Born in Argentina from Korean parents, raised in Australia and now rocking Los Angeles, Leonardo Nam is a transformative, creative and kind of idealistic star in the industry.
In love with Luca Guadagnino’s movies “I am love” and “Call me by your name”, open to opportunities without taking himself too seriously, Leonardo’s background made things not always easy for him: he recalls how rarely he used to see Asian faces in Australian TV, but he overcame it all and is, now, a great actor and a character widely loved by the fanbase of his most recent work.
Mostly known for his roles in “The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants” and “Fast and Furious” and as the human Body Shop technician Lutz in the HBO’s award-winning series “Westworld”.
We met him in Silver Lake, Los Angeles, and were immediately carried away by his larger than life personality and his great passion for acting and sharing experiences, which made even more thrilling the discussion about such a complicated and mysterious show like “Westworld,” which will be returning on April 22nd.
Of course, good TV shows geeks as we are, we couldn’t but be fully into the Westworld buzz and, casting a light on some of the first season’s behind the scenes, we can assure it’ll be a hell of a season two.
How did it all start for you?
It really started because I wanted to be someone. It’s important for anyone, I think, to know that they are able to live their dream: by living your dream, you become someone.
For me, I was in Australia when everything kind of connected: I was studying Architecture and I had always wanted to study drama as well. But at the time, in Australia, there was no Asian face on the screen, on TV or in the movies, so it didn’t dawn on me that I could become an actor, and I tried to go down the path of just being an architect.
Then, I remember I got into the final audition round for NIDA, which is kind of the Juilliard of Australia, but it was on the same day of my big constructions exam.
And I remember this very clearly: getting off the bus and having to choose. If I went left, my architecture school was there; if I went right, the drama school was there. I remember thinking “I need to go right”.
It all kind of started to click together for me, then, and I decided to go right…which led me right here!
“I think everyone has those moments.
If you listen to yourself and to the true voice inside of you that never lies.”
True voices and purposes in life come from hearing to that inner voice. That part of me led me to acting. I didn’t actually get in, but I was working with a mentor and she said to me: “Great, you didn’t get in. That’s ok. You need to get out of Australia anyway. There are no faces like you, here, there are not going to be any roles for you right now. What you need to do is to go and study: you need to have the craft so that, no matter what anyone says, whether or not they end up writing roles and the world starts to see more inclusive and diverse characters, you’ll still have your craft. You’d still be a great actor.”
And so, I see it like making cabinetry, like making furniture. Once you understand the physics of it and how to actually make a table, then you have to bring in taste, so that the wood will be the way that it looks. That’s what I started to learn about: how to craft something, a character and a story; how to be something that adds value to the story.
So I moved to New York to study drama and, from there, I got my first movie, which was “The Perfect Score.” It was about stealing the SAT Scores, with Chris Evans and Scarlett Johansson: it was really exciting for me. It was the impossible dream, in so many ways, it was impossible to do: this Asian face who sounds like an Australian but can do American accents.
I remember people laughing, and they said, “You’re never going to do that.”
But I did! It’s amazing. And, then, my entry into Hollywood came from that movie, and that one film led to another. I started doing “The Sisterhood of Travelling Pants”, “Fast and Furious” and, now, “Westworld.”
Do you think that there’s any difference between New York, Australia and Hollywood based productions?
I think that there is.
I mean, I do feel like there’s an energy about New York-based productions and a presence that makes you feel like everything is not necessarily about the pretty. It can be a more interesting choice, about the story and about interesting storytelling. I think New York productions and foreign productions, such as Australian or Italian, have a different kind of environment. Here in Hollywood…they have wonderful filmmakers as well, but there can be more space for a commercial kind of film or show.
Since you have mentioned foreign films…Is there any international production you’d like to work with?
I love “Call Me By Your Name”, which is also the most recent film I’ve seen. Which…I mean, Oh My God! Just the way that it was filmed and directed, it’s just beautiful! One of my other favorite films is another Italian film, it’s with Tilda Swinton, where she speaks Italian. It’s also designed by Fendi: “I am Love”. It’s just beautiful.
I’d love to work in an Italian film, on a Japanese film, a Korean or French one… It’s a dream to work with any kind of production that takes and honors the country from which it takes from.
