Interviews

Hell on Wheels Q&A – Dohn Norwood (Psalms)

HOW-Cast-S4-Psalms-325Dohn Norwood, who plays Psalms on AMC’s Hell on Wheels, compares himself with his character and shares his techniques for staying focused while on set.

Q: What were you most looking forward to when you started filming Season 4?

A: Revisiting the character of Psalms, and further development of the character. When he was introduced, he was a Freedman, and you didn’t think that there would be anything new or different from the other guys. Now, he’s starting to see things differently as he becomes head of labor on the railroad. To see him go from being property to being in charge is a huge leap. It’s a major arc: He went from being this angry, bitter guy who looked out for himself to looking out for others.

Q: You’ve been playing Psalms for four seasons now. In what ways are you most similar to Psalms? In what ways are you the most different?

A: We’re similar in that he’s a good storyteller and he looks out for others and his fellow man. Taking the time period into consideration, African Americans were very limited in the choices that they had, so I would imagine Psalms had a more tenacious personality. It’s not that I’m not tenacious, but you had to do a lot more then. That was probably a drive that you had and didn’t even know it. At that time, you had no idea if you would live to see the next day. You counted your blessings.

Q: You’ve had your share of fight scenes on the show. Do you enjoy doing them? Were you hoping there would be more this season? Continue reading “Hell on Wheels Q&A – Dohn Norwood (Psalms)” »

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Hell on Wheels Q&A – Robin McLeavy (Eva)

HOW-Cast-S4-Eva-325Robin McLeavy, who plays Eva on AMC’s Hell on Wheels, talks about the evolution of her character and why her chin tattoo is so iconic.

Q: You’re now in the fourth season of playing Eva. What’s the most interesting thing you’ve learned about your character so far?

A: The most interesting thing I’ve learned about Eva is how resilient she is, and how much of a romantic she is as well. She started out really tough in Season 1, and then, of course, the whole Elam and Eva love affair was a big milestone in her life and in her evolution. It really allowed her to get in touch with the more human, softer, feminine side of herself. Giving away baby Rose was a real destruction point, and I found it fascinating that part of her survival mechanism in giving away the baby was that she did it not just to protect the baby, but also to protect herself and Elam from a community and an environment that might not be nurturing of a child belonging to a mixed-raced couple. She did that, and yet she still wanted to keep the relationship with Elam. That didn’t happen, so her resilience had to come into play. That’s what I’m exploring this season: How does Eva bounce back from her lowest point possible and build herself a new identity?

Q: Has the new season presented any new challenges for you?

A: Yes. I had a really strange experience at the start of the season, where I just felt really numb and I couldn’t figure out if it was me, as an actor. I figured out eventually it was because Elam isn’t in scenes with me anymore.

Q: So did being without Elam affect both Eva and you, as an actor, as well?

Continue reading “Hell on Wheels Q&A – Robin McLeavy (Eva)” »

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Hell on Wheels Q&A – Neil LaBute (Director)

hell-on-wheels-season-4-neil-labute-325Noted playwright and filmmaker Neil LaBute talks about returning to the Hell on Wheels set to direct two Season 4 episodes and how his work on stage informs his work in television.

Q: You previously directed the Season 3 Finale, “Get Behind the Mule.” What was your favorite moment from that episode?

A: I came into this show as a viewer first, so for me to get a chance to put Cullen Bohannon and the Swede together again towards the end of last season, knowing the audience was waiting for it, was a real thrill for me. That was one of my favorite parts, and definitely a highlight.

Q: This season you directed two episodes, the Season 4 Premiere, “The Elusive Eden,” and Episode 402, “Escape From the Garden.” What was it like to be back on set?

A: It was really nice, because it’s so much easier once you’ve actually done it and you understand the vibe. Suddenly you know all these faces and how the game works and you feel like you’re a part of the community. That’s always a nice thing.

Q: Is gearing up to direct an episode of a television drama at all similar to preparing for a play? How so?

Continue reading “Hell on Wheels Q&A – Neil LaBute (Director)” »

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Hell on Wheels Q&A – Christopher Heyerdahl (The Swede)

hell-on-wheels-season-4-swede-heyerdahl-325Christopher Heyerdahl, who plays Thor Gunderson, a.k.a. “The Swede” on AMC’s Hell on Wheels, talks about the Swede’s new identity and being fully committed to his character.

Q: Has your approach to portraying the Swede changed at all since you first started playing him?

