Question for you: did the LAPD use propagandist maneuvers and media manipulation in the 90’s to fictitiously outline an ongoing east coast/west coast gang war that never even existed and then, using covert tactics and unstable deep cover operatives, deliberately and unlawfully orchestrate behind the scenes murders of influential rappers Christopher ‘Notorious BIG’ Wallace and Tupac Shakur? This film certainly seems to think so, and the fact that it was suspiciously buried in distribution hell for three plus years following its production and snuck unceremoniously into release just this year has me thinking so as well. City Of Lies, based on the documentarian book LAbyrinth, is a fascinating, paranoia laced, very well written procedural thriller starring Johnny Depp as real life LAPD detective Russell Poole who never stopped trying to find out who really shot Biggie and Forest Whitaker as a reporter interested in the case who spends some time with him trying to get to the truth. The film is centralized around 2015 when the final chapter of Russell’s almost career-long investigation arrives at a conclusion but it leaps all over the 90’s for stylish, eerie, memory laden flashbacks that evoke everything from Tony Scott to Bourne movies and the filmmaking aesthetics, score, soundtrack and performances are all exemplary. Depp has had the misfortune of being dealt a few shitty hands lately which I won’t go into too much, but a mystifying scandal was whipped around this film itself to scapegoat him when it appears the real reason this film was buried was… well, just look at the subject matter. He gives a pained, haunted, understated, against type and altogether gripping performance here that hopefully is the start of a surge of roles that sees his phoenix ascent upwards from the quagmire of bullshit he’s been put through. Whitaker is fantastic as well and quite soulful in the third act and director Brad Furman (The Lincoln Lawyer) assembles an unbelievable supporting cast just packed with character actor talent including Michael Paré, Toby Huss, Xander Berkeley, Rockmund Dunbar, Laurence Mason, Louis Herthum, Shea Wigham, Dayton Callie, Biggie’s real life mother Voletta Wallace playing herself, Obba Babatundé, Kevin Chapman, Glenn Plummer and the great Peter Greene as a particularly acid tongued LAPD commander. The film has a way of swerving just south of every question asked and a knack for making you feel like this story is open ended and unsolved. Unsolved is different than unproved though, and if everything that Depp’s Russell Poole cataloged and uncovered is for real then it’s no wonder this film never saw a major release and was held up for so long. Whatever really happened back then, this is one finely crafted thriller with a galaxy of terrific performances, a taut, engaging narrative and an incentive to shed light on those who abuse power, should know better, and need someone to call them out on it. Who better than a good cop like Poole, and who better to bring his story to life than an actor like Depp, who can pretty much do anything but tries something we’re not used to seeing from him everyday: play a regular guy just trying to do the right thing in the face of absolute corruption.
I’m pleased to bring you my first interview in some time, with the incredibly talented Louis Herthum! Louis is a dedicated actor who has recently gained worldwide acclaim for his galvanizing, scene stealing portrayal of Peter Abernathy on HBO’s Westworld, and he has an epic career that includes appearances in films like City Of Lies opposite Johnny Depp, The Possession Of Hannah Grace, Truth, The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button and more. He also has many memorable television roles including Longmire, What/If, Breaking Bad, True Detective, True Blood, Revenge, Sleepy Hollow, Narcos and more. Enjoy and thanks for reading!
Nate: What is your background, and how did you find your way into acting/the industry? Was it something you always knew you wanted to do or did you fall into it unexpectedly?
Louis: I wanted to be a stuntman since the age of 12 when my father took me to see the Steve McQueen film, BULLITT. It was the chase scene in that film that was the inspiration. I was somewhat of a stunt-kid, always doing things that would see me getting a few stitches (or worse) at the doctors office but stunt driving was what I wanted to do the most. I made no bones about it all through the rest of elementary school, high school and the little bit of college (LSU) that I attended. In the mid 70’s I was working for a men’s fine clothing store and they asked me to model for their adds. I did, which led to more modeling jobs with an agency, which led to some on camera commercial gigs, which led finally to working on stage. Once I got on stage, my fate was sealed. I played the lead role of “Starbuck” in the N. Richard Nash play, THE RAIN MAKER. I won an award for the performance and that was it. I stayed in my home town Baton Rouge, did a couple more plays, playing “Will Parker” in OKLAHOMA and “Kenickie” in GREASE, then in January of 1982 I move to L.A.
Nate: Who were some of your influences growing up, favourite actors you’d watch in film and admire?
Louis: I never really had a favorite actor because I was never really that interested in acting. But of course, McQueen was an influence but I didn’t even realize it since it wasn’t his acting that inspired me. But I will have to say that believe it or not, John Travolta’s meteoric rise to fame did make an impression on me. Mainly in Saturday Night Fever. It may be strange to say it this way but I just felt like I could do what he was doing. I think that was very possibly Travolta’s best role ever by the way. And then Grease came along and I felt like… Hey, I can do that! So his rise to fame is what I was more inspired by, not to take anything away from his talent and abilities of course.
Nate: Westworld: such a brilliant performance in one of the best shows out there. Were you approached for the role or did you audition? How was your process in bringing that intense scene to life, basically staring down both Jeffrey Wright and Anthony Hopkins and giving a tour de force in under five minutes. How did you prepare to play Peter?
