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Why Ash From Westworld Looks So Familiar

Over the course of its three-seasons-and-counting run on HBO, the sci-fi mystery box drama Westworld has developed quite the reputation for pushing its sweeping narrative in wildly unpredictable directions, often delivering stories as confounding as they are utterly enthralling. That was particularly true of the series' second season, which found Westworld's creative team not only testing the limits of their viewers devotion with a truly baffling finale, but also thinning their brilliant cast with an unexpected rash of blood-letting that was shocking even for a series that typically wallows in it.

So tricky was Westworld's second season, creators Lisa Joy and Jonathan Nolan vowed to refocus the narrative in season 3. They did just that throughout the show's recent HBO run, expanding the Westworld landscape in ways that even die-hard fans of the series couldn't have anticipated. As so many of Westworld's early regulars didn't make it out of season 2, Joy and Nolan refocused their series with a bevy of new characters in tow, some of whom (Breaking Bad's Aaron Paul in particular) were likely very familiar to viewers. 

There's little question the actor who portrayed Paul's criminal ally turned freedom fighter Ash was one of the more familiar faces to join the fray for Westworld's third season. It belongs to the one and only Lena Waithe, who's spent the better part of the last decade contributing (both in front of the camera and behind) to some of the more intriguing shows and movies around. Here's why Ash from Westworld looks so familiar. 

Lena Waithe often stole the show on Master of None

If you did recognize Lena Waithe's face in season 3 of Westworld, we'd wager it's because you were a fan of Aziz Ansari's award-winning Netflix dramedy Master of None. If not, we'll tell you the series followed the personal and professional travails of Dev, a 30-something New Yorker trying to make his way in showbiz. Aziz Ansari, of course, portrayed Dev throughout every episode of Master of None's two-season run, serving as the series' creator, producer, and director as well.

Lena Waithe appeared in ten episodes of Master of None, delivering scene-stealing work as Dev's longtime friend and confidant Denise. She's also the only co-star on the series whose character took center stage for an entire episode. Titled "Thanksgiving," that episode came late in Master of None's bravura second season, and found Waithe's character struggling not just with with her own sexuality, but with coming out to her friends and family over the course of several years' worth of the titular holiday. 

"Thanksgiving" was easily the most deeply confessional episode of the series, which had already built a substantial reputation for exploring intensely personal terrain. So dear was the story Waithe wanted to tell in "Thanksgiving," she actually wrote the episode herself, and was rewarded for her efforts with her very own Emmy Award for Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series. And just FYI, it remains arguably the strongest episode of a series that really didn't have any bad ones.  

Lena Waithe was not always what she appeared in Ready Player One

For any up-and-coming actor, getting a call to appear in a film from a legit cinematic icon like Steven Spielberg is nothing short of a dream come true scenario. We can say with all certainty that was likely just the case for Lena Waithe when Spielberg cast her in his big budget 2018 sci-fi spectacular Ready Player One — though we'd also wager Waithe's already growing fanbase was equally thrilled when she eventually showed her face in the film.

That moment didn't come until late in the action, around the time Wade (Tye Sheridan) and his merry band of misfit VR junkies finally meet face to face in hopes of finding a fabled Easter Egg which will secure control of the vast online universe known as the OASIS. If you haven't seen Ready Player One (or read the popular book its based on), the story is essentially a love-letter to all things pop culture, wrapped inside of a compelling mystery fueled by loads of bombastic action.

For most of the action in Ready Player One, Lena Waithe's Helen appears only as her avatar Aech, an orc-like creature who happens to be Wade's OASIS bestie. Fans of the actor no doubt recognized her distinctive voice early on in the action, but we're pretty sure they were just as surprised as most when she revealed her real-world self to Wade late in the film. The scene proved to be one of Ready Player One's finest moments.

Lena Waithe went wonderfully over the top for Dear White People

Throughout her still relatively young career, Lena Waithe has more than made a habit of penning and appearing in films and TV shows about people whose stories are typically relegated to the periphery of showbiz (see Waithe's marvelous Showtime series The Chi and 2019's egregiously overlooked indie gem Queen and Slim). Some might even say Waithe has made it her personal mission to help bring those stories to the masses whether they arrive as modern tragedies or skewering social comedies.

The multi-talented actor-slash-writer-slash-producer was at it again when she signed up for a three-episode arc on Justin Simian's daring, frequently hilarious Netflix dramedy Dear White People. Based on Simian's own 2014 flick of the same name, Dear White People follows the travails of a group of African American students navigating various degrees of discrimination and marginalization on the campus of a predominantly white Ivy League college. 

Rest assured, Dear White People lost none of its visceral dramatic bite or wickedly insightful humor in transitioning to a serialized narrative. In fact, we'd offer said translation has allowed Simian and company to explore the series' complex themes and scenarios in far greater depth over its three ten-episode seasons. Lena Waithe turned up on Dear White People in the show's second season, and did so in giddily over-the-top fashion as the rapper-slash-reality TV star P. Ninny. We won't say much more of Waithe's appearance as P. Ninny on Dear White People, save that it remains some of the actor's most brilliant comedic work, and it comes on one of Netflix's most important original series — one that you really need to discover for yourself.