grease, in Jan of ’82, I moved to LA and became a struggling actor with the millions of others.
PC: Because that was the best place to be to make it as an actor?
LH: It was the place to be if you wanted to be in television/film. Add to it that I really loved California, I’d been out here several times visiting and loved everything about it. After moving here I took odd jobs: bartending, waiting tables, messenger, chauffeur, house painter and construction worker while I tried to get film and television work. In the meantime I did tons of theatre so I stayed very busy on the stage, which helped me hone my craft. I always recommend that to young actors, that they should do as much stage work as they can because to me, that’s really the most pure form of acting. I call stage acting ‘bigger than life’ and film acting, somewhat ‘smaller than life’. At least most of the time.
I had a great time in those struggling years to be honest with you, I wouldn’t trade them for anything and learned a lot. I had great experiences, worked a little bit in the first six years but it wasn’t until after that first six years of struggling that I started working in television commercials- national commercials- which paid really well in the late ’80’s. Then in the early ’90s I went into doing more guest-starring and co-starring roles. In the late ’80s I’d done a couple of episodes of Murder, She Wrote and then in ’91 I was requested by Anthony Shaw, who is Angela Lansbury’s son and had directed me in the previous episodes, to come in and play the new Cabot Cove Deputy. And that started my five-year stint as Deputy Andy Broom on Murder, She Wrote.
PC: I actually just watched an episode of that yesterday, it was the episode in which you had bought a house that was in a state of disrepair and you were getting framed for a murder.
LH: Wait a minute…did you just happen upon that episode?
PC: I searched for your name on our satellite box (Sky) and it lists everything available that you appear in. So I randomly picked that episode.
LH: That’s so funny that that is the episode you saw because Andy was usually just the guy who brought in the evidence to further the plot. But they gave me a large role in that episode. It was a surprise because I was just thrilled to have a job. I made a nice living doing the show and I had lots of time to do theatre; I didn’t do a whole lot of other stuff because I think my agent was just happy with me doing that. Anyway, they gave me a really good episode in that show which was my third to last ever to shoot.
PC: Was Murder, She Wrote huge at that time?
LH: It was in the top 10 from year 2 through 11. It was just an extraordinary experience working for five years with the likes of Angela Lansbury, Bill Windom and Ron Masak- and I can’t even begin to name all of the celebrities who guest starred- it was wonderful. But when the show ended I started producing films. For the next 10 years, I produced six films: one documentary feature film and five narrative features. I pretty much concentrated on that for ten years. I acted in the films I produced but I didn’t pursue acting a whole lot until about 2005.
PC: Was that Ransack Films, your production company?
LH: Yes I’m still in the process of putting projects together. I love producing, I love the creative aspect of it and I’m sure I will be directing one day… when the time is right.
PC: You mentioned the other day how classy Angela Lansbury is. What was she like as a person when you worked with her?
LH: Angela is an extraordinary woman. She is so, so very nice and approachable. Always was so sweet to me and I was usually a little star struck around her. Angela’s tall, and she stands tall, she has this air about her that demands respect and all she need do to get it is simply walk into a room. It’s hard to describe, there are very few people that I have met in 35 years in this biz that can do that; and she still does so today. I went to see her in Blithe Spirit last year in L.A. and I went backstage to say hello… and she still has that effect on people. Like I say, she is an extraordinary woman, I mean: she is like the Queen or something, so very elegant. She always reminded me of my grandmother who was also tall and oh so regal!
PC: Yeah that clip I sent you where she walks across the stage to the piano, the way she carried herself, at 91, and walked so elegantly. ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JOy7eVjz-2I)
LH: It’s amazing, I mean, she is phenomenal and by the way she still stole that show, Blithe Spirit. I will be honest, and not to slight the other actors, if it weren’t for her it would have been a rather boring play. She absolutely stole the play. She came on, and kept the whole place rolling in laughter. I still send her an email on her birthday and she always responds. She is just an amazing, wonderful and lovely woman. Definitely, the classiest lady in showbiz and has been for over 70 years; she was 17 when she made her film debut.
PC: You stated earlier she is one of the ‘few’. Are you able to tell me another actor who you consider to have that same presence as Angela?
LH: In that same vein would be Sir Anthony Hopkins, who likes to be called ‘Tony’, that’s another person that gave me that same sense. I was able to spend a fair amount of one on one time with him and obviously by that I mean the scene at the end of the pilot of Westworld, which took us all day to shoot- so of course we chatted between takes and he is the most humble man, down to earth, very easy to talk to; we had lunch together with some of the crew people. If you met ‘Tony’ (as he insists we call him) and did not know who he was, you’d walk away saying, ‘Well, that was maybe the kindest, warmest human being I’ve ever met.’ He’s another extraordinary person.
