On Sunday, August 12th, at 9 p.m., HELL ON WHEELS, AMC’s smash Western series from last year, returns for Season 2. If you missed any of Season 1, or want to refresh your memory, AMC is running all ten Season 1 episodes starting Sunday morning at 11 a.m. And if you’re one of those unfortunate DISH customers who no longer have AMC, go to the AMC website and you can stream HELL ON WHEELS on your computer!
The title HELL ON WHEELS refers to the movable town that crossed the nation during the construction of the Transcontinental Railroad, its saloon-keepers, prostitutes and gamblers servicing the construction crew. The protagonist is Cullen Bohannon, a Confederate veteran with no prospects who hires on, considered to be a valuable man because, as a former slave owner, he knows how to ‘work with’ black people. But he has his own unspoken agenda: his wife and child were murdered by a group of Union soldiers, and it is his mission to identify, track down, and kill them all. His work for the railroad provides an excellent cover.
Cullen Bohannon is portrayed by Tennessee-born,
educated Anson Mount, who has made a tremendous impression in the role. He previously starred in the series CONVICTION, THE MOUNTAIN and LINE OF FIRE, and his features include the recent STRAW DOGS remake, BURNING PALMS, and the upcoming SUPREMACY and CODE NAME: GERONIMO. On Wednesday morning I had the opportunity to talk with Anson about his new season in Hell (On Wheels). Anson says that whereas Season 1 was mostly plot-driven, Season 2 will be character-driven, and the stories will revolve around the keyword to the Season, ‘ambition’. When discussing the challenges of continuing a series over multiple seasons, his frequent touchstone is BREAKING BAD, which he calls, “The best show that’s ever been made for television.” Columbia University
Anson Mount & Common
We’ll continue to see interplay between Cullen and Elam Ferguson, the ex-slave played by rapper-turned-actor Common. “I think it’s becoming the most interesting relationship in the series. From the very beginning, Common and myself and the writers were very adamant; we were not going to allow this to become Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder. (laughs) You know – ‘the black guy and the white guy are gonna be buddies! And everybody’s gonna love each other!’ We wanted to be very true to the tropes, the stereotypes and the conflicts at that time. Particularly between a former slave and a former Confederate. And yet allow them to meet in situations where they have to meet on equal footing. And I think we did a really good job of that in the first season; I think we’ve done an even better job of that in the second season.”
Memorably, Season 1 ended with Cullen killing the wrong man. “I decided long before Harper was going to turn out to be the wrong man, when Cullen does get to put his hands around the throat of someone, when he completes the deed, it’s not going to be the release or relief that he thought it was going to be: it’s a deeper hollowing out of himself. He finds that there’s actually nothing there.”
Henry – Your character is consumed with rage, and on a quest for revenge. Was that hard to walk away from at the end of a shooting day? And is it hard to return to it after the hiatus?
Anson – No (laughs), not at all. Sometimes I feel like I’m launching a one-man campaign to change people’s minds about what we do as actors. I think there’s a big misconception that actors are these shamans who channel characters and notions, and that we are somehow mortally affected by our work. And I think that there are a lot of actors that play into that, because it makes them and their work seem more important. It’s not the case at all. We play make-believe. I think it’s a process of playing intelligently, and playing well, but it’s a process of play. And if I’m doing anything else, I’m not doing my job, and I need to spend time in the loony-bin. It’s an enormous amount of fun for me, and I continue to have a great time this season. And I’ve been having a good time finding ways of lightening Cullen up a bit, because I think we need to see different facets of him.
Henry – Did you grow up with westerns? Do you have favorites, either past or recent?
Anson – Oh yeah, absolutely! I’m a big Sergio Leone fan. I really liked the remake of 3:10 TO
. It certainly is a helluvah lot better than the original. I know some people had a problem with it but I thought it was a fantastic film. YUMA
Henry – In what ways do you think it was better?
Anson – (incredulous) 3:10 TO
? Have you ever seen the original? YUMA
Henry – I know them both very well. I like ‘em both.
Anson – The original plays out in very few locations; it’s very staid. It plays almost like a teleplay, or a ‘play’ play. And I think the plot demanded those action sequences that happened in the second film, that weren’t really played out that well in the first. I just liked the pacing and the rhythm and the style; I thought the performances were fantastic.
Henry – If you could give yourself the lead in any western film of the past, what would it be?
Anson – I would love to have played the (Schofield) Kid in UNFORGIVEN. Jaimz Woolvett did such a great job; wonderful.
Henry – How do you feel about horses and guns? Any experience with either prior to HELL ON WHEELS?
Anson – Oh man! Yes, it’s the best part of the job, getting to ride a horse. I grew up in the rural South, so I’m comfortable on a horse, but I’ve never operated a horse around a camera, which is a whole different skill-set. Luckily we have really good, experienced wranglers who are able to teach me the ins and outs of that. And the guns – we have an amazing armorer named Brian Kent, who has a wonderful antique gun collection himself – he can tell you anything you want to know about guns of the 19thcentury – so we’re blessed with that.
