Q: After the events of Season 2, were you worried that Durant might have less of a presence in Season 3?
A: I thought Durant could possibly never be seen again after we shot the end of Season 2. [Laughs]… I think that’s the interesting thing about a good drama show, is that there are many possibilities and things can go in any direction… The Swede certainly looked like he was dead, when he went off that bridge. How do you survive that? So I think it’s good writing. It’s good to see those surprising twists and turns.
Q: How much of Durant’s schemes are you told in advance?
A: This season, I sat down with Mark [Richard] and John [Wirth], and he more or less said to me in broad terms, this is the arc we see for Durant this season, and that it’s about him trying to claw his way back to Hell on Wheels. He starts out in jail and is marginalized from the front lines, but he starts to fight back from Episode 1.
Q: Have you ever been surprised by how Durant manages to get himself out of a bind?
A: Durant is a little bit of a Houdini, all right. [Laughs] He’s very resourceful. That’s one of the things I like about him. He thinks quickly. He thinks on his feet. He can adjust and he can pivot very quickly, and this is a great attribute in business and in the situation that he’s in. I think it’s become a quite amusing and very interesting character trait.
Q: There’s a scene in Episode 308 where Cullen gives Durant a straight razor shave. What was it like to shoot that?
Q: For a bit last season it looked like Psalms might not make it. What did you think when you found out that you’d be promoted to series regular for Season 3?
A: Like all actors, it’s great to have the upgrade from recurring to regular… I was looking forward to some meatier moments for Psalms.
Q: Cholera hits Hell on Wheels this season. Were you worried for Psalms?
A: No. At this point, with them investing in me being a regular, I hope the pendulum is no longer swinging over my head, you know what I mean? I knew that there would be some dangers that come, whether it be the Mormons, the natives, or disease… I just knew that it was another one of the hardships that the characters have to endure.
Q: What have you learned from the show as an actor?
A: James Dean said that the best acting class is in front of the camera, and I think anyone, whether they be a trained actor such as myself or a novice, can only get better by performing in front of the camera… [Director of Photography] Marvin Rush does a great job of bringing certain things to our attention. For example in Episode 305, there was some sunlight that was taking place… and he was letting me know that when I lean forward at certain points, it would highlight my eyes or my mouth and that I could sort of play with that to create an effect or a moment.
Q: Last season you said there was one late night where you had to do pushups to stay awake. Any nights like that this season?
This Thursday at 10/9c, Ed Sanders and Marcus Hunt attempt to assemble a carnival ride then operate dangerous mining equipment during the two-episode season finale of AMC’s Owner’s Manual. For a sneak peek of what lies ahead for both men, check out these Owner’s Manual photos, then read behind the scenes accounts from Marcus (assembling a carnival ride) and Ed (blasting rock in a quarry).
Want to hear about the Owner’s Manual hosts’ experiences from earlier this season? Check out personal blog posts by both Ed Sanders and Marcus Hunt then test your knowledge of carnivals and rock quarries with the Owner’s Manual Ultimate Fan Games.
The Owner’s Manual Season Finale begins at 10/9c on Thu., Sep. 19.
Q: You’ve done quite a bit of acting while standing in a river…
A: It’s sort of like my natural habitat now, wading around in that river. What I always find amusing is — just to regulate our body temperature and protect the actors — we have to wear wetsuits and other sort of water gear. For example, during the Baptism scene last season, I had this flesh-colored unitard underneath all my clothes. It makes it extremely difficult to walk, especially when you’re wearing a corset. [Laughs] I felt like Gumby.
Q: Robin McLeavy said that filming the river scene in Episode 5 this season was difficult for her. How did you get through it?
A: Robin was enormously helpful to me in that scene. She’s a very spiritual person, and that was such a valuable asset just to feel that radiating off her… We couldn’t get in the water to rehearse because of the costumes, and they couldn’t have our dresses getting wet, so we stood on the bank and we talked about it. Just to be in that space, amongst nature — I was glad that that scene didn’t take place in the city or amongst the tents because it added this sort of extraterrestrial aspect to it.
Q: Ruth reveals that she was pregnant with Joseph Black Moon’s baby. Were you surprised?
Q: Mickey’s now running a successful whorehouse and saloon. Are you as good a businessman as your character?
A: [Laughs] I’d like to think I could run it a little bit better. But under the circumstances, Mickey is doing a pretty damn good job.
Q: You’ve actually bartended a lot in real life. Do people recognize you from the show while you’re bartending?
A: Yeah, it’s weird when somebody gives you an iPhone picture of yourself. You’re like, okay, great, so that’s two pints of Guinness and two shots of Jameson and did you guys want to eat?
Q: Is it more fun to bartend in the 1860s or today?
A: They don’t give me any real alcohol or any real customers [on the show]. [Laughs] So I’m going to have to say bartending in 1867 is not something that I’ve actually enjoyed, just because I haven’t actually sold anything. I think that the mark of any good bartender is to actually make a sale and get some tips.
Q: Would you have been a bartender if you’d lived in Hell on Wheels?
A: No. I definitely don’t think I would have. I think I would have been more on the laboring side, just because it’s a steady job. All you’re doing is you show up every day, work 10 or 12 hours a day, and then you get your money… Either that or I would make my way up to Sheriff.