I just worked with Johnny Depp and thoroughly enjoyed that experience. I found him a very normal, funny, down to earth guy. Bill Paxton was incredible as I stated before. I loved working with Mark Harmon, Joe Mantegna, and recently Pedro Pascal to name a few. So many others but as for other celebrities from back in the day of Murder, She Wrote; Chad Everett was my favourite celebrity to work with, he was so much fun and had great stories. And of course, Ron Masak who played Sheriff Mort Metzger and whom I stay in touch with to this day who is never without a story to share, and the late, great, William Windom, who played Doctor Seth Hazlitt. He was one of my favourite’s and we stayed in touch all the years after Murder, She Wrote and until he passed.
PC: Aww that was nice.
LH: Yes, I was at Bill’s memorial service Angela was there, Ron too. And an extraordinary thing happened at that memorial service. Many people got up and talked about their experiences with Bill. I spoke about how he taught me how to play chess … for the sole purpose of having someone to play on set who he could beat the hell out of. Actually he could beat the hell out of everybody. He was a wonderful chess player and I sucked, but just being able to sit there and play chess with Bill Windom was a great experience.
Anyway, the last to speak was a woman who owned a theatre company in LA and told several stories about how Bill would often come and do plays there and about how in one case, 20 years or so earlier, on opening night he presented her with a card. Now, Bill was a joker, he loved to play practical jokes, he loved to have fun and everyone knew this. On that opening night he gave her a card and it read ‘Happy 87th Birthday’. Now at the time she was still in her 50’s or 60’s and it wasn’t her birthday. So she’s like, ‘Oh, Bill, Bill, Bill!’ I wish I could remember her name- but when she ended with the story about the card everybody just laughed because it was so typically Bill. Then before she walked off she said, ‘Oh… and by the way today is my 87th birthday.’
PC: No Way!
LH: I just got Goosebumps. Again! Everybody was just slack jawed. Like what the hell!?
PC: That’s weird isn’t it? I love hearing stories like that.
LH: Yes absolutely.
PC: I’m a big scaredy cat, not much into horror, so I haven’t seen The Last Exorcism. How different is it filming your scenes, to seeing the finished product?
LH: Like night and day: there was very little scary about the filming of it at all. I have to be honest when we were making that film, which was an extraordinary experience (I will say more about that), I kept thinking, ‘I hope this is scary.’ That environment is so different from the finished product, which has the advantage of editing and music. A little fact that that most people don’t know about that film is: the actors improved all of their dialogue.
LH: True. There was no script. Well, that is to say that we did not get a script, only an outline. I think I had a total of four scripted lines that were required. Daniel Stamm would just say, ‘You have to add this line in there somewhere: ‘Psychiatry is not of God,’ or, ‘If you can’t save my daughter’s soul… I will.’ So it was a frightening experience because I’d never improved a whole film, but at the same time it was one of the most rewarding and exhilarating experiences of my career because it really kept you on your toes. Director Daniel Stamm was amazing to work with, he knew exactly what he wanted and- this might piss off some people but I don’t care- Daniel Stamm took a lot of flak for the ending of that film because everyone said it was an amazing film but the ending sort of ruined it for some and they blamed him. It was not his choice. That was not the ending that we shot. When the film got picked up by Lionsgate they changed the ending. So it was not Daniel’s choice.
PC: Was he unable to come out and say that at the time, I presume?
LH: I guess he couldn’t, or he could and he chose not to; I don’t think anybody wanted us to tell people. If you listen to the commentary for the film on blue ray from the producers, Thom Bliss (who was one of the producers) does mention that the actors created their own dialogue. He said it, so I can say it (laughs).
PC: Must have been nerve-wracking though.
LH: I think they thought our performances were so natural because of the improvisation that if people believed it was scripted, it would make our acting look more impressive. I completely disagree with that, it’s a much harder task to come up with your own dialogue, especially when you have no idea what the other person is going to say!
PC: So that’s quite unusual in filmmaking is it?
LH: It was popular for a while there but I think it’s certainly unusual. The second film was completely scripted.
PC: It makes me want to watch it, I may force myself to.
LH: It’s creepy and if demonic possession bothers you, then yeah, this is not for you.
PC: So I sincerely hope you’re going to be a big part of Westworld. It’s so good that series! How did you come to get the part? I know sometimes that auditions are blind auditions, were you reading for that actual character, Peter Abernathy, or for another role?
LH: Actually that’s a great question. Have you by any chance seen the original film?
PC: Yes, I’ve seen it many times and I watched it again very recently.
LH: I’d seen the original film when it came out years ago so when my manager called with the audition I was pretty stoked. That film was so far ahead of its time, I thought, ‘Man, this will be brilliant.’
