Q: Which of the main actors have you been responsible for casting?
A: The main actor I cast was Christopher Heyerdahl (The Swede). I’ve also cast other actors like Duncan Ollerenshaw (Toole), April Telek (Nell), Ryan Robbins (Hawkins) and Ian Tracey (Bolan).
Q: How did you know Christopher Heyerdahl would be perfect to play The Swede?
A: For the pilot, everybody was looking for The Swede, and we ended up finding him in Vancouver. You look for everybody, but sometimes you just get lucky! The Swede was described as someone who was very tall and lean and had to have the Scandinavian accent. [Christopher Heyerdahl] came to mind and he certainly looked like the role. Also, I knew he could deliver the accent. We brought him in, and he read for the director and the producers, and everyone was really excited about him. We’re so excited that he came out of Canada.
Q: What’s a fun story from one of your auditions?
A: Last year we had a casting session in Calgary without any scripts. We did ad-lib editions based on scenarios. It was the first time we ever had to do that. It was very fun!
Q: Was there anyone you pegged as a star from the second you saw them?
A: The thing I love about Hell on Wheels is they’re open to new faces. They give actors a really great shot and they get multiple episodes. They take a chance on performers who might not necessarily have that experience, but they certainly get the experience and do a great job. Duncan Ollerenshaw is an example. He was cast as Toole and they just kept writing for him because he was such a great character. I love finding characters — and there’s a lot of them in Calgary.
Q: Did you have to fight for any actor in particular?
A: I am very lucky that I have extremely supportive producers. They trust me and they are unbelievably supportive, so when the director comes in, the tone is already set. It goes smoothly and respectfully. These are [characters] we all love and we do get sad when we see them die.
VIDEO: Inside Episode 209, “Blood Moon”
Q: How much real-world history influences your casting choices for Hell on Wheels? For example, Colm Meaney looks similar to, but not exactly like the real life Thomas Durant…
A: We get a pretty good back-story. We’ll get pictures and try to come close to it, but the acting comes first. We can adjust after that, so we always look for the best actors and then go from there.
Q: Alyson Lockwood, who casts the extras, talked about the importance of specific looks when casting a Western. Is the same true for principal actors?
A: For sure. We always tell everybody really early in the year to stop shaving or grow their hair. The other thing is not being contemporary. We don’t want perfect teeth. We want them to have stubble. We like unique looks. We like characters, and this show is character-driven.
Q: You also worked on Broken Trail with the Hell on Wheels prop master, extras casting department and unit photographer…
A: It’s the same producer, Chad Oakes, and he brought Broken Trail to Alberta. It put us on the map and it won multiple Emmys — I was one of them for casting. So, it was very exciting to see him work on Hell on Wheels.
Broken Trail was a mini-series, so the characters didn’t have a chance to develop. Hell on Wheels is a different type of Western and it’s specific. Now that we’re going into a third season, the characters have developed and the new characters we cast have to feel like they belong in that world. When they come in the room, it’s a look and an attitude.
Q: Is it easier or harder casting for the third season of an established series?
A: Calgary is a small community, so you’re constantly looking for new people. The second season was easier because we had a routine; we had a rhythm. The pilot was probably hardest to cast for, like all pilots are. There are a lot of decision-makers and you see a lot of people and want to make the right decisions. I think after that, as the wheels start rolling, we have a sense of what we’re looking for and it becomes easier. I’ve been doing this for 18 years and Hell on Wheels is one thing I’m most proud of.