Q: What would Common have to say about that, as the current Chief of Police?
Country music legend Charlie Daniels talks about how he came to write the fiddle tune for Anson Mount’s dance scene in Hell on Wheels Episode 306, “One Less Mule.”
Q: Anson Mount asked you to write a song for Hell on Wheels via Twitter. How exactly did that play out?
A: I am a big fan of the show. I don’t watch a lot of TV. I watch a lot of football and NASCAR but there aren’t a lot of quote-unquote dramatic shows that I have much interest in… This happens to be one of them… Anyway, I saw something from Anson on my Twitter account, and I wrote back to him and said, “You know I really enjoy the show…” And he said, “Would you consider writing a song for our TV show?” And I said, “Well, sure, I’d be glad to, I’d love to give it a shot.”
Q: Does the show speak to your country-western roots?
A: I love blood and guts. I love Western culture. I love the shootouts and the cattle drives. And that particular kind of character that Anson has developed and the way he comes across, as an ex-Confederate soldier who wears his heart on his sleeve and is man enough to back it up… I just admire people who have the guts to stick up for what they believe in. He’s a very strong character on the show. I also like to see him shoot people. [Laughs]
Q: How did you decide on the song for this episode? Did you write it specifically for the show?
A: Yeah, it’s original. When they came up with the scene — I think Anson is dancing — they said, “Can you do something like this?” I said, “Well, of course,” and I wrote a little fiddle tune, and I recorded it with all acoustic instruments in a very loose sort of a way, like I would imagine somebody in a beer joint in a railroad town back in the 1800s. And we recorded it. And I had to come up with a name off the cuff, so I said, “Well, we’ll just call it ‘Hell on Strings.’”
Q: What’s the key to successfully writing a song for television?
A: [Laughs] Yes, I was very excited at the start of the season to have another woman on the show. I quickly took her under my wing, and it’s just great to have her around in this sea of men on Hell on Wheels.
Q: Common praised the new baby’s acting skills. Have you had any funny moments with her?
A: Common has just been in love with her the entire season… This little baby, whose name is Emily, she would just respond to whatever energy was in the scene, which was fascinating… Like she’d start crying in dramatic moments.
Q: So at the end of a scene with the baby, would you just pass her back to Common?
A: That’s pretty much how it went, yep. [Laughs] But there was this particular scene where she was being a bit grizzly, and we needed her to be quiet… Anyway, it was Dennie [Gordon], the director of Episode 3, whose idea it was to take a pacifier and tuck it into my corset so it would actually look like she was actually sucking on something. That was one of the weirdest things I’ve ever done.
Q: Toole’s brother, Declan, offers Eva a way out of Hell on Wheels. Would you have made the same decision if you were in Eva’s position?
Q: At the end of last season, we saw The Swede jump off a bridge. Did you assume that was the end for your character?
A: No, definitely not. The Swede — Thor Gunderson — was bellyflop champion in Norway back in 1855 and 1856, so I knew he could take that shallow dive and come out smiling.
Q: [Laughs] Is that the backstory you invented for The Swede this year?
A: Invented!? That’s a historical fact. I had to go into the Norwegian archive to find that. It was very difficult research. Hard to figure out. [EDITOR’S NOTE: He’s joking]
Q: What were you told about The Swede’s return?
A: It was all very hush hush. They didn’t want to tell me anything. I think it’s a good way of going about it… I have no idea what [showrunner] John Wirth and the rest of the team have in mind for the character. It’s like a gift every couple of weeks when I get the script in my inbox.
Q: The Swede murdered Lily Bell last season. Were you surprised at the strength of the reaction to that?
A: No, I wasn’t surprised at all. Lily Bell was a wonderful character and Dominique [McElligott] played that character with strength and heart and vulnerability. She brought something that was completely out of place in that really dangerous world… It was a great character, so I had no doubt that there was going to be backlash.
Q: What do you think of The Swede’s new look?
Q: If Season 3 was about the human threat, what would you say Season 4 will be about?
A: What we really have here in Season 4 is we dangle the carrot that civilization can be rebuilt… The notion that there’s civilization and the notion that there’s the possibility of there being laws and a sense of normalcy. I think we’re going to see an evolution in the walkers — there’s a whole bunch of new walkers — and we’ll see an evolution of the threat of human-on-human. Dangling the possibility of civilization will make people much more desperate and willing to do things that would have previously been unthinkable.
Q: What’s it like to go from producing 13 episodes per season to 16?
A: The show is an incredibly physical show to produce. It is super hot and super humid out here, and the crew is just like a group of Marines. They have no fear… Shooting 16 episodes outdoors in Georgia? It’s a lot, and at the end of the season, everybody could use a little R&R to get back into shape. But I have to say going from six episodes to 13 to 16, I feel like we now know how to plan for it.
Q: How’s the location scouting going? What can you tell us about new locations?
A: There’s been some real changes in the prison itself, so seeing how it’s evolved from the last episode of Season 3 to the opening of 401, the prison looks totally different… We’ve also been looking at woods and a couple stretches of highway to find some interesting angles to showcase some unique action sequences that I can’t tell you anything about.
Q: Now that The Walking Dead is in its fourth season, has the production been attracting more attention from local Georgians?