I was particularly excited just to be going in for the audition because I was going to have to play three characters. So I get the sides for the audition, which was basically an early version of the scene I did with Anthony Hopkins (Dr Ford) in the pilot … but the characters were completely different. Apparently everyone who auditioned did so with that same scene. I went in to read for the role of the sheriff (played by Brian Howe). I read the first time in with casting associate, Deanna Brigidi. The first thing I ask is, ‘Do you want to know this is a robot?’ She says, ‘No! Absolutely 100% human. So I did the reading and I can’t remember what I did between the characters but I showed some kind of transition. She said, ‘Great! I want you to come back and read for the producers but when you go from one character to the next, create something, whatever you choose, however you want to manifest it… that the robot is having a difficult time.’ And I’m just kind of listening, shaking my head and she gave me what I think is a brilliant note… she said, ‘You know when your computer gets a little spinning ball?’ She says, ‘That’s what’s happening to you.’ I think it was a brilliant note. I had about a week to prepare for the second audition. So while I was trying to work out a way to depict the trouble the robot was having I thought, ‘Well everyone’s going to do a physical thing which I will certainly do, but I’ll add an audible thing.’ So I incorporated a sort of hiccupping sound as if Peter was trying to speak. And in the transition phase, I would incorporate a struggle to do some physical action that I would be doing in the scene to show that the computer was at least starting to access that character. I hope that makes sense.
I went in and did the second audition, and it’s a moment I’ll never forget. Because first of all, I had a blast doing it and both casting directors, John Papsidera and his associate Deanna Brigidi, as well as Executive Producer/Creator Lisa Joy were in the room. After I’d finished the audition, Lisa Joy said, ‘That was fricking awesome!’ I was like, ‘Oh great! I’m so glad you like it.’ Then she said, ‘Is there anything else you want to show us?’ and my response was, ‘No, I think I will quit while I’m ahead.’ They kind of laughed and I left the room. Little did I know but apparently they called my manager, shortly after I left the room expressing interest but it was five weeks or so before my manager even let on to me that I was still in the running. But as it turns out, I didn’t get the sheriff, I got Peter Abernathy.
PC: It’s an amazing scene and everybody is talking about it. Even though there have been so many other great scenes, when I look at the Westworld forums or podcasts people are still talking about that scene.
PC: Really, yes. I was watching an interview with Tom Cruise and the interviewer asked him, ‘Can you switch it on and off?’ And Tom Cruise literally went into character for Jack Reacher and he just instantly switched it on and was able to act out the scene in the film. Is that something you can do or do you have to prepare?
LH: I don’t need to prepare at the last moment, I can do that as well. Sir Anthony and I sat there and chatted between scenes, we talked about all kinds of things and the AD would say, ‘Ok, here we go. Ready…’ and just start filming again. I have always been able to do that even on stage, especially on stage. To me it’s all about your preparation before hand- if you have prepared properly, you can do this. The same can apply to auditions. Early in my career I think my attitude and prep was very wrong, I would get an audition, read the material and think.. ‘Hey, I know I’m certainly a good enough actor for this little part.’ Then I’d read it and say… ‘Oh, I’ve got this.’ But I would not prep it enough. So when I would go into the room not well enough acquainted with the material, something would often throw me off. Whether it’s somebody moving in the background, someone turning pages or their cell phone goes off, or you thought you would be sitting but there is no chair so you have to stand, any number of things can throw one off. But if you are properly prepared, nothing should distract you in an audition, or at least not enough to blow the reading.
I’m not a method actor. Several people have asked me, since this show started airing, ‘How do you do that?’ and I say it’s preparation. Once you’ve prepared it over and over and over, it’s never going to be exactly the same, ever, but I know what I’m going to do. And of course, the experience of working with Sir Anthony Hopkins that intimately just made it amazing. And as for how I learned about getting the role… I got the call on the Friday. My manager said, ‘Louis, you got the part,’ and I said, ‘Oh I did?? What did I get?’, ‘Peter Abernathy’ and I said, ‘Who’s he?’ He said, ‘You know that scene that you auditioned with, well pretty much that guy.’ I had read that Anthony Hopkins signed on to Westworld to play “Dr Ford”. That’s when I realized … ‘Holy smokes! That’s who that scene is with. I have to do that scene with Anthony Hopkins!’ But I didn’t know at that time that I had to perform it naked! (laughs).
PC: That was my next question. How did you feel about getting naked?
LH: Well, the very first scene I shot on Westworld was my last scene in the pilot where I am put in cold storage. Both Timothy Lee Priest and I were 100% butt naked walking through all those other naked Hosts. The producers were very apologetic that that had to be my very first scene, but hey, it broke me in. Though I have to admit it’s not the most comfortable thing to do. At least not for me, but to be honest with you, after five minutes it just really wasn’t a big deal. Everybody’s just doing their jobs. And of course, all actors and background players were treated with the utmost dignity and respect. I can’t stress that enough. We didn’t shoot the scene with Sir Anthony until much later in the shoot. People were saying to me… ‘Dude, you’ve got to do this scene with Sir Anthony Hopkins playing all these different characters, naked!’ It played with my head a little bit, and then I thought, ‘Wait a minute, what could be better? It’s an amazing opportunity and what we actors live for.
