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Zahn McClarnon had never acted in a love story on screen. He’d also never worked with children — or Anthony Hopkins — but he got to do all those things in just one episode of Westworld.
The 51-year-old actor joined the HBO series this season as Akecheta, a Ghost Nation host whom viewers had previously only seen in a terrifying light, seemingly on his way to abduct Maeve’s (Thandie Newton) daughter in flashbacks, or trying to scalp other hosts and guests. It was on Sunday night’s episode, however, that we finally got some backstory, and realized Akecheta wasn’t at all what he seemed.
In fact, he was one of the first hosts to discover the maze and reach consciousness, and became fully aware of his change in storyline. Scalping was another way of prompting others find the maze, and he was trying to help Maeve’s daughter, not hurt her. All this, plus the reveal that Akecheta was the first host to see the door made Sunday’s episode a powerful one — especially for McClarnon.
Source: Hollywood Reporter
Zahn McClarnon speaks with THR about “Kiksuya,” and what’s next for Ghost Nation in the episodes ahead.
“You only live as long as the last person who remembers you.”
These are the wise words of Akecheta, “the first of us,” as he’s described by a fellow member of the Ghost Nation tribe all the way back in “The Riddle of the Sphinx.” The fourth episode of season two as Akecheta’s second full appearance in Westworld, having debuted two episodes earlier in “Reunion,” albeit under very different circumstances: clad in business attire, face-to-face with Ben Barnes’ Logan Delos, doing his level best to convince the narcissistic rich kid into investing in Westworld’s future.
Fast-forward a few weeks later, and Akecheta once again stands front and center in Westworld, even sharing screen time with Logan once again. This time, the circumstances could not be more different, as the painted Ghost Nation warrior stands tall over a physically and emotionally naked Logan. Both men wear their souls on their sleeve in the moment, and it’s Akecheta who gets the opportunity to further express his inner self over the ensuing hour: “Kiksuya,” written by Carly Wray and Dan Deitz, easily the most emotionally and thematically rich episode of the series through 18 installments and counting.
Wray, Deitz, director Uta Briesewitz and showrunners Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy are among the many individuals responsible for bringing “Kiksuya” to life, though it’s the central actor who is likely to be best and most immediately remembered walking away from the outing: Zahn McClarnon, late of FX’s Fargo and Netflix’s Longmire, the performer tasked with bringing Akecheta to life. Speaking with The Hollywood Reporter, McClarnon opened up about how he first became aware of his central role in the episode specifically and the season at large, what to expect as Akecheta’s journey continues moving forward, and more.
How did you learn about “Kiksuya,” and your central role in the episode? Did you sign on for Westworld knowing you would take center stage later in the season?
Jonah and Lisa did explain it to me when I first started. They said they were going to dedicate a full episode to Ghost Nation. I wasn’t sure they would dedicate it quite so much to my character at the time. They did inform me they were going to explore Ghost Nation and give the audience an idea of where they came from and their whole storyline. It was pointed out to me at the beginning.
Westworld’s convoluted timelines, plethora of secrets, and philosophical questions about the nature and personhood of robots have dominated the conversation around the series and quite often episodes of the series itself. But when a stellar performance from a member of the Ghost Nation takes over for one of its most focused episodes, the paradigm shift is staggering.
The Ghost Nation is made up of “older model hosts,” which have been around since beta or alpha testing. They’re the first ones in and the ones that almost get left behind. (Not a bad metaphor for the Native American experience in America.) But with “Kiksuya,“ they stop being a metaphor and start being characters.
Especially their chief, Akecheta, who’s appeared in the last few episodes and is played by Zahn McClarnon in a tour-de-force performance, navigating some seriously choppy waters when it comes to memory and identity. McClarnon spoke with Paste about playing a member of the Ghost Nation, Terrence Malick, and what it’s like working on Westworld.
Paste: I’m so glad we could talk, because your performance in “Kiksuya” blew me away.
Zahn McClarnon: Appreciate it, man. Thank those beautiful bold creative people. [Showrunners] Jonah [Nolan] and Lisa [Joy], [writer] Carly Wray, the directors, the production… It takes the whole team. It really does take a village.