'Hell on Wheels' star: I Don't Want Dialogue
Last night, 4.4 million people flashed back to 1860 with the record-setting premiere of AMC's Hell on Wheels -- a gritty history lesson that is more HBO than PBS. Starring Anson Mount, Colm Meaney and Common, the show is many things at once: a political pressure-cooker, a violent vendetta-driven drama and a fascinating portrait of an evolving country.
Now, with so many of you hopping on the railroad bandwagon, I caught up with star Anson Mount to find out what's coming up and how it involves gladiators.
Insider.com: Congrats on the huge number of people who checked out the premiere. What was it that attracted you to the show?
Anson Mount: That first scene was just a dynamite. It's rare to come across Southern characters that are not stereotypes. To see a Southerner from the 19th century that isn't vilified and, by the same token, who is not aggrandized, is so rare. All of those bullets were dodged. Just on that level I was interested in playing the part. Then, the story itself across the board was fascinating. The framework of the transcontinental railroad, I cannot believe it has never been capitalized on before.
Insider: Last night's premiere seemed to hit a lot of genres -- how do you describe the show?
Anson: Man. It's hard, because if you explain it in the wrong way it sounds like the donkey drama. Usually when I hear the title Hell on Wheels I think it's a motorcycle gang show. But then the origins of that phrase are interesting. There was a reporter from a Chicago newspaper who went to cover the destruction in Nebraska and saw this wagon town that had cropped up around the destruction. It was all bottles, beer halls -- he said it felt like he was looking at hell on wheels. And that's where that phrase comes from. I sort of explain the whole backstory to my character, and I kind of leave it at that.
Insider: Your character is a man of few words. As an actor, is that tough or exciting?
Anson: For me, it's exciting. I think if there's enough behavior and action, you don't need a lot of dialogue. The creators joked with me at the end of the season: "You were the only actor who has asked for less lines."
Insider: That said, how do you approach the character?
Anson: That's the interesting thing for me. At the outset, it could be argued that he's on a path where once he's reached his objective there will be nothing else to live for. But in the process of trying to achieve that objective, he finds himself embedded in this project that was the dream of Abraham Lincoln, and inadvertently gets caught up in another kind of war. In the end of episode two, he says, "This railroad is war." But what he doesn’t bargain on is getting caught up in the higher ideal of this project. And that becomes maybe something else to live for, but I won't say for how long. And those have become the two poles of light and dark that are pulling into one direction or another.
Insider: There's a very buff photo of you on the AMC press site -- how did you approach the physicality of this character given the economic constraints of the time period?
Anson: I didn't want to look too well-fed, but I couldn't look soft either. Plus, ego is a very motivating factor [laughs]. If you know you're shirt is going to be coming off, you remember that Common is there and there is a little compeition there. Episode 5 is kind of a gladiatorial episode for he and I. We both knew it was coming up so it was funny -- about three weeks before, we kept bumping into each other at the gym. I'd ask, "How long you staying?" And then I'd stay after he left. We were really pushing each other. There were days where I'd be on the treadmill, look over and see him on the treadmill so I'd be like, "I'm not getting off this f***ing treadmill until he gets off."
Hell on Wheels airs Sundays at 10 p.m. on AMC