So going back to the call, it was a Thursday not a Friday and I get a call from my manager to tell me that a show I had just auditioned for was ‘not going to go our way.’ and I said, ‘OK’. And this is about five weeks after my Westworld audition, I’d almost forgotten about it; And he said, ‘But we still have Westworld, and I went, ‘Whoa…what. Wait. What do you mean? ‘Am I still in the mix for Westworld?’ All he said was, ‘Yep,’ and I said, ‘Ok, cool.’ The very next day he calls me and says, ‘You booked it,’ and I say, ‘What did I book? Did I get the sheriff? And he says, ‘No you got Peter Abernathy.’ So that was Friday.
Later that day I get a call from production saying, ‘We’d like you to come in on Monday to rehearse with Jeffrey Wright, Sir Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Nolan,’ and I’m like, ‘Holy crap!’ I’ve got the weekend to think about this before I go in and meet the three of them. Over the weekend I had done research and knew obviously, like most people, about his work but didn’t know so much about him as a person. I started watching some interviews that he done and discovered what a humble and wonderful man he appeared to be but also that he had composed a waltz that was performed by Andre Rieu in Vienna.
PC: I didn’t know that about him.
LH: Yes! Go to YouTube and look for ‘And the Waltz Goes On.’ He sent it to Andre Rieu and said, ‘I know this won’t mean much to you, but I’m such a big fan of yours I wanted to send you this Waltz that I composed.’ Soon after he received a call from Andre Rieu saying, ‘I love it and I’m going to perform it in Vienna and I would love for your wife and you to be there.’
You should go listen to it, it’s fantastic.
PC: I will do. I’m a fan of Andre Rieu anyway. I was surprised to see Anthony Hopkins has joined Twitter. He seems to be embracing it, showing off his art work; his art is really good.
LH: Yes his artwork is magnificent. To say he is a ‘Renaissance Man’ is an understatement. Anyway, we were talking, and I could see what kind of a man he was, a gentle, sweet soul and so humble. I felt that when I met him in rehearsal, which was only a very short time … maybe an hour. We only read through the scene. When I met him he immediately insisted, ‘Call me Tony.’
PC: Did you feel intimidated at all or star struck?
LH: Intimidated? A little, of course. Not only because of Sir Anthony but Jeffrey Wright as well because I have always been a major fan of his. And then there was Jonathan Nolan and JJ Abrams. So yes, there was intimidation present. But heck, Sir Anthony is one of the very best actors in the world, in my opinion, certainly among the top 3. I can’t say enough about his work… it blows my mind! In that scene with the two of us, people commented, ‘How difficult it must have been for you to do that scene with Sir Anthony Hopkins.’ I said, ‘No, you don’t understand. It was made much easier by doing the scene with an actor like him.’ He is so generous and if you watch the scene and you look at how focused on what I am doing he was- of course he was seeing it for the first time too- and I even hate to repeat this because it’s just not true, people tweeted things like ‘you stole the scene from Sir Anthony Hopkins.’
PC: I was one of those people.
LH: You did, but you’re not the only one.
PC: But you did. And I know it’s Anthony Hopkins and he was brilliant but that scene, when I first watched it, I couldn’t take my eyes off you.
LH: It was my character’s scene no doubt and he knew that. But what I’m saying is, and I tell people this and I may have said this to you, that you don’t steal any scene from Anthony Hopkins. If anything, he gives it to you. And the reason I say this is this: I have worked with Academy award winning actors who, if I had to have done that scene with them, it would have been a completely different story because they might have not been so generous and willing to “give” me their full attention, if you will. And not just Academy award winning actors but other actors I’ve worked with might have been the same way. Do you know what I’m saying? And really the best way to describe it was, that it was a collaboration. No one stole anything.
PC: Yes, he didn’t try to take that scene. That was your scene and he let you have it.
LH: Well, that’s true. It was my scene. Nothing would have stopped me from giving the performance I did but the fact that he was so easy to work with and so generous of spirit, that it elevated the scene for me at least. And I will give you an example:
So I’m sitting there, essentially naked, and especially in the wide shots- I mean they give you something to cover up your man parts with but that’s it- the very first take was over my shoulder, on him, which I expected. After the very first take he looked at me, smiled a warm, genuine smile and gave me a thumbs up. Needless to say from that point on I was like, ‘Okay man, let’s do this!’
We had the most fun chatting between takes; he was doing Rod Steiger impersonations- he can do Steiger brilliantly- he was doing Marlon Brando. He told me the story about growing up in Wales down the street from Richard Burton and how as a 15-year-old boy he knocked on his door to get his autograph. So we were just chatting and I asked him, ‘ Which was a more amazing experience: winning an Oscar or having your Waltz performed by Andre Rieu in Vienna?’
I don’t recall him answering it specifically but it just got us talking about his composing and playing music and how he had been doing that for many, many years. And then we’d to do another take, and after one cut… he made the comment about how amazing it is that one chromosome or synapse in the brain (I can’t remember exactly what terminology he used but something like that) can take a normal person and change them into a Mozart or even a Hitler or a Chopin? And I immediately said, ‘Or an Anthony Hopkins.’ It just came out because I mean here is this man who will certainly go down in history as a greatest to ever live in his field… and Paula, when I said that to him, he almost blushed.
