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Fate Drives Television Star Jimmi Simpson to the Stage in Empathitrax

The upcoming cast member of HBO's '"Westworld'' stars in Ana Nogueira's new play at HERE.

Meet Him and Her, a young couple in a splintering relationship. If a new drug has the power to bring them back together, by allowing them to experience each other's emotions, will it be enough to keep them together? Thus begins Empathitrax, a play by Ana Nogueira receiving its world premiere as a Coult Coeur production at HERE.

Leading the company as half of this troubled couple is Jimmi Simpson, a veteran of stage and screen known for unconventional characters like Liam McPoyle on It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia and computer hacker Gavin Orsay on House of Cards. Simpson is no stranger to the stage — he made his Broadway debut and won a Theatre World Award for Aaron Sorkin's The Farnsworth Invention, and last year starred opposite Laurie Metcalf in a Los Angeles production of Nick Jones' Trevor — but this is the first play he's done in New York in a decade. Though the timing of it wasn't perfect, the experience was too good to pass up.

Jimmi Simpson and Justine Lupe star in Ana Nogueira's Empathitrax, directed by Adrienne Campbell-Holt, for Colt Coeur at HERE.
(© Robert Altman)

What was it that interested you in Empathitrax?
It was Ana's script, first and foremost. I've never really seen someone articulate both the fantasy and the nightmare qualities of getting to truly know the person you're with on every level. It puts into question, how much do you want to know and how close can you get? It just really resonated with me. I thought that spoke for men and women, not even in generalizations, in pretty specific examples of what it's like when we're dealing with the other, who's operating on a completely different level.

You came into the project rather late. How did that come about?
I was in Los Angeles and they lost the actor they cast in my role to a possible TV job. So they called me up and said, "Could you fly over here in a couple of days for the first rehearsal?" Before I read it, I said there's no way I'm going to pay for flights to New York, sublet, and all this stuff to do a play for free. And then I read it and had no choice.

Jimmi Simpson as Trevor and Laurie Metcalf as Sandra in Nick Jones' Trevor, a production of Circle X Theatre Co. in Los Angeles in 2015.
(© Ryan Miller/Capture Imaging)

You're trained in theater, but you've mostly done film and television. Do you miss the stage?
I did a small play in Los Angeles last year [Trevor by Nick Jones]. It was my first play in about seven years. The play before that, ten years ago, was a real big thing, in terms of audience size and producers and things like that [Aaron Sorkin's The Farnsworth Invention on Broadway]. My experience last year was everybody was there because they love it, and they wanted to explore the piece, and it was an interesting writer, and somehow Laurie Metcalf signed on and blew me the hell away.

After I did that play, I realized I had been getting used to the medium of film and television, which is a way different process. There's a lot less communal rehearsal and it's all about personal preparation. Working together with these talented actors on Trevor made me realize I need to do a play a year. I spent eight months [filming the upcoming series] Westworld and that was an amazing, very taxing, gorgeous experience, and I was as exhausted. Then this play showed up, and it wasn't like perfect timing, but it just needed to be done.

It's a pretty intimate play. How do you develop a relationship with your scene partner in such a short amount of time?
Justine Lupe is an actress that I did a reading with at South Coast Rep four years ago, and I was so blown away by this kid's talent that I instantly became her best friend. We've been thick as thieves for four years. When this play came to me, I knew my best friend had randomly moved to New York to try some theater, got this role...and I was going to be jumping in to work with her.

This whole experience sounds like it was written in the stars.
There is a serendipitous quality to it. We all get our success through a whole lot of luck. Yes, a lot us are talented. But when you put all your hard work in, you still need the chips to fall in the right place.

Him (Jimmi Simpson) hangs with his best friend, Matt D (Genesis Oliver).
(© Robert Altman)