You’ve worked in both, so what’s the main difference between TV Series and Movies for you?
The main difference is the amount of time that you have to film. Sometimes, in a TV Series, you’re short of time, but with a film, usually, there’s a little bit more time. The other thing, in a show not all the script is always written, while in a film it’s all done. You know your character will go from here to there, but in a TV show they have an idea of where the character is going and you can trust they’re going to go there, and that you’re going to enjoy the ride.
Unlike a movie, then, you kind of are able to shape the character as you go…
Kind of, yes. If the collaboration project is there, then definitely. It’s a dream come true, when it happens.
So, let’s talk “Westworld”! How did you shape your character, Lutz?
It was amazing. “Westworld” feels like five movies in one: it feels like a movie when you go in and you’re working with the production. In the first season, they didn’t give me the script; they only gave me my scenes. It was all blacked out, just my lines. And I said to the writer “I have a question…what’s this? Who is Arnold?” and he’d be like “oh, we can’t tell you that”. I was, like, “What?”
It was so crazy! And the more and more I started to talk with the other actors, the more I realized everyone was like that: no one really understood where the full story was going until you watched it. And I remember we would be on set and people would say “Hey, are you a robot? Because I thought you were human…yesterday. But now this script says…are you a robot? Am I a robot? Are they robots?”
We were going crazy.
And I remember the creators, Jonathan (Nolan) and Lisa (Joy), they were prolific and amazing, they said: “There’s method to this madness. There is a reason why we are only giving you this, and it’s not because we want to make this harder for you”. They felt it would add to the tension and performance.
It was extremely excruciating to do this: any creative person can get really insecure about their work, so you have to find things to anchor yourself with, to have training, but being on that show and not knowing a lot about the story was so wild. It was just trusting and believing it would all come together…and it did.
“Everyone is the best of the best in the industry.
They are all bringing their A-Game.”
How was the mood on set, then? Did you guys were all curious?
It was a wonderful group of people to work with.
First of all, you come to the set and you see that call sheet, and you see Anthony Hopkins, Thandie (Newton) and James Marsden and…I was just like “oh my God”, and the producers were surprised as well with the cast.
But then, when I went to work, everyone was so genuinely nice: they were so professional but, also, really caring for you. It was so wonderful.
And we as actors all kind of hang out as well, every now and then. We had a barbecue once, I think it was Luke Hemsworth the one that called us together but we were at his brother’s house. It was in the middle of production.
It was the first time we all were together outside of the set, so we were like “ok, ok, what’s happening? Did you get that? Oh, I didn’t get that either!”…We were sharing theories! And it was a really fun bonding experiment.
I’ve got to say, one of the other great things about working on “Westworld” was that everyone is the best of the best in the industry and they are all bringing their A-Game. The costume designer, the DP, whoever is top of their game. Everything is so focused.
Years of crafting to get to that moment and I knew I helped to create it, it was just wonderful to see. Of course, also seeing other actors was amazing, but I really loved watching other departments doing their work.
If you could visit Westworld — like, in a dream…who would you be? Where would you go?
For me, I need to go to The Man in Black. You can always go good, if it gets too much. But where would I go? I’d like to see the underwater, or I’d go to space. I remember in the movie they went to Roman World. Recently I was in Turkey and I saw these ruins…I remember thinking “wouldn’t it be great?” I could see people there. I could see it.
So you did see the movie! What did you think about it?
It was scary. When I watched this I thought: of course they’re going to make this a show! It makes sense. And the crazy things is that a lot of the EA that’s happening now could be leading to Westworld…we’re kind of going there.
What makes you say “Yes, I want to do a part”?
Well, it has got to be juicy. It has got to make something connect inside you, so whether it’s funny and I start to laugh or I have to have some sort of emotional reaction to it. I think that, as a storyteller and as a creator, you have to look for projects that are going to shine a light on those who are under-represented. And I think this is my purpose, here: to give voice to those voices that would otherwise be unheard. I think now there is a wonderful opportunity, because people are starting to see with all these different lights, all these different kinds of stories that people are wanting to know, kind of different faces that people are wanting to see.
There has to be something I want to be able to bring into it, I’ve got to be excited.
And there’s a director you’d like to work with in the future?
