Hell on Wheels Q&A – Jennifer Ferrin (Louise Ellison)

Jennifer Ferrin, who plays Louise Ellison on AMC's Hell on Wheels, talks about handling an authentic printing press and how her character has inspired her.

Q: You were a newcomer to Hell on Wheels last season. What has surprised you the most about being on the show so far?

A: I’ve never worked on a Western. It’s a very specific genre. How well everything was written and the quality of production was a good surprise.

Q: You’re now in your second season of playing Louise Ellison. What kinds of things has your character taught you about women during the 19th century?

A: I actually really love playing women in period because there’s so many social constraints that are driving these characters. But underneath all that is the same kind of humanity and human nature that we all have, no matter the time period. Women in particular were expected to behave and act a certain way and keep everything buttoned up. To play a woman who doesn’t really exist within any of those confines was great. Her job as a reporter is very much in a man’s world, as well as her liberal mind in her personal life. Knowing that she worked in this real, hard-nosed profession isn’t too far off from the way women have to compete now.

Q: You’ve got a new workspace this season. How do you like The Cheyenne Leader office set?

A: It’s incredible! The first day I walked in, I couldn’t believe it. It’s so incredibly detailed. The amount of work that went into it was amazing, and the way that our show pulled all that together and made it very specific and very real – I appreciated that. It helps to have that space to work in.

Q: The Leader offices include an authentic newspaper press. Did you have to learn how to use it? Was it difficult? Did it make you appreciate modern technology more?

A: The massive one was acquired from a museum and then there are a few smaller ones. They’re so heavy and intricate – the setting of the press and each tiny letter that you have to do. It wasn’t difficult, but it was definitely labor-intensive and took a little bit of practice, which I loved. When you had to print one story, it had to be completely done by hand. There’s something interesting about that in that you really have to make sure that what you say is important and there are no words wasted. Nowadays, we have so much information that anything can be said at any time. We don’t spend as much time thinking about what we put out there.

Q: Are there any other interesting props or set pieces inside the Leader offices that fans might not notice at first glance?

A: I don’t know if they ever fully shot the casing for all of the letters. There are these very thin printer drawers that pull out, and each little divider has all the different letters with different fonts for each one. They had everything in there.

Q: In Episode 409, Louise becomes entangled with John Campbell. Are you hoping she'll find love?

A: One of the things that we really talked about in developing Louise this season was rounding her out a bit more and giving her more of a personal life that the audience could connect to. We were finding that she had such a strong presence as a reporter, but we were lacking what was underneath all of that. So, when John Campbell came into town, it was a real alluring thought to see what their connection would be. They’re both smart and they’re both stubborn. The writers and I really talked about what it would mean for Louise to be attracted – however harmful it was – to a man like John, and what kind of internal conflict that would bring. I enjoy when a character is fleshed out fully, and we wanted to paint her as this complex character that might fall for this person who doesn’t pigeonhole her into a type. I think that leaves it open for her to perhaps find love or just find herself.

Q: In what ways are you like your character? For example, do you like to write? Have you contributed to your high school or college newspaper?

A: I’ve never really flexed that muscle, but I’m certainly inspired. I’m definitely more interested in reading other writers’ and journalists’ work and editorials. I’ve gotten a lot more curious about the way news is reported in our time.

Q: Has playing Louise taught you anything about yourself?

A: The way that I tend to approach characters is from myself first, because that’s the thing that’s going to be the most truthful. I tend to look for the truth in situations. That part of her – digging deeper and trying to keep people honest – is something I liked working on.

Read an interview with Jonathan Scarfe, who plays Sidney Snow >>