Henry – What is that pistol you usually handle?
Anson – The one from the first season was a Griswold, which was a Confederate issue sidearm; and this season I lose that, and I end up having to use a Union issue sidearm, which was the 1857 Remington .45 caliber.
Henry – Which do you prefer, a studio kind of picture, or one where you’re outside and away from civilization?
Anson – I prefer where we’re shooting (outdoors). You know, we’ve got a studio here, because we don’t have a lot of darkness, and sometimes we need to go into the studio for that. But I think we’ve only used the studio five or six days the entire season, so far, and I think the next two episodes are pretty-much going to be entirely shot on location. I prefer being out; even though it’s a commute -- it’s almost an hour each way -- but it’s so gorgeous where we are this year, and you can’t build what we have out there. It’s 40,000 usable acres of ready-to-go set. And there’s so much that the weather gives you, that the land gives you. And I just like being removed from civilization when I’m doing a western.
. Our location is about an hour southeast of Alberta . We started earlier this year (than last). We thought we were going to be doing the first two or three episodes with snow on the ground. It ended up not happening that way: they didn’t have any spring snows. Quite dry. So it was a bit chilly at first, but we didn’t have to deal with the torrential downpours and hip-deep mud we had last year. And we’ve had hail-storms. We’ve had a couple of days where we had to stop because of that. But we’re lucky, and we’ve got a brilliant director of photography, Marvin Rush, who somehow manages to make the light match, even though there are days when we’ll start in sunshine, then we’ll have cloud cover, then it’ll rain, it’ll hail, then the sun’ll come out, then it’ll go back in. (laughs) Somehow he manages to make it all work. Calgary
Henry – I was wondering if your story was going to cross any more than it has with Eddie Spears’ character, Joseph Black Moon.
Anson – You know, we’re actually talking about that. I haven’t really had a lot of interaction with Eddie’s character so far this season, but there’s about to be a bit in number 9, which we’re about to shoot. And Eddie’s character, Joseph, is continuing to question his place in this world. Because his adopted father has taken to the bottle again, his ongoing affections for his adopted sister are newly brought into question, and he wonders if this is the right move to make, to be in this white man’s world.
Henry – Looks like you’ll be more involved with Colm Meany’s character – is that correct?Henry – How many seasons do you see the show running?
Anson – Well, Colm character is running the business that I end up working for, and he and I have two very different ideas about leading, and so by necessity we have a lot more head-butting this season.
Anson – I’ve heard five thrown out there; I wouldn’t mind six. When you add together all the outlying projects that had to be completed when the rails were connected, it was a six year engagement.
Henry – So you see the series as actually paralleling the construction of the railroad.
Anson – I would like to. I know you don’t necessarily need to, but I would like to. There’s never been talk about getting into the Central Pacific side of the story; the whole contest between the two companies; the involvement of the Asian-American work-force. You just can’t tell the entire story without getting the Central Pacific, and that opens up a whole new bag of worms in terms of story-telling. And we haven’t even started drilling through the
Henry – It sounds like you’re passionately interested in the actual history.
Anson – Oh yeah. I’ve been doing my research.
Henry – Would you be interested in doing another Western?
Anson – Yes. In about another ten years I want to play (abolitionist) John Brown. I think that’s a story that’s waiting to be made. Now watch – somebody’ll pick up on this and they’ll hire Willem Dafoe to do it.
WANT TO HELP FINISH A WESTERN 29 YEARS IN THE MAKING?
In 1983, nearly three decades ago, Rick Groat and his family and friends set out to make an old-fashioned black & white western. In a vintage interview on ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHT, Rick brags that his $15,000 movie will look like it cost a half million!
Sadly, after a successful film-festival work-print screening, the movie, THE SHOOTING, was never seen again. Now, filmmaker Rick Groat, who acted in 2010's 6 GUNS, is trying through KICKSTARTER to raise the $9,500 he needs to complete the film. If you know the Kickstarter system, you know that the project will only be funded if all the money is committed within a limited time. As I write, Rick has only eight days to go, and only $650 of his $9,500 committed.
I was going to write about this project next week, but I figured it might be of more use to Rick if I did it right now, while there’s still time. To learn more, visit HERE, where you can read more about the film, and see Rick’s presentation.
That’s it for tonight, pardners. I wanted to make sure you had a chance to read the Anson Mount interview before Season 2 of HELL ON WHEELS starts. Next week I’ll have another ‘rush’ story about the Museum of the
San Fernando Valley. And if you want to visit it, you’ll have to be quick, because it’s closing at the end of the month!
All Original Contents Copyright August 2012 by Henry C. Parke – All Rights Reserved