Louis: Well, first of all thank you for that comment. I had to audition for the role, if was not offered to me. I went in for the initial audition with the assistant casing director and was asked to return to read for the producers. I had several days between the two and I was told to come in and that the door was wide open (what door? ha!) to go as far as I wanted to with the physicality of the character. The scene that I read in the audition was the one you are referring to with Tony and Jeffrey however it was three different characters and different dialogue of course. It was simply a scene they wrote for the audition and every male actor who was playing a robot had to do it. Then you also read for the part you were called in to read for. For me it was the Sheriff. I did pretty much what you see in the show in the audition. Lisa Joy was the only producer in the room and she liked what I did and made comments that let me know that. Then she asked if there was anything else I would like to show them. I answered, “No thanks. I think I will quit while I’m ahead.” They laughed, I left the room and in about 5 or 6 weeks I got the word that I had booked “Peter Abernathy” and of course, I had no idea who that was because I had not read that part. Then my manager said to me, you know that part you read for the audition, that is Peter Abernathy. It was then that I realized I would be doing the scene with Mr. Hopkins because every the audition script named him as Dr. Ford and I had read that he was playing that role. As far as how I prepared for the scene; as I say I did pretty much what you see in the audition so I already had the blueprint if you will for the scene. I did rehearse with Lisa and Jonah one day, running through the entire scene, full tilt, twice. They liked what I was doing and in fact, three days before we filmed the scene, which was five pages long, they added three more pages to it. Most of that was not in the final cut but I think they simply wanted to give me a chance to do more with the character and see what happened. I think it was the better more than not enough scenario. But I think it was edited beautifully.
Nate: True Detective: a very memorable scene and your performance adds to the overall vibe of haunting unease in that area. How did you get involved and what was your experience shooting that scene with Matthew McConaughey? You yourself are from Louisiana and your involvement has an authentic feel. Are you a fan of the show overall?
Louis: I auditioned for that role as well. But I have to say, I went in to that audition daring them not to cast me. I knew that one was mine. I knew I could bring a more authentic Louisiana character to life, especially using a Cajun accent for the character. As for shooting the scene, it was pretty fast really. When I got to the set, Matthew and the director Cary where sitting on the porch of that house. Matthew introduced himself, then Cary and we shot the scene with me holding the shot gun, which was longer than in the final cut. Then we went inside and banged that one out. I didn’t take long at all and it went very smoothly. And I was a huge fan of Season one. Not so much two, and still have yet to watch S3.
Nate: Longmire: very memorable character you got to play here, what was the experience working on this show?
Louis: Omar was a great, fun character to play. Great cast, lots of fun to work with. And shooting in Santa Fe, NM was great. Great locations and lovely place to be for work. As for the role of Omar, I only wish there had been more of him. That role was supposed to be a “strong recurring” character in the series. Omar is very prominent in the books and was so in season’s 1 & 2 but after that, he was hardly seen at all. I found that odd but I guess someone thought that they only needed one “jack of all trades” and found other places for the comic relief, which I felt Omar provided.
Nate: City Of Lies: this film seems to have slipped through the cracks and never got a proper release, how was your experience on it? I was very excited to see it as it has you alongside many other actors I also admire (Peter Greene, Xander Berkeley, Toby Huss etc)
Louis: Oh man. First of all, the film is locked in some kind of legal issue. That is why it has fallen through the cracks. I don’t know if it will ever be seen by the public in the States. But working with Johnny Depp was absolutely delightful. He’s a very sweet, kind person and I think gets a bad wrap. And very funny. He was a pleasure to work with, as was Shea Whigham. And while I didn’t work directly with him, it was nice to see and old friend and magnificent actor, Dayton Callie on set. I had a wonderful closing argument scene as the City Attorney but the director told me he hated to, but that he had to cut it. That was devastating because while filming, jokingly, Johnny asked me, “can you do it worse?” He and Shea said they thought it would make the trailer to the film. I knew it never would but that was nice of them to say. Anyway, I was so hoping to get that piece of footage but alas, I may never see it. Nor anyone else for that matter.
Nate: Of the roles you have played so far in your career, which are some of your favourites?
Louis: Certainly Peter Abernathy is at the top of the list. A close second has to be “Foster” in WHAT/IF with Renee Zellweger. Not only because Renee and the entire producer team were such a wonderful group of people to know and work with, but the role itself was one that I had never been given the opportunity to play. And I thank Mike Kelly (creator) for believing in me enough to give me a character no one had ever seen me play. Stoic, strong, loyal, brave and a forceful character. And like I say, not to hard to come to work when you are playing opposite Ms. Zellweger. She is a delight. Omar was great but too little, and another favorite character was “Ness” in a little indie film I produced in 2004 called RED RIDGE. He was a despicable character but sometimes they are the most fun. You get to do things you would never do in real life. Very few people have seen that film, but with all the streaming services, maybe they will one day.
Nate: How is your life aside from the job, what else do you like to do in terms of hobbies, interests etc?
Louis: I have a great life. I cannot complain. I love art and antiques and have a great collection of both. Love to search for treasures at estate sales and swap meets. I have two classic cars, a 1968 Mustang Fastback which is my homage to “Bullitt” and a 1971 Corvette Stingray. I love to camp, hike, ride my bike, walk on the beach, boxing workout, which I have been doing since long before it was the cool thing to do (1978 to be exact) and of course visiting and hanging with friends, though I have not been able to do enough of that of late but I look forward to getting back to it once the apocalypse subsides, haha!
Nate: Do you have any upcoming projects (film related or otherwise) that you are excited for and would like to mention?
Louis: I recently appeared in an episode of FBI: MOST WANTED and the second season of DIRTY JOHN but that was before he shutdown and they have already aired. But since production has come back, I have started a recurring role on the CBS show, ALL RISE and should be doing more of those in 2021. I have just completed my part in the Apple TV show, HOME BEFORE DARK season 2 (was in season 1 as well). But with the shut down, work was non existent for many months, lets hope things can continue to get better from here. Fingers crossed!!
Nate: Thank you so much for you time Louis, it means a whole lot to myself, our team and all our readers that you took this time to share with us. Cheers to you and your family and best of luck in the future!!