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Hell on Wheels Q&A – Phil Burke (Mickey McGinnes)

Phil Burke, who plays Mickey McGinnes on AMC’s Hell on Wheels, talks about naming his own casino and working with Neil LaBute.

Q: How has Mickey evolved as a character since we met him back in Season 1 in his Magic Lantern tent?

A: The whole thing about Mickey is, he’s a survivor. The railroad moves forward, and I think Mickey has jumped on that train, for lack of a better phrase. As the railroad goes, Mickey’s going too. He’s learning from people like Bohannon and Durant. He’s picking up the ways of the world and what it takes to survive out in the West.

Q: Mickey begins the season running Cheyenne’s casino. Do you like to gamble? Any favorite games? What would your casino be called if you owned one?

A: Fortune’s Fool Casino and Burlesque Extravaganza! I’m not a huge gambler, but when I am in a casino, I love the crazy video slots. I think it’s the bright lights and the sounds. I went to Atlantic City, and I remember hitting for $800 and said, “Get up, quick! Before they realize we’re winning!”

Q: Did Hell on Wheels teach you that?

A: Yes. Run before they take it from us!

Q: Mickey is involved in several fight scenes this season. Talk a little bit about how you prepared for the fight in the mud with Jessup in Episode 405.

A: The stunt coordinator is fantastic. He’s nice enough to allow us to do what we feel safe doing. With that scene, he really wanted it to be dirty, dark, and as natural as possible. I think we accomplished it. When you get to play in the Wild West, you want it to be as authentic as possible, so when you’re allowed the opportunity, it’s great. It’s what you do as a kid. It’s a dream come true.

Q: Mickey takes quite a beating from Sidney Snow in Episode 409. How much did you and Jonathan Scarfe need to prepare for that scene?

A: We did a bit of rehearsing. Scarfe and I are good buds, and we trust and know each other. It wasn’t anything that was incredibly laborious. Between the stunt coordinating and the writing, we’ve got a lot of good people behind us, and it makes it easier.

Q: In Episode 410, Mickey organizes a bucket brigade to help save the burning church. Did you ever want to be a fireman when you were a kid?

A: Of course. I think every boy grows up wanting to be a fireman — there’s a month or two where you’re like, “Hmm — I’d be a fireman!” Saving children, riding in the truck, ringing the bell… and posing for the calendar, for sure. [Laughs]

Q: Mickey also begins the season as the honorary Mayor of Cheyenne. Could you image yourself as mayor of a town during the 1800s? What would be your angle to get people to vote for you?

A: I was [class] president in my high school, so I’m not averse to running for political office. My grandma was a big politician in Ireland, so there’s a little bit of that in our blood. My first policy would be to name my casino, and get me on the cover of that fireman calendar.

Q: In addition to directing you in several episodes of Hell on Wheels, including episodes 401 and 402, Neil LaBute also recently directed you in the movie Dirty Weekend. What do you like most about working with him?

A: He’s just an absolute gem and, in my opinion, one of the greatest American playwrights. He knows character, conversation and situation. Anytime I get to work with that guy, it’s an absolute dream, especially for a young actor like me.

Read an interview with MacKenzie Porter, who plays Naomi Bohannon >>

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