PC: Did he really? He is so sweet.
LH: I’m telling you, it will forever stick in my mind because he was so humble, he just sort of dropped his head and smiled and almost blushed.
PC: I can just see right now how he would do that, exactly how he would smile and put his head like that.
LH: Yes. I was immediately struck by it. I just thought, ‘Wow! This man is a truly humble… wonderful human being.
PC: I think he has a special place in your heart now.
LH: Oh yes. No question of that.
PC: You know what is lovely? How you have happily allowed us to talk about Sir Anthony for almost 30 minutes rather than just focusing on only your work. I think that says a lot about the kind of man you are as well.
LH: I would much rather talk about my experiences with extraordinary people like that than myself. I’ve been blessed to have secured this role which has changed things for me. I always thought I would be successful in my career, and to a degree I’ve certainly had a successful acting career but, I mean, people are commenting and writing me messages saying, ‘I apologise I’ve never really known who you are before but I know who you are now.’ That’s the life of a journeyman actor, that’s what I am. I’m out there, out on the pavement, making a living at this craft and those of us who are fortunate enough to do it are few in the scheme of things; we are few when you look at the number of people who actually have tried to do it. Every time someone recognises me (not now so much, since Westworld has certainly enhanced that situation) it always surprises me and I have to think, ‘Oh yeah, millions of people see what you do.’ I just don’t think about it. I don’t walk round in public, thinking someone might recognise me; it’s the last thing in the world I think about.
PC: If you were to visit Westworld, like in the original movie, which of the park/scenario would you like to visit?
LH: I would most likely pick the West because I think most American boys grew up watching Westerns and wanting to be a cowboy and of course every red-blooded male actor wants to be in a Western. I’ve been fascinated with the West growing up and even with the period before that like The Civil War era, the mid-19th century I’ve been sort of fascinated buy it. It was a very romantic time. So yes, I would choose the West world.
PC: And which hat would you choose to wear?
LH: I’m really a white hat kind of guy, so I would probably start with the white hat because the thing is: a white hat guy can still have a lot of fun, shoot the bad guys and all that. But I’m no prude so I would be visiting the bar and going upstairs but it’s like the guy in the pilot said, ‘I brought my family and we had a great time, but next time I came back myself, went straight evil.’ So who knows… though I doubt I would go “straight evil” but I’d probably come back and test the waters…
PC: Well it would be silly not to, wouldn’t it?
LH: Yeah, why not.
PC: Is there a set location that has stood out for you, either visually or even just on a purely fun basis?
LH: I would have to say all the exterior stuff we shot in Utah, for me that was extraordinary. I’d never been to Monument Valley where we shot. For example, where Peter finds the photograph was in the middle of nowhere really. They found this beautiful, scenic spot and built that corral. We were there before the sun came up and if you look at that shot again, if I’m not mistaken, when the shot opens you see the sun just barely coming over the cliffs in the background. I’m telling you when you are standing out there, looking at all of that majesty, you have to pinch yourself. It’s so stunning, breathtaking. So that for me, location-wise, was great.
Now as for the Western town, I have not shot on that set; though I would love to. I’ve been there and I’ve walked the set and man, let me tell you, it’s authentic. As far as the lab shoots, it’s all glass and an amazing set as well. And sitting naked in a glass room is not the most fun thing to do, but shooting a scene with Anthony Hopkins and Jeffrey Wright and being directed by Jonathan Nolan makes up for it, I can tell ya. (laughs)!
PC: Extending that question to other roles you have had, like Justified, what were those locations like?
LH: Justified… we shot just north of LA, it’s an area I like; I’ve spent a lot of time camping in the mountains so I was very accustomed to that kind if scenery. By the way, I was asked to return and do the very last episode of Justified as the same character (the one I did was third to last) but I had a date with my then 10-year-old daughter so that made it impossible. But as far as locations are concerned, Utah beats them all.
PC: Congratulations on being promoted to regular cast member for season 2 of Westworld with your character Peter Abernathy.
LH: Thank you! I’m ecstatic!
PC: What was your reaction when you received the news, which is such a great recognition of your performance on the show?
LH: Well, I would have to say pretty much as you would imagine. When I got the news it came in a phone call and my whole team was on the call. My two agents Gregg Klein and Chip Hooley and my two managers, Tracy Steinsapir and Stewart Strunk. That is always a good sign when they are all on the line. You know you booked something but I was not expecting this. It was just before the Christmas holidays last year (2016) and my agent Gregg Klein asked… ‘Louis, if you could have one Christmas present, what would you ask for?’ I said, ‘Series regular on Westworld’. And he said ‘Done!’ I think I howled. Like a wolf. (laughs)
PC: Have you been surprised by the enormous positive reaction from fans and supporters, since the announcement was made?
