Hell on Wheels creators Tony and Joe Gayton talk to AMCtv.com about what drew them to Anson Mount and Common, and what to expect in Season 2.
Q: How did you come up with the concept for Hell on Wheels?
Tony: It was something I filed away for several years after I saw this American Experience documentary about the building of the Transcontinental Railroad. I thought it was an incredibly epic American story and, in doing research, found that it had never been told before.
Q: What made you decide Anson Mount was right to play Cullen Bohannon?
Joe: I think we had seen probably 50 people before we saw him. We got an audition tape from the office in New York, and as soon as I saw it I called Tony. It was on a Saturday night, and I said, “I think we found the guy.” There’s something about him, the way he looks, and he had this sort of taciturn delivery, which we liked. He was Southern, which was great. We’d seen a lot of non-Southerners — we’d seen Australians — and the idea of putting a real Southerner in this role was very appealing.
Q: How did Common get involved with the show?
Tony: He came in and read — we heard he wanted to. We got this guy from Chicago, he was a rapper, and you’re thinking very urban. We’re saying, “Look man, we’re gonna be out shooting in the rain and possibly snow and mud. It’s gonna be bad conditions.” He said, “Man, I wanna do all that stuff.” And he put his money where his mouth was. He came up for a costume fitting and he asked for a pickaxe, just to feel what it felt like. He went out by himself for an hour in the rain and swung a pickaxe.
Q: The Swede didn’t even show up until the second episode, but he’s turned out to be a fan favorite. Did that surprise you?
Tony: I told Christopher [Heyerdahl] before it aired, “You gotta be ready, man, because you’re gonna blow up.” I didn’t know if the show was gonna be picked up or not, I certainly would never predict that, but I felt pretty sure that people were gonna really respond strongly to that character and especially him playing that character.
Joe: What’s good about him is he does the villain but he also brings this believable humanity to it. Like when we see him in the boys’ Magic Lantern show the first time, and he says how beautiful the images from home were. He’s not saying that sarcastically — he really means it. He’s sort of like everybody else in that he misses his homeland.
Q: You guys are brothers — what’s one “Joe” thing about the series and one “Tony” aspect?
Tony: I would say that if you see something like the beheading in Episode 9, you could take a pretty good guess that Joe came up with that. He comes up with some great stuff that comes out of left field, where you go, “What?” Then you go, “That’s great.”
Joe: But I think you do, too. I mean, the Swede scrubbing the floor. And you got all that stuff about the velvet gloves and the tally-whacker. That’s all Tony.
Tony: I think I probably like playing with the dialogue a little more than you. I’ll tell you another thing I enjoy doing was writing for Reverend Cole… I find the theological and philosophical stuff interesting.
Q: What was your favorite episode of the season?
Tony: I would say more than straight episodes were just moments that I loved, going back to Reverend Cole and Cullen in Episode 4, having that discussion about Kansas. I love the fight in Episode 5. I loved Elam and Cullen’s relationship in Episode 7, from the hanging to going to teach him to shoot. The beginning of Episode 9 and the way it ended were some of the highlights for me.
Joe: I think there are also really great montage-y moments, like in Episode 4 with the French song. I loved the little montage in Episode 9 where Durant comes to Lily’s tent to leave a watch there, with the Gillian Welch song. We love visual stuff and we’ve been joking that we’d like to do a whole show with no dialogue next year. I know we’re not gonna get away with that, but we just love to try and tell stories visually.
Q: The end of Season 1 finds Cullen in less-than-ideal circumstances. What can we look forward to in Season 2?
Tony: We can’t really give away too much, but let’s just say that Cullen continues the battle of trying to reconcile the destroyer in himself with the builder in himself…and I think we’ll be introducing some new regulars, a couple of sort of walk-on type roles.
Joe: Something we wanna try and do in next year’s show is bring a little more humor to it… It’s never gonna be a light show, but I think we would like to find more humor in the situations, because you certainly had to have humor to survive in that world.