Hell on Wheels Q&A – Jonathan Scarfe (Sidney Snow)

Jonathan Scarfe, who plays Sidney Snow on AMC's Hell on Wheels, talks about his first day on set and spending 14 months off the grid.

Q: How would you describe Sidney Snow in one word?

A: Snake-charmer. I think he’s a charming sociopath freed from the shackles of a conscience. [Laughs]

Q: What was your first day on set like? Was it intimidating to join the cast of a show that’s already in its fourth season?

A: Well, sometimes it can be, and I’ve definitely had that experience before. But from the moment I got the job – I think about five minutes after my agent called and told me I got the job – Anson [Mount] called my cell phone and said, “Hey, I want to welcome you to the family. I hope you like rehearsing. We have barbeques every weekend out here, we’re so happy to have you, and we can’t wait to meet you in person.” I couldn’t have felt more welcomed. It was just great.

Q: Talk about the scene at the beginning of Episode 405, “Life’s a Mystery,” when we first meet Sidney. Was it unsettling to film with your head in a noose?

A: Well, luckily, the noose that my head was in was not actually attached to anything solid. It was just the noose going up to a light piece of string, so even if something went wrong, it would just snap. I had a harness on under the costume, so when I did get jerked off the horse, all the weight was on the harness. Though, it was me getting jerked off that horse every time. That was fun!

Q: Your filmography includes a lot of cop dramas. Did you enjoy the switch to a period drama? What do you like most about Westerns?

A: Getting covered in dirt, playing with guns, and riding horses is pretty fun. I’ve done a lot of legal dramas and they can be really boring. I’ve also played some very, very good guys, like Jesus. [Laughs] That’s interesting compared to Sidney Snow.

Q: You look so different with the long hair and beard! Was it fun to dress up in period attire? Is there anything you added to your wardrobe or character to make him a bit more “you”?

A: I have to give all the credit to the wardrobe people because they just do such a fabulous job on the show. The only piece that I added was a big, leather belt that looks like a pirate belt. I saw it laying there in a warehouse and had to have it. It was too cool.

Q: Talk about Episode 410, “Return to Hell.” Was it frightening to film around fire?

A: They do such a good job of keeping the stunts organized, and there were medics and a fire truck standing by. They’re incredibly safe about it. Besides, I wasn’t in the middle of the flames -- I just stood outside to wait. [Laughs]

Q: Were you as surprised as Sidney when you discovered Ruth “the church lady” was responsible for shooting him?

They had hinted to me, way before I ever saw that script, that [the character] who would shoot me would be a surprise. So, I’m thinking: Do I finally have a showdown with Bohannon? Does he finally get me? Do I grow a conscience and take a bullet trying to save him? Way back then, I also thought it could be Elam, and then it turned out that it couldn’t happen. I was totally surprised!

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Q: Do you think you’d have what it takes to be a marshal back in those times?

A: Yeah, I’d like to think so. I think I might actually be kind of good at that job.

Q: Sidney always seems to be able to get himself out of a bind. Are you the same way?

A: Well, I try not to end up in jail so that I don’t have to talk my way out.

Q: What is the biggest difference between you two?

A: The body count. [Laughs]

Q: Until shortly before you began shooting Hell on Wheels, you spent two years sailing around the world with your wife and children. What was that experience like?

A: We sold everything we owned about two and a half years ago. We sold the house and the car, and we bought this 40-foot yacht. We sailed south from California and spent 14 months off the grid. It was just the four of us – my wife and my two kids. It was a huge voyage of learning all about self-reliance and sustainable living; teaching the kids about solar power, ocean awareness, scuba diving and spearfishing. So, after that crazy adventure, to have the first job back in the world be a bad-ass gunslinger – nothing could have been better.

Read an interview with Phil Burke, who plays Mickey McGinnes >>