LH: Absolutely. Again, I am not used to this much attention and recognition for my work. Though I am so very thankful, grateful. I find it very inspiring. I can’t wait to get started!!
PC: Do you feel your acting prowess has been recognized at that level before for example on ‘Murder She Wrote’?
LH: Well no not like this. But you bring up Murder, She Wrote… that episode you saw where I was the murder suspect, after that the producers seemed very surprised with my work. They gave me a small raise (which I asked for… not my agent of that time) and they gave me a slightly better role in the last two episodes. I only wish they had given me that chance earlier in the 5-year run. But hey, all things happen as they are meant to, in my opinion.
PC: You have been extremely busy this past year, has the success of Westworld contributed to you being cast in these roles?
LH: Oh, yeah. There is no doubt about it. And most of the jobs, at least of late, have been offers. It’s always nice to get a job without having to audition. Though I know I will still have to audition for roles but like I say, always nice to get a call saying … would you like to do this film?? I just had the privilege of working on Chicago Med playing one of the main character’s (Nick Gehlfuss) father, Pat Halstead, who is also the father of a main character on Chicago PD… Jay Halstead played by Jesse Lee Soffer. So kinda cool to play the father of brothers who are on different shows. Great, great group of people. I had such a great time working on the show!
PC: You have been working on a new series, Downward Dog, is that correct?
LH: Yes. It’s a new ABC show that will start in May. I play the father of the lead actress, Alison Tolman, it is a great show. Funny story … my agents were all excited (as was I) because it’s a 30-minute comedy and so we were like, ‘Oh great you get to do a half-hour comedy,’ then when I get there I learn that it’s not really a comedic part. It focuses on the strained relationship between my character and his daughter. I think it’s a really smart, funny and poignant show. Alison’s co-star is a talking dog but I think people will relate to what he has to say actually. It’s hysterically funny and I’m very excited to be part of the show. And it is being done by a group of truly great and creative people.
PC: You have lived in LA for a long time, do you think you will stay there forever now or would you be looking to move elsewhere at some point?
LH: I will probably not stay in LA forever. LA is so crowded, I live in Santa Monica which used to be a ‘small, quaint, beach community.’ But now it’s an overcrowded city, not at all what it was when I moved here 34 years ago. I think I would like to go somewhere that’s not so crazy though I really do love the location, geographically. I am only blocks from the Pacific Ocean so I can’t really complain.
PC: Plus you always have nice weather, unlike here in Scotland.
LH: That’s true, we have nice weather. I’ve never had air conditioning, never needed it. Though in the last several years the summers have been unusually hot. But that has been the case worldwide. And we even had some 90-degree day here in Santa Monica for a couple of days in November. People that think the globe isn’t warming should come pay us a visit.
PC: It was -1 centigrade here this morning which is around 30 degrees Fahrenheit. But I do rather enjoy a cold crisp morning I have to say.
LH: Okay yeah, that’s cold. I don’t do cold weather very well. But like you, I enjoy visiting cold places every now and then. I shot a film in Boston over the winter and just finished shooting in Chicago. Both were cold and snowy at the time. Like I say, I enjoy it but am always happy to get back to what is essentially perfect weather most all of the time.
PC: I was going to ask if you are likely to keep working like Angela Lansbury until you’re a grand old age or will you retire and put your feet up?
LH: That’s the beauty of being an actor, we can work ’til people stop hiring us but I imagine I will continue to work; I do envisage a time when I can relax and do whatever I want. Even though I’m 60, I’m a very young 60; always blows my mind when people say that because I don’t feel it and I try to keep myself in good shape. So I think I will take advantage of any good fortune that comes my way because I certainly want to continue working.
PC: Was music a big part of your life growing up or was it just a case of the radio playing in the background?
LH: It was actually, maybe not to the point or extent it is with other people, but it was certainly a substantial part. First of all, my mother was a wonderful accordion player, though she didn’t play it a whole lot but whenever she did break it out, I was always fascinated the way that she could play that machine; there were like more than a 100 little black buttons on one side and she knew exactly which one to press, and at the same time she’s pumping the thing and playing the keyboard with her other hand. It always fascinated me.
Then- I guess I was about 8- my mom bought my sister a guitar and I started playing it as well, just sort of messing around with it. I still have that very same guitar and I still play; I can play fairly well, especially in those times when I play a lot and really get my chops back. But then I get busy and don’t play for a while. So playing is not one of those things that I can’t live without, but I wish it were. Maybe one day.
I also play drums, which I started doing when I was about 12. Back then I played with some friends in the neighbourhood and we considered ourselves a band though we never played a gig (laughs). We played songs like “Paint it Black”, “Sunshine of Your Love” and of course, “House of the Rising Sun”, which by the way was the first song I learned to play on the guitar. I still have the snare drum from that first drum kit and the entire set I bought in 1978. But I haven’t had the opportunity to play in years. I actually started taking drum lessons recently and did so for about a month. I stopped for two reasons: one because I’ve never found a teacher who really know how to teach and wasn’t more interested in showing me how good a player he was and because I realized that everything I need to learn to get my chops back, can now be found online.
