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

Robin 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?

A: I definitely love working with Common, and we have a really special connection. Eva’s a different person when Elam’s not around.

Q: In Episode 403, Eva loses all her money at Mickey’s casino. Did you have any experience playing poker prior to shooting that scene?

A: Well, I’ve been to Vegas. [Laughs] I’ve watched a lot of films with poker in them, but I’ve never really sat down with a group of people and gotten into it. I’m definitely a competitive person, though, and I don’t like losing. It was interesting, because Eva’s old streak comes back when she’s put in a situation with just men, the old tricks she has to pull to win and stay ahead.

Q: Through the first three episodes of the season, Eva seems lost and adrift. Do you think she made the right decision when she stayed at Hell on Wheels instead of running away with Declan?

A: I think Eva’s soul mate is Elam, so running away with Declan was not a possibility or an option. As myself, Robin, I think she should have kept the baby because it wouldn’t have destroyed the relationship with Elam. For the story, I think it was much more interesting that she gave it away, and that she was uneasy with it.

Q: Fans often tweet you pictures of themselves with Eva’s signature chin tattoo. Do people still recognize you off set when you’re not wearing it?

A: Nobody recognizes me ever! I’ve been talking about making a cutout stencil with a stick attached, kind of like a little masquerade mask, and I should take that out in public for when I want to be recognized. If I’m out with Phil Burke or Anson Mount, people will approach us and say, “Oh my god! You’re on Hell on Wheels!” — but just to them! They look at me and I have to scowl [like Eva], because I’m too smiley in real life for them to believe me. I’ll have to scowl and put up the tattoo mask.

Q: Fans also often tweet their Eva fan art to you. What do you think it is about Eva that resonates so much with the audience?

A: I think what makes Eva so iconic is that first of all, she’s based on a real woman. The appeal of the tattoo is that she wears her story on her face, so she can’t escape showing who she is at all times. That tattoo is a symbol of survival and suffering and struggle and triumph. To have that always as a reminder is so visual, and people are drawn to it. The design of it and the relation to Native American history — it’s really layered, and I feel lucky to have it. It’s a real gift.

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