A: Whenever I approach a character, I take what’s on the page and I compile a list. What do I know about the character? What is said about him? What is the truth? What is questionable? The interesting thing about the relationship between [Cullen] Bohannon and Thor Gunderson is that they say many things about each other which may or not be true. So, I try to go through the script myself and not take what someone says about that character. I have four seasons of information about my character, but also about the characters with whom he interacts. My perspective of the Swede has changed, as I think the Swede himself has changed.

Q: In your Season 1 Q&A, you described the Swede as “a Norwegian survivor of the Andersonville Prison Camp who has the weighty responsibility of ‘keeper of order’ amongst the group of harlots, murderers and dipsomaniacs that is Hell on Wheels.” How would you describe him now?

A: He’s a very interesting creature, and has a very personal, yet distant, relationship with God. His actions always attempt to close that distance. Every step he takes, every move he makes… wait a minute, I’m going into a song… I’ll be watching you! [Laughs] Everything he does, from his perspective, is in honor of his desperate need to please God. An impatient God who wouldn’t mind wiping out humanity: That’s the God that Thor Gunderson understands, so it allows him to be this honorable Old Testament creature. Some may question the morality, but every character on this show has been created so beautifully flawed. The Swede is the absolute antithesis to our hero. He’s a formidable and dangerous adversary.

Q: So is he still a keeper of order at the Mormon fort?

Continue reading “Hell on Wheels Q&A – Christopher Heyerdahl (The Swede)” »

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Hell on Wheels Q&A – Anson Mount (Cullen Bohannon)

HOW-Cast-S4-Cullen-325Anson Mount, who plays Cullen Bohannon on AMC’s Hell on Wheels, talks about the challenges Cullen will face in Season 4 and the biggest lesson he’s learned from playing the role.

Q: With three seasons now under your belt, has your approach to playing Cullen changed at all? 

A: Yes. My approach to Cullen has to change every season if you expect to have a character that’s going to develop at all — a character that has the same conflicts or the same issues all the time is going to grow very boring. Walter White was described as a man who transforms from Mr. Chips to Scarface, and I thought that was brilliant. I’m not sure if I can define an arc as clearly as that for my character, but my touchstone word this year is “maturity.” To Cullen, that means one thing towards the beginning of Season 4, and his approach towards that runs the risk of hamstringing him later in order to get through an interesting arc. I think it’s interesting because, in a way, Bohannon and Durant will be crossing paths this season — Durant’s going to the dark side, and Cullen is trying to pull himself out of the muck and do something that is beyond himself.

Q: Has it gotten easier or harder to play Cullen? Are you still discovering new things about him? Continue reading “Hell on Wheels Q&A – Anson Mount (Cullen Bohannon)” »

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Q&A – Siobhan Williams (Naomi Hatch)

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Siobhan Williams, who plays Naomi Hatch on AMC’s Hell on Wheels, talks about her unique audition process and an eerie surprise on set.

Q: You’ve said that you received a “fake script and character breakdown” during your audition. What exactly does that mean?

A: When I went in for my audition, I was given a scene where I was playing a character who I didn’t know too much about. In the scene, she had fallen off of her horse and [Cullen] Bohannon was there. She was being abrasive with him and not necessarily taking his advances very well, but by the end of the scene, she was really flirting with him. I think what they wanted to see was basically the chemistry between them.

Q: When did you find out which character you’d actually auditioned for?

A: I found out about a week later that I was in contention for the role of Naomi. Around that time, they mentioned that it was possible that my character would end up pregnant later in the series. They didn’t say whose baby it was. I still didn’t know that I was going to be getting together with Bohannon, so it wasn’t until after I actually booked the role that I found out.

Q: Were you surprised at how Naomi’s story eventually played out? 

A: I was very surprised. I didn’t know until the finale that I was going to be married. That was a shocker to me. I had gone over, in my head, all of the possible directions that I thought the character could go by the end of the season and getting married was definitely not in the cards when I was thinking through. I was surprised in a very pleasant way.

Q: What was it like wearing the pregnancy prosthetic? 

Continue reading “Q&A – Siobhan Williams (Naomi Hatch)” »

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Q&A – James Shanklin (Aaron Hatch)

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James Shanklin, who plays Aaron Hatch on AMC’s Hell on Wheels talks about trending on Twitter and the realities of life in the 1860s.

Q: You’ve had a number of soap opera roles. How does shooting a Western compare? 