Yeah, there are: lots of them. I recently worked with Ava DuVernay, she’s such a wonderful person and director to work with. And she reminded me that there are so many directors out there that are now really coming into their own. There’s an American director called Andrew Ann that I would like to work with. I think he’s absolutely phenomenal.
And also Luca Guadagnino, the director of “Call me by your name“, I need to work with him. Just the way the film was put together and the way it looked, it’s absolutely brilliant.
What’s next for you, now?
I have a movie out on Netflix, called “Happy Anniversary”. I just shot a pilot, a new TV Show up in Vancouver, called “Dead Inside”; we’ll see if that goes. It’s a funny role. And I’m also developing a couple other projects. One is a gangster movie at the time of Al Capone, that kind of gangster period movie, and there’s this other project I’m joining, which is more like a thriller kind of piece, all based on a true story.
Must have on set: Tea
Superpower: I’d love to have a really good voice. If you could just hear my voice and your heart melted. That would just be the best.
Epic Fail on the job: I remember this. Worst audition story ever, like ever. There’s a casting director that I’ve known for a long time and she’s a wonderful one, always puts me on amazing projects. So there was this one project they brought me on, and it was for Sacha Baron Cohen. It does a lot of improv work and I did all my research, and I also worked in clown work as well, I actually worked with the same clown teacher that he did…so I decided to not break character. I was just going to be that character the whole way through. It was a really flamboyant character. The casting director knew me very well, some of the other producers knew me as well, so I go in without breaking character and I could tell they were puzzled, like “o-ok, Leo…” All the while I just kept responding as the character, even as I was leaving.
It was also my birthday when that happened. A really sad birthday.
They looked at me, in the end, and she was again trying to make conversation, and I wouldn’t still break. I decided that I’m not going to do that anymore.
Happy place: Meditating, so it can be any place, any time. Wherever I can meditate.
Favorite accent: Italian! I feel like when I speak with an Italian, the whole body changes.
Favorite movie then and now: My favorite movie as a child was “The Goonies”. It was so fun for me, I loved that movie. I think my favorite movie now…I’m going to say “Call me by your name”. I didn’t know anything about this movie, but it was Award Season and I had to vote, so I went to see all these different films. When I came out of that movie, I went to a coffee shop: I was standing, waiting for my coffee, and the barista was there. So I just leaned against the counter and said, “Isn’t love amazing?”
It just came out of my mouth! I just kept talking about love, and I realized that it was because of the movie: it really brought that out in me and I wanted to connect with other people about love.
That was a really special thing, that’s what you want a film, or any project really, to do.
Favorite Word: “Grazie mille” (thank you very much.) This honestly was before I knew I was doing this interview! I just say “grazie mille” all the time. I just love that you guys keep saying that.
“My favorite word is ‘Grazie Mille’…
I just love that you guys keep saying that.”
Who you’d rather be: I’d love to be James Bond
Favorite Emoji: ?
Italian movie: “Otto e Mezzo”
Favorite quote: “It’s gonna be all right”
The last series you binge-watched: I’m currently watching “American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace”. I’m like three episodes away from the end, it’s being delicious.
What have you already crossed from your Bucket List: I went to Egypt, seen the Pyramids: that was a big thing to see. And to cruise on the Nile, that’s a big Bucket List thing for me.
I Dreamed a Dream… Something about the Korean war. Not necessarily only about that, but surrounding that time. I was born in Argentina and grew up in Australia and the reason I was born in another country is in relationship to the war that happened, and is still happening, in Korea. Something just like “Saving Private Ryan,” but done in that world.
Or a spy movie!
The most beautiful thing while filming… “Westworld”: I remember very clearly that, in the first season, I would film when the sun was shining and I closed my eyes and felt the sun. And this time I would be looking at the moon, close my eyes and feel the difference. And it’s just amazing.
Ops! Break Time:
Snack Crush: These things that Trader’s Joe has: orange slices dipped in dark chocolate. That and with the blackberry.
Sweets or Popcorn? Both! Together.
Since we are Italian… Hawaiian pizza, yay or nay? Yes, of course, yes! Oh…you guys are so disappointed! [laughs]
Photos by Johnny Carrano
Grooming by Nathaniel Dezan at Opus Beauty using R+CO & CHANEL Palette Essentielle.