Hell on Wheels Q&A - Anson Mount (Cullen Bohannon)
Anson Mount, who plays Cullen Bohannon on AMC's Hell on Wheels, talks about filming the show's final season and the ways in which a season premiere feels like a Christmas gift.
Q: Is it bittersweet knowing this is the last season of the show?
A: It is. We just wrapped Episode 7 out of 14, so it feels like we’re entering the second semester of senior year. The sense of impending nostalgia is very heavy right now. It’s hard to believe we’re premiering this Saturday, but it’s always a great excitement surrounding the premiere. With a piece of work, whether it’s a TV show or a film, there’s an element to it that always feels like a Christmas gift. You’ve worked really hard to pick it out for the right person, you wrap it the right way, you find the right card, you write the right thing – at least you hope – and then you’re really nervous to watch their face when they open it.
Q: What were you most looking forward to when you started filming Season 5?
A: We’ve got a lot of new cast members this year like Byron Mann, Tzi Ma and Reg Rogers who I’ve never worked with, so I was I really interested in meeting the new members of the cast. That was very exciting, and so was exploring this whole new side of the story on the Central Pacific Railroad with all of the Chinese-American labor workers. There were thousands that helped build the railroad and blasted through the tunnels. Many, many died. To tell this story, we could not leave out the Chinese-American experience.
Q: Did you know much about that particular chapter of American history prior to the season? What kind of research did you do, and what are some of the most interesting things you learned?
A: I found it interesting that all of the Chinese labor came from one particular province – I didn’t know that – and that they were all Cantonese speakers. We continued to find and learn little things. Our writers hired a really wonderful consultant who’s the head of the Center for East Asian Studies at Stanford University, Gordon Chang, and he’s been tremendously helpful with everything from the larger ideas that helped form our storylines to reading the script and saying, “Wait. You have the workers eating noodles? They ate rice!” That’s been the most helpful and interesting part of the research this year.
Q: This season, Cullen has become a stakeholder in the Central Pacific Railroad, officially changing sides in the race. For Cullen, what are some of the biggest differences between working under Collis P. Huntington and working under Thomas “Doc” Durant? Are things really any better for him now?
A: There are really more similarities. They’re both driven by ego, and the problem with both Durant and Huntington is that their egos constantly derail their project, no pun intended. The constant back and forth in an attempt to one up each other is distracting them from the completion of the railroad. The greed and the corruption are an impediment, and it’s a direct antithesis to the goals of Cullen Bohannon, which is just to complete the creation of something after he saw so much destruction. He’s in that part of recovery where he just needs to make something, but he couldn’t have chosen a bigger project. It’s not like he’s making a model ship. [Laughs]
Q: What do you think Cullen's biggest driving force is this season? Is his top priority finding his family, winning the race for the Central Pacific, or simply finishing the railroad?
A: Well, that’s a very good question, and that's a question for both our audience and for Cullen himself. What does he really want? He says he’s looking for his family, but is working on the railroad the best way to look for your family? What’s going to happen when and if he finds his family? Is he going to leave the railroad? That’s a question I prefer to keep alive.
Q: As Cullen continues to evolve, where do you draw inspiration from? How much input have you had into his evolution as a character?
A: It’s predominantly the writers. [Showrunner] John Wirth did invite me into the writer’s room during the first week just to brainstorm and spitball. I am constantly surprised and elated when I get scripts, and there are certain colloquialisms and turns of phrase in the Southern vernacular that I sometimes have to add, but really, it’s the writer’s room.
Q: Season 5’s tagline is “All Roads Lead to Hell.” What does that mean to Cullen?
A: I think it’s a really well-chosen tagline, and it’s perfect for this season. Cullen switched from one side of the workforce to the other, from one company to the other, and from one side of the country to the other. Fundamentally, though, the human problems are still the same, the business problems are still the same, and the engineering problems are still the same. You can’t escape the devil sometimes, particularly if you’re choosing to chase the devil.