Jimmi Simpson is no stranger to playing the odd character (Psych) or the one fated for darkness (House of Cards, Westworld) on your favorite television show, and it appeared as if that's what was going to happen again in the opening scenes of Black Mirror's "USS Callister." However, the twist of the masterfully written episode allowed Simpson to break the pattern and become the hero he rarely gets to play.
"Playing a guy that got to be a hero in the end was kind of the inverse of what I'm used to. And it was just beautiful," Simpson tells TV Guide as part of our Best Performances series. "As I was reading this script, I was just like, 'Wow this is just such a beautifully written character.' And then to see oh my God, he has this breakthrough and he gets to blow himself up with the bad guy — oh, I was so pleased. I've never gotten to do something heroic like that. It was kind of a dream come true."
"USS Callister" explores abuse in the workplace after a disgruntled employee, Robert Daly (Jesse Plemmons), makes digital copies of all the coworkers he thinks have wronged him and forces them to play along in his digital dream world. When they don't agree to go along with his plan, he comes up with horrifying ways to torture them until they agree.
Daly's business partner Walton (Simpson) was the first to be forced into the sci-fi experiment and refused to play the longest, until Daly made a digital copy of Walton's son and killed him in front of his partner's eyes. The audience never sees little Tommy's actual death, but instead has to feel the pain of a father's worst nightmare through Simpson as he tells the rest of the crew the story of how Daly broke his character.
"As an actor, most of my work comes though empathy as opposed to any kind of method of my own experience," Simpson says when talking about his approach for the painful scene. "For that situation I took Charlie [Brooker]'s words, which were so articulate, and I just dropped into the mind of the person that was able to articulate, while distracting himself with a sip of a booze."
The heartbreaking moment has Simpson in contention for an Emmy nomination in the Supporting Actor in a Limited Series or Television Movie category. While Simpson is a familiar face to many Emmy voters, his turn in "USS Callister" breaks hearts and allows him to redeem himself by taking down the bad guy at the end. Simpson's tears elicited the fear and empathy from the audience, but he gives most of the credit to the script.
"It was all there for me to give up my imagination and just exist in this space that Charlie had just defined so clearly," he says.
Emmy nominations will be announced Thursday, July 12 and the ceremony airs Monday, Sept. 17 on NBC. Black Mirror Season 4 is currently streaming on Netflix.