When the possibility of Unsolved came your way, did you have any reservations, initially?
JIMMI SIMPSON: I plead ignorance, as the key to a lot of my good decisions. I auditioned for Westworld, thinking it was gonna be a knock-off spoof. Thank god, I didn’t know Anthony Hopkins was starring in it. With Unsolved, I knew the hits of Biggie and Tupac, but I didn’t really know much of anything. I certainly didn’t know who Russell Poole was. I had been working for a year and a half straight, and I’d been blessed with these projects that I really cared about and believed in and would watch myself, and I had just said to my agent and manager, since we have a very thin window of options here, let’s try to choose things that mean something for a minute, and then I’ll do silly stuff. And then, a week later, Unsolved came across. I read it and I was so struck by the writing. I was like, “Oh, man, I think the next beautiful project is already here.”
And then, I saw that Anthony Hemingway was attached as a director, and there’s no way I wouldn’t work with him. I had worked with him on The Newsroom on one episode, and it was a revelation of what a director can offer on a television set. I went and had breakfast with Anthony and (show creator) Kyle [Long]. I always assume I’m trying to pitch myself, no matter what, and I think they were trying to pitch themselves to me. It was just three sweet met, pitching each other to each other, and I was sold, definitely. Once I signed the contract, I met with them again at their offices and they were like, “How do you feel about following Johnny Depp?” I was like, “What do you mean?” And they were like, “He’s playing Russell Poole in the feature.” I was like, “What?! I have to read the trades more often. I had no idea!” My choices come from the heart. It’s about how it makes me feel. This instantly made me feel good, so I instantly agreed to it, especially because Anthony Hemingway was attached. And then, I met Kyle Long and he’s one of those lovely, kind of rare humans in Hollywood. It was just right on.
What most interested you about this story and the way that it’s been told in this series?
SIMPSON: I’m stunned by how Kyle Long was able to write this story in a way that was so fair and so balanced, and then Anthony Hemingway was able to take that material and direct it in a way that just takes you to the moon. No one has really pulled that off yet. I’m just impressed by what these men have done. I can’t believe I got to be a part of it. What we’re doing is providing you with more information, fairly, than anyone ever has. What you’re gonna be presented with, at the end of the show, is this perfectly drawn picture of everything that happened. And then, the audience will be like, “Why has nothing happened?!” We’re not the court system. We’re not saying, “This is what is . . .” We’re saying, “These are the facts.” No one has given all of the information, from all sides, this clearly before. I think what makes it so consuming is that it’s an amazing cop show. You can see the glint in this young man’s eye. Tupac was 25. It’s stunning that you’re not only drawn into the narrative, but with every moment, you’re like, “This happened,” and it was only 20 years ago.
With everything that you learned about these murders and these cases, would you say that these murders are unsolved, or are they better defined as unprosecuted?
SIMPSON: Unsolved applies, in legal terms, but I would say that unprosecuted makes more sense. It’s more ill prosecuted and waylaid. The problem is that it wasn’t done right, at the time, and once a certain window passes and half of your suspects are dead, it’s not even like, “We know who it is, they just didn’t prosecute.” They just didn’t do it right. They didn’t handle it right. We’re left with a certain degree of dimness. I think the facts are pretty clear, but there is a certain degree of dimness because it wasn’t handled properly, the first time.
Do you think there will ever be any resolution to either or both of these cases?
SIMPSON: I think so. When you have something like Unsolved or Serial, or anything where you’re dealing with someone who’s done the research to clearly articulate an unresolved situation, you get a whole bunch more brains thinking about it. What Unsolved can do is that it can bring about, at the very least, a universal dialogue. Instead of five different theories that everybody thinks, with each one skewed to support itself, there’s gonna be a more conscious and conscientious idea of what happened, and people will be able to talk about it, all on the same level with the same information. This story is just so compelling. You just don’t even know that you’re absorbing history, half the time. That’s what’s so profound about it. It’s all real. Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction, and this is one of those situations, and everybody needs to know about exactly what happened. I’m so glad that Anthony and Kyle got together to tell this story, this way.
Westworld was mind-blowing and mind-altering, in so many ways. By the end of Season 1, did you feel that you had clarity, in regard to who this man was and how he evolved from William into the Man in Black, or did you feel like you were only just starting to scratch the surface of what happened there?
SIMPSON: I was playing it as if we’re just now scratching the surface. Once I was clear what was happening, it wasn’t to try to get to Ed [Harris], by the end of the season. It was to try to get to a believable seedling of what becomes Ed. In my mind’s eye, to help me as an actor and to get through what I needed to do, there was a certain romantic next few chapters, in which a very, very confused William tries to battle the anger that he’s feeling towards having his heart broken. So, that’s what I was playing. It was the crack into, “Okay, this could go two ways.”
Do you feel like the questions that you had, after finishing the first season, are getting answered in Season 2?
SIMPSON: I think so.
So, if our minds were blown by Season 1, how much more will our minds be blown by Season 2?
SIMPSON: In the David Cronenberg film Scanners, there’s a scene where Michael Ironside is demonstrating his psychic abilities. If your mind was blown by the first season, than in Season 2, you’re definitely the guy with glasses that gets the dark side of Ironside.
Unsolved: The Murders of Tupac and the Notorious B.I.G. airs on Tuesday nights on the USA Network. For season two updates, Follow “Westworld AfterWord” for all breaking news.