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Hell on Wheels Q&A – Colm Meaney (Thomas Durant)

Colm Meaney, who plays Thomas Durant on AMC’s Hell on Wheels, talks about the evolution of his character and the relationship between Durant and Eva.

Q: You’re now in your fourth season of playing Thomas Durant. In what ways do you think Durant has changed most since the series began?

A: Well, I think it’s been a tough journey. He’s been battered and bruised, he’s been shot and nearly died, he’s been broke, he’s been in jail — a lot of stuff has happened to him that he probably didn’t anticipate. It’s been a rough ride, and I think now he’s much more realistic about what he can get done. He still has that burning ambition to get the railroad done and get it through, but I think he’s aware that it’s not as easy as he thought.

Q: Though the arrival of John Campbell in Cheyenne would seem to present a major challenge to Durant’s authority, Durant dismisses him as “nothing more than a bureaucrat.” Do you think Durant feels at all threatened by him?

A: Durant has dealt with much more senior people than Campbell. What we haven’t seen a lot of in the last few seasons is Durant operating in Washington. He has a number of senators and various high-card people in his pocket, so I don’t think he’s threatened. I think Campbell is an irritant, but I don’t think Durant is up at night worrying about him particularly. Durant has dealt with much more powerful people than Campbell.

Q: In Episode 404, Durant goes out of his way to help Eva and wants nothing in return, telling her they’re “friends.” What do you think his motivations are for looking out for her?

A: I think Eva and Durant made a connection in Season 2. After Durant was shot, he became addicted to laudanum, and it was during that time that Eva was very good to him. She took care of him. I think in some ways, he feels he owes Eva, but he also has a lot of gratitude and a kind of respect for her that he probably doesn’t have for more respectable and so-called intelligent people.

Q: In Episode 405, Durant takes quite a beating after Heckard accuses him of killing Jessup. Talk about shooting that scene.

A: It was pretty clear, in the way that it was written, that it was a short and sharp beating because Durant has no time to respond when Heckard attacks him with the cane. Immediately, Durant was stunned. I kind of just hit [Billy Wickman, who plays Heckard] with an oil lamp, and then he’s on top of me. Brent Woolsey, our stunt coordinator, is terrific in these situations. He designed the fight, and it was pretty straightforward.

Q: Durant has delivered a lot of great quips over the years. What’s your favorite Durant one-liner from the season thus far?

A: In Episode 405, which I really liked, Campbell’s office is being torn down by a chain of horses which I’ve organized, and he asks what I’m doing. I’m sitting there, reading the newspaper, and I just say, “I’m reading the Cheyenne Leader.” I liked that. The writing has been very good, and there are some lovely bon mots like that.

Q: Are there any ways in which you’d say you’re similar to Durant? Have you learned anything about yourself from playing him?

A: I’m not similar to Durant at all, no. I mean, this is a driven man, a very ambitious man who’s focused. I’m the opposite, probably. [Laughs] As we go into it more, I’ve grown to understand him more. I think, historically, and in the context of the show, he’s a fascinating guy.

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