A: Soap opera is actually one of the hardest things I’ve had to do because – and I’m not going to be popular for saying this – but the writing is not very good. [Laughs] A lot of people probably know that. The fact that it’s not very good makes it extremely difficult to memorize.

When you have good writing – and on Hell on Wheels, it’s some of the best writing I’ve ever worked with – it’s such a joy to work on and learn the lines. When you do something that is period, from the past, from our history, there’s so much more at stake. It was life or death just to wake up and start your day with these people. The characters are just so rich, and what kid would not want to be in a gun fight in the Old West?

Q: You also have several “doctor” credits. How much do you know about medicine from the Old West?

A: Just that about everything was pretty painful. When you got injured, it was a major life-changing event back then. Life expectancy wasn’t very long.

Q: How much were you told about your character’s storyline this season?

A: They had told me that I would be reoccurring later on in the season, but I had no idea how I would come back or what the story was going to be. When I received the script, I had no idea what Aaron Hatch was going to be doing, so when I read about the rough riders and the shootout, I was like, “This is going to be so fun!”

Q: You originated a hashtag on Twitter, #WorldsWorstTVDad. How did that come about?

Continue reading “Q&A – James Shanklin (Aaron Hatch)” »

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Q&A – Damian O’Hare (Declan Toole)

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Damian O’Hare, who plays Declan Toole on AMC’s Hell on Wheels, compares the show’s themes to Shakespeare and talks about bonding with fellow Irishmen Phil Burke and Colm Meaney.

Q: You’re a big Western fan. What’s your favorite thing about the genre?

A: Most of the universal themes in Westerns are actually very Shakespearean, like revenge and love. Also, the settings and the new land — it’s so epic and vast. It’s beautiful territory where everyone is finding themselves in this brave new world. It lands itself in such great storytelling — and of course, with Hell on Wheels, it’s a true story as well.

Q: You appeared in Hatfields & McCoys, another Western period drama. Did that help with your work on Hell on Wheels?

A: It did, and it was great in terms of research. It was the same time period, when the war had just finished, so it’s the same people trying to live their lives amidst this newfound democracy.

Q: Did you know about the history of the Irish on the Transcontinental railroad before Hell on Wheels?

A: I was familiar with it, but not to the encyclopedic level. It was great to delve into that more and get to know the conditions these men worked with. The framework is so meticulously researched [by the production], so you can just do your job and not worry about historical inaccuracies.

Q: Were you aware of the Irish custom of marrying your brother’s widow? Continue reading “Q&A – Damian O’Hare (Declan Toole)” »

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Q&A – Chelah Horsdal (Maggie Palmer)

HOW-309-Maggie-Palmer-325 Chelah Horsdal, who plays Maggie Palmer on AMC’s Hell on Wheels, talks about the evolution of her character and her love-hate relationship with corsets.

Q: You were on AMC’s The Killing. Did that role lead to this one?

A: For The Killing, it was a very small role in the second season doing a Diane Sawyer-type character, interviewing Mayor Richmond after he had been shot. It didn’t come up that I had done The Killing when I was in contention for Maggie Palmer, although I had been trying to get onto Hell on Wheels since the first season because I’m just such a big fan.

When I did the initial audition, it was for one scene in one episode. Ultimately, John Wirth [Showrunner/Executive Producer] and Mark Richard [Senior Writer/Co-Executive Producer] decided to develop the character a bit more. So, when I went into it, I had no idea what was going to happen with Maggie Palmer or if she was even going to come back. I was really excited when they told me.

Q: You’re a prolific actor. How do you fit in the time to shoot a recurring role on a television show like this?

A: For a show like Hell on Wheels, I just like it so much that I was willing to sacrifice other shows to keep myself available for it. I put some things aside and said no to gigs that would have conflicted. It was all a surprise as things unfolded throughout the summer.

Q: You’ve tweeted about wearing corsets on set. Did you ever get used to dressing in period attire?

A: It was the first time I’d worn a corset for a show, and I can’t say that I’m thrilled that the current series I’m working on also has corsets. However, Carol Case, who is the costume designer for Hell on Wheels, is such an unbelievably gifted artist that I would put on anything that she told me to. Maggie’s costumes are built from the ground up and they really serve the era. Because of the corsets and the way they fit, it forces a different kind of beat in the way that one carries themselves.

Q: Maggie’s quite the sharpshooter. Had you handled a gun much before Hell on WheelsContinue reading “Q&A – Chelah Horsdal (Maggie Palmer)” »

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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?

Continue reading “Q&A – Colm Meaney (Thomas Durant)” »

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