Hell on Wheels Q&A — Robin McLeavy (Eva)

Robin McLeavy, who plays Eva on AMC’s Hell on Wheels, talks about the evolution of her character, finally getting to ride a horse and missing her signature chin tattoo.

Q: How does becoming madam of Mickey’s brothel affect Eva? Were you surprised she ends up shooting Josie? What got her to that point?

A: Eva thrives in social hierarchy and becoming madam of the brothel is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, she becomes a businesswoman, entrepreneur and a bit of a hard-ass. There’s also the demoralizing aspect where she doesn’t want to lose her status, so she does kill Josie to keep her power and her place. I think it’s really telling in Episode 9 when Eva tells Durant she has more money than she’s ever had, but she feels unsatisfied. I think it’s the spiritual aspect she needs to return to. She needs to dig deep and find what makes her happy.

Q: Were you surprised Eva and Mickey end up having sex in Episode 11? How would you describe the evolution of their dynamic?

A: Yes! [Laughs] Phil Burke and I have always seen our characters as brothers and sisters... Eva forces Mickey to confess about what’s going on with