In this exclusive interview with AMCtv.com, Tom Noonan, who plays Reverend Nathaniel Cole on AMC’s Hell on Wheels, cautions fans to “stay away from swords” and speaks about his chemistry with Christopher Heyerdahl (The Swede).
Q: Reverend Cole really unravels this season. As an actor, how do you make that seem like a realistic progression?
A: I just try to remember that people don’t really unravel in a predictable way. There are times when I’m falling apart when I’m laughing a lot and other times that I’m crying a lot. There are other times when I’m doing nothing. I just try to do the scene and remember that whatever works, as long as I’m compelling, the script will carry it.
Q: Cole is such a tragic character, betrayed by his child and destroyed by alcoholism. What can people learn from his story?
A: Stay away from swords. [Laughs] It’s hard to say. Human beings are very complicated and…hard to predict. The most I can really hope for is that I’m honest and truthful and do my best and let the audience take what they want from it.
Q: You’ve swung that Confederate saber a couple of times now. Did you have to practice much to get it to feel natural?
A: I’ve done a lot of action movies and there has to be a certain amount of emotion in the actual performing of the stunt. It doesn’t have to be any particular emotion, but there has to be some life to it, and that’s not so easy.
Q: Cole and The Swede have a lot of scenes together this season. What’s it like working with Christopher Heyerdahl?
A: There’s a chemistry, or a certain unpredictability, that both of us have that seems to work pretty well. And it’s always fun and easy. Often stuff happens in the scene that we elicit from each other, like I’ll suddenly find myself laughing at really inappropriate moments. He’s very open, interested, and embraces the craziness that happens.
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Q: What would you say your favorite Season 2 scene is?
A: When I reconcile with Kasha, [who plays Ruth]. With her, I always find it very easy to act. It’s very easy to be emotional with her. I don’t know what it is, but…it was very easy saying those things to her and falling apart.
Q: When did you find out your character was going to die? What was your reaction?
A: I sort of knew all along that might happen in the second season… When it became clear it was going to happen, it was sad. I like the show a lot. I like the people. It’s also sad to die when you have a part, and you’ve been through it a number of times. When you’re acting, you sort of believe it to a certain degree.
Q: Was it difficult shooting the death scene?
A: Sometimes emotional scenes are very difficult, but this was very easy. And I miss them. I missed them even after scene ended, because the relationship dies when the character dies.
Q: How did you keep it a secret from friends/family?
A: I’ve been pretty careful about not telling anybody. I tend to be very private. It’s easier for me. When you’re acting, you’re very susceptible to comments that somebody makes, so if they know something is going to happen on the show, and they say something, it can actually throw you off. So I tend to not share things with anybody.