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Hell on Wheels Q&A – Jake Weber (John Campbell)

Jake Weber, who plays John Campbell on AMC’s Hell on Wheels, talks about his love for playing bad guys and his fight scene with Colm Meaney (Durant).

Q: What was it like to join the cast of a show that was entering its fourth season? Did anyone in particular make you feel at home on set?

A: I’ve known Anson [Mount] for about 10 years. He gave me a heads up that it would be a terrific group of people, a terrific writing staff, and a well-organized machine that I was joining. That proved to be the case. It was seamless. I felt welcomed and encouraged.

Q: How does feeling comfortable on set help when acting with your castmates?

A: It’s always nice to like the people you’re acting with. That always helps. I think Anson provides great leadership and makes it clear that no misbehavior or prima donna-like antics will be indulged.

Q: What appealed to you most about the role of John Campbell? Was there anything in particular about the character that stood out to you?
A: He was a veteran who quickly rose in the ranks of the Union Army, up to Brigadier General. I thought I could integrate the soldier into the bureaucrat. I think the war is still fresh for these people, and I wanted to make that clear.

Q: Did you do a lot of research on the real John Campbell? Did you base your portrayal of him on anyone?
A: To prepare for Campbell, I watched Ken Burns’ The Civil War documentary, again. I also read a lot of fiction, like Pete Dexter’s Deadwood, Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian, and a terrific new book by Philipp Meyer called The Son.

Q: You’ve described John Campbell as a “nasty piece of work.” What’s your favorite thing about playing a bad guy?

A: Campbell has a wicked sense of humor underneath his implacable demeanor. He really is a piece of work. I had fun discovering him with the help of the writers. It’s always fun to play a colorful character, and I enjoyed finding those colors.

Q: Where does Campbell rank in terms of other bad guys you’ve played?

A: I haven’t played a bad guy for a long time. Early in my career I was cast in those kinds of roles, and then I did some comedy. I was on Medium for six-and-a-half years, and that guy was a very calm, analytical and well-dispositioned individual. Campbell is definitely the juiciest bad guy I’ve had. I feel like I’ve been waiting a long time to get something like this, and I always felt like I would enjoy playing a bad-ass. He’s been a blast.

Q: You’ve had parts that have required a variety of accents. Which one has been the hardest to master?

A: Welsh. [Laughs] That was a joke. I like doing the accents. I don’t have a natural ear, but I work hard and am disciplined in my approach to mastering it.

Q: How did you go about perfecting Campbell’s Southern drawl?

A: Campbell’s accent and his voice… I don’t know where it came from, but I’ve watched a lot of Westerns. I had an idea that his voice was a growl, and I thought of someone like Nick Nolte. Campbell has a very masculine presence and has a gravelly, deep voice with a bit of a twang, being from the Midwest. I just waited to see what would come out.

Q: Jennifer Ferrin described Campbell and Louise as “both smart and both stubborn.” What do you make of their relationship with each other?

A: Campbell is lonely. He’s a hard man, a difficult man, and a taskmaster, and that can be a lonely experience. When he meets Louise, he sees a smart, difficult woman — a challenge. He also believes she can be dominated, because Campbell’s modus operandi is dominance. It turns out that isn’t the case. She was more formidable, more of an adversary, than he expected. All of his relationships are adversarial, but she did provide a respite from his loneliness. In spite of himself, an attachment developed.

Q: Talk a little about filming the brawl between Campbell and Durant in the Season 4 finale.

A: I had so much fun with Colm Meaney, and we became fast friends. It was a comical scene, and it was a blast to be thrown into a pit of mud, in a Western, and to get to throw mud in Colm’s face. Frankly, that’s been the highlight of the season.

Q: What was your favorite John Campbell scene from Season 4 and why?

A: It’s too hard to pick, but what I do respect about him is that he has a worldview that is formed by a brutal war. He believes that nature abhors a vacuum, and he must fill it. He’s tough and he doesn’t compromise, even when his own political viability is in question. He holds himself to the same standards as he holds everyone else. He’s just a hard knock — and I like him!

Read an interview with Kasha Kropinski, who plays Ruth >>

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