But I do love music and can listen to just about any kind. I graduated high school in ’74 so I’m of the era where ones first real intro to loving music was the Beatles; I can remember seeing them on Ed Sullivan in 1963 when I was a kid. I was never a big buyer of albums but my sisters were so they bought all the Beatles stuff; it was a magical time when the Beatles were the biggest band in the world. After all, they changed the music landscape forever. Then in the ’70s I got into ’70s rock and that’s probably my favourite music. Although probably my favourite rock band right now is Muse. I love Rock ‘n’ Roll, I love a lot of the hard rock of the 70’s, I love Bruce Springsteen; he can do no wrong. Leon Russell was my hero growing up through high school and after. His recent passing was hard to take. And back then I saw so many of the classic ’70s bands: Yes, Wishbone Ash, Rolling Stones, The Moody Blues, Jethro Tull, The Who, Alice Cooper, Eric Clapton to name a few. The first concert I ever saw was Tommy James and The Shondells.
PC: What was the last concert you went to?
LH: The last concert I went to was probably Muse. I love those guys. For three guys they produce an amazing sound. Of course, they are all three amazingly talented musicians. I just love their music.
Recently I was on a plane, coming back from shooting in Pittsburgh, just listening to what was available on the aeroplane- I listened to the whole album of Catfish and the Bottlemen; I liked them, they sound a lot like Greenday to me. I like Mumford & Sons. I like a lot of progressive stuff.
PC: I saw Bruce Springsteen in June, it was an amazing concert, someone kindly gave me a spare ticket, I’d seen him three years earlier. I like the progressive stuff; there are a lot of great newer bands making fantastic music.
LH: I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen Bruce, but the first time I saw him was in 1975. On that occasion my cousin Stephen asked me, ‘Do you want to go with me to this concert?’ And I said, ‘Who is it?’ ‘Bruce Springsteen, you will love it!’ Well it was a four-hour concert, and I’ve seen him so many times over the years I have lost track. Even the music he’s making now at 65 years old is just incredible; I love everything he does. I love the driving sound of Muse’s music. The very first time I saw them was in 2004 and at that time they were really big in Europe but nobody knew them here. I saw them in a little bar in Dallas, Texas, a little bitty place that held 100, maybe 150 people at the most and I was like, ‘Woah!’ I’d already been listening to their album but as a live band, well it doesn’t get any better. Matt Bellamy’s voice is ridiculous! Chris Wolstenholme is an amazing bassist and Dominic Howard is one of my favourite drummers.
PC: Are you able to learn your lines with music playing in the background or do you need to have complete silence?
LH: Yes, I can but only if there are no lyrics, like classical music and at a very low volume. But generally speaking, if I’m reading a script (especially for the first time) or doing prep work, I like quiet. I’m not an aficionado at all of classical music, but I do love it. I find it soothing. I love the depth of Beethoven and I love the sort of whimsy of Mozart but probably 9.9 times out of 10 you could play a classical song and I’m not going to be able to tell you who it is.
PC: Is there a particular film score or soundtrack that stands out to you?
LH: Anything by Ennio Morricone I love, especially The Mission and of course all the Clint Eastwood ‘Spaghetti Westerns’. Needless to say, the Bullitt soundtrack is a favourite of mine, I listen to it a lot. I like the sound of that era of music. The Mission is a wonderful, glorious soundtrack. I love the soundtrack to Rushmore; it’s a very eclectic soundtrack, it is made up of songs mostly not so much just music. Billy Elliott is another I like.
PC: Yes, me too, all that T-Rex.
LH: And The Clash! Yeah I love that movie and the soundtrack. It’s one of my favourites.
PC: The character Billy Elliot and also the actor who played him Jamie Bell are from the same place as me, up in the north-east of England.
LH: Absolutely! And I had as much trouble understanding his accent as I am you!
(Both laugh) At this point Louis asks me to say ‘Ballet’ in my Geordie accent… cue more laughter!
PC: Is there a particular poem or song you would like to have played at your funeral?
LH: There are many I can think of but the one that jumps to mind is “Funeral for a Friend” by Elton John. “Funeral for a Friend” starts off sounding like a dirge but then it kicks in and rocks. Actually, one of my best friends passed away several years ago and that was his request. I was at his funeral of course and when that song was played, I thought, ‘Yeah, this works.’
PC: Are there a couple of songs that take you back to a special time that means a lot to you?
