Q&A – Colm Meaney (Thomas Durant)

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Colm Meaney, who plays Thomas Durant on AMC’s Hell on Wheels, talks about surviving the “twists and turns” of Season 3 (and a shave from Anson Mount).

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?

A: One of the quirky aspects of this show is that you go to the barbershop and the barbershop isn’t built yet. You’re actually sitting on a street corner with no walls around you sitting in a barber’s chair. So that was kind of fun… I think towards the end of the season, you see Durant is sort of finished playing games. He’s sort of saying, “Kill me, shoot me, or leave me alone.” And he says as much in that scene. He’s just trying to get on with the work and get the thing built.

Q: Durant’s scenes are in more “civilized” settings this season. Do you think you got lucky not having to shoot in the Hell on Wheels muck?

A: Well, I was there for some of it. Our locations are great. Where we are, about 20 to 25 miles out of Calgary, you really have those big skies and big country… More importantly, we have an amazing art department who work miracles nearly every day. They’re fast and they build these amazing sets. The new hotel they built, Maggie Palmer’s hotel, it went up in a few weeks and you walk in there and you see the detail in the interior is spectacular. They built Cheyenne in a matter of weeks after the floods.

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Q: What’s your favorite creature comfort you bring with you to set?

A: Usually on a show, if you’re going to be there a while, you decorate your trailer a bit and have music, but we never get to see our trailers. We go in there in the morning, and get changed, and then it’s a 10 to 15 minute drive down to set. The trailers are near the set and you spend your day sitting in your set chair and working. It’s very strange like that.

Q: Does Durant’s rivalry with Cullen on-screen affect your relationship with Anson Mount off-screen?

A: I don’t think at all. We kind of giggle about it and wonder what they’re going to be up to next. Anson and I have a good time with each other. We both like to go out a little bit and have an occasional cocktail and that kind of stuff. And I think we enjoy working together. And these characters are such rich characters and it’s such a pleasure to play them.

Q: Considering how far Calgary is from set, are there any plans to make the saloon functional?

A: That’s a very good idea. I’ll quote you on that. [Laughs] Maybe we’ll be able to figure out something in the hotel since Maggie’s hotel is a bit more permanent. It would be nice.

Q: You were a Star Trek regular for many years. What’s the key to keeping a character interesting over time?

A: For me, on a network show, the key was to get out and do other things both during the hiatus and, if you could, during the season… You need to play something else and freshen things up again. I think it’s important to do other projects.

Q: You also have a lot of experience in the U.K. film industry. How does the American industry compare?

A: I’ve got two films coming out this year, and they’re both English films. It’s very hard to know these days. What constitutes an English film? I just watched Shane last night, which is set in New York, with an Irish actor and an English actress playing the leads, and it’s funded by the U.K. Film Council… and with an English director, Steve McQueen… There’s so much cross-fertilization nowadays, so the contrast isn’t great between European films and American films.

Q: You’re in an upcoming comedy, Free Birds, with Amy Poehler and Owen Wilson. Are you excited to showcase your funny side?

A: It’s an animated film… I play the kind of bad guy I’m afraid, but I try to get a few laughs. I play this character named Miles Standish, he was an actual historical character. He was one of the first settlers.

Q: Have you been pegged as the bad guy from that time period?

A: Not yet, no. It can happen. You play a few bad guys and then you get a good guy, and it changes and then you play a priest, and it changes again, and you play priests for three years.

Click here to read an interview with Anson Mount, who plays Cullen Bohannon on AMC’s Hell on Wheels.

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