In this exclusive interview, Dominique McElligott, who plays Lily Bell on AMC’s Hell on Wheels, talks about the challenges of period costume and the major difference between Irish and American TV.
Q: Tell me a little bit about Lily’s dress. Are you a fan of 19th century frontier style?
A: It definitely was a challenge to be restricted in that way by the costume, but it definitely helped me get into character. They were heavy fit costumes — you know thick wool and everything — so when the sun starts to shine it was a bit uncomfortable but you know they’re beautiful for the time period.
Q: How was the part initially described? What drew you to this character?
A: I was intrigued with her initial storyline, and then reading the script for the pilot I thought it was just really well-written. There was a diverse range of characters and that’s really what drew me in. Lily is someone I responded to very strongly when I read the pilot, and you know the contrast of the English woman from the upper-class coming over to America to be with her husband — and him dying — it’s quite a challenge, for any actress, so I was just kind of thrilled to be given the opportunity.
Q: You’ve done a lot of work for Irish television. What’s the number one difference between being on Irish and American TV?
A: I’d say in Ireland, you’re stepping foot into a pond and this is more of an ocean in terms of the amount of people that go into the production and the audience as well that you’re catering to.
Q: Lily bolts off on a horse in Episode 3, “A New Birth of Freedom.” Is that you or a stunt rider?
A: Any time you see me on the horse, that’s me, but there is one shot in the evening time where you see Lily galloping off, where that’s [a stunt double].
Q: Do you have experience riding?
A: Well I was shooting a Western right before this in Bolivia where I had to learn how to ride a horse. And as I kid I kind of had some horse-riding lessons myself, so I wasn’t new to horseback riding, by any means.
Q: Your character spends almost two episodes all bloodied and bruised. How long did you have to stay ‘bloody’ on set?
A: I think it was pretty much the first three episodes, I was pretty much covered in blood and wounds and stuff.
Q: When Cullen finds Lily in the woods, she’s passed out in the rain…
A: Yeah there were floods in Calgary and the rain did not stop all day long! There was a lot of rain that day.
Q: Lily tells Cullen, “You don’t know who I am or what I’m capable of.” How might that apply to you?
A: I don’t think anybody knows anybody else when they first meet them. They say a large perception of a person’s character is under the helm of first impressions. But I don’t think that constitutes a person knowing someone else, and perception is not the truth… Never judge a book by its cover: I think that’s true about everybody, which is what fascinates me about people and it’s the reason I’m an actor.