LH: Most Beatle songs, especially ” Lady Madonna” takes me to the 60’s, “Freebird” by Lynyrd Skynyrd takes me back to high school in a big way, “The Boys Are Back in Town”, Bad Company, takes me back to the bar I worked in during the mid to late 70’s as well as almost anything by David Bowie. Getting into the ’80s, Springsteen’s: “Born in The USA”, “Jungleland”, “Born to Run”. “A Song For You” was written by Leon Russell and of course everybody and their brother has covered it; so whenever I hear it, no matter who’s covering it, it reminds me of Leon. Leon wrote some classic songs that just don’t get played anymore and it’s a shame, he was fantastic. He was, before his death late last year, still touring. “Tightrope”, that one takes me back big time. Wow, there are just too many to name really.
The one song out of all those songs, and it’s so different from what I’m talking about, but there is one song that will reduce me to tears and bring me back to my very early childhood, and that is “Greensleeves”. That song was in the film How The West Was Won and it takes me back to my youth when my family was all together. I’ve lost people. I’ve lost two sisters and so it’s a very emotional song. I can barely get through it without shedding a tear.
PC: Yeah my dad passed away in February and I chose an Otis Redding song “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” to be played at his funeral and, although I love that song, I just can’t listen to it now.
LH: I hear you. When my mom was still alive and I would go back to Louisiana for Christmas, and we would go to Christmas mass together, my sister Claire, her family and my mom and I, and at the mass they would always played “Greensleeves”. The song would start playing and knowing how I feel about it, I would look over and they were all leaning forwards looking down the pew at me thinking, ‘Ok, is he going to hold it together or not?’ (laughs). I never did.
Music is a magical thing. My mom suffered from dementia before she passed. She always knew who we were but she just stopped talking- and she had been the most wonderful conversationalist- it was heart breaking. But when we would walk in she’d smile and hug us and even react to a large degree to whatever we would say but she just wouldn’t talk, it was the oddest thing. We had some of her favourite music on CD for her but she usually preferred to watch TV. After she passed, I saw this YouTube video about a woman who cared for this old man with Alzheimer’s. He was grumpy all the time, always had a scowl on his face and was always just in this miserable state. Whenever he did talk it was only one or two words and he would bark them out. So this woman brought in some music from his era and started playing it for him. Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway and stuff like that, and he just lit up! He started singing the songs, smiling. He was rocking with the music and then she started asking questions and he got into this big conversation. It was extraordinary. Have you seen it?
PC: I haven’t seen that one but I have watched a video where a guy whose dad has Alzheimer’s, well he goes and picks him up in his car, he puts on a CD and plays the track “Quando Quando” and his Dad just starts belting out the song at the top of his voice. It’s amazing and the guy can really sing.
LH: After seeing that video on YouTube and knowing that the mother of one of my best friends who was in her mid-90’s by then, was suffering from Alzheimer’s; and him telling me about how she was so non-responsive, I sent him that clip and I said, ‘Why don’t you try playing her some music?’ About a week later he called me and said. ‘Louis, you have no idea how much I appreciate you sending that video. She is happier and more responsive than she has been in years.’
LH: He said to me, ‘My mother: it’s like night and day! She smiled, was enjoying the music and suddenly had something that made her happy.’ Oh and by the way- I want to throw this out there- I can barely listen to any Sia song without crying. I don’t know what it is about that woman’s music, especially when I see her videos because she always has that young dancer (Maddie Ziegler) in her videos. And she is an extraordinary talent as well. I just get moved and emotional by watching and listening to people express their talents.
Three Questions I ask everyone I interview.
PC: Do you have a favourite word or what is your most used word?
LH: Hateful! It doesn’t express who I am, that I would choose a word like ‘hateful’, it’s just that it’s a very expressive word, and not a lot of people use it to express things that are … well… hateful (laughs). And whenever I do, people laugh and say, ‘I like that’. But honestly, I don’t know if I have a favourite word… I mean, how many people tell you ‘fuck’ is a favourite? (laughs) It’s definitely not mine.
PC: Only one so far! Lots have said yes is their favourite word actually.
PC: Yes actually, which is better than ‘no’!
LH: This is the word I’m going to say is my favourite, scratch hateful my favourite word is can and my favourite quote (and I know that’s not your question) but it is: Never simply do the best you can. Do what it takes.
PC: How would you describe your perfect day?
LH: My perfect day would have to include my daughter, so I would say: waking up, taking my daughter for her favourite breakfast at the local deli (Fromin’s), getting her favourite breakfast meal (which is corned beef omelette), then go to the swimming pool which is down on the beach in Santa Monica, then enjoy the beach, after that get cleaned up and go to the promenade and shop, buy her some clothes and what not, then come home, cook her dinner and watch a talent show.
PC: I cannot live without?
LH: One thing I honestly can’t live without… Wait…does it have to be one thing?
PC: No, no.
LH: I couldn’t live without my daughter and my family, my friends and my work. I couldn’t live without any of those.
Thanks to Louis for such a marvellous interview. Thanks to my editor Davina Baynes for her hard work.
You can follow Louis Herthum on Twitter
This interview has been edited for clarity and length. Any opinions or views expressed within the interview are the subject’s own and publication does not imply endorsement of any such opinions or views by Absolute Music Chat or its personnel.