A few days before the second season finale of Westworld, Leonardo Nam is playing coy about his character’s fate. “I am just as interested as you to find out,” he says with a laugh. Like fans, the 38-year-old actor has had to embrace a measure of confusion when it comes to the multiple timelines and puzzle-box narratives of HBO’s sci-fi western.
Thanks to Westworld, Nam’s star is on the rise. Born in Argentina to Korean parents, he moved with his family to Australia as a child. There he performed in church plays with his brother and sister, but it was studying Shakespeare in high school that really piqued his interest in acting. When he was 19, he moved to New York with almost no money — even spending a few nights sleeping in Central Park — before landing a spot with the legendary Uta Hagen, training at the Herbert Berghof studio.
While performing in Shakespeare in the Park, he was cast in his first major film role alongside Scarlett Johansson and Chris Evans in 2004’s The Perfect Score. Parts in The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, and The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift followed. But while his co-stars became household names, Nam remained on the periphery of fame. “I would be lying if I said it doesn’t matter in the industry,” he admits. “To know that opportunities weren’t even shown to me because I didn’t have the name or face recognition needed — you ask yourself, is it talent? Is it because I’m Asian?”
Nam recalls hearing a rumor that Warner Bros. was considering recasting his role in The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2. There was concern that Middle America wouldn’t respond to an Asian male in a romantic role, so Nam set out to make himself into a matinee idol, hitting the gym extra hard. It paid off, in more ways than one: he retained the role in the film and met his husband at the gym. “It’s a true basic-gay love story!” he jokes. They are now the proud parents of twin 18-month-old boys.
Since Westworld, however, Nam has noticed a shift in the kind of roles for which he’s being considered. “I’m definitely starting to see roles that traditionally would have been cast as a white male,” he says. Many of those are in sci-fi or post-apocalyptic films, and he’s fine with that. “What I like in particular about sci-fi is that it usually offers a really interesting commentary on where we are now or where we’re going.”
And Nam is finally beginning to get more of that all-important recognition for his work, which itself is a kind of commentary on the ways in which Hollywood is changing. On a recent trip to Rajasthan he encountered fans at a temple who watch Westworld on their phones. “We now have access to a global storytelling platform,” he says. “You can’t separate the time that we live in from the content we’re creating.”
So, what’s next for Nam? Well, on Westworld, we’ve yet to see him in the buff — one of the few characters who hasn’t stripped down — that’s something to perhaps look forward to in Season 3, even if no one can quite figure out the plot. “I’m down!” Nam, says. “I’ve got a beautiful body. Why not?”
*This story is part of our '99 Things We Love About Australia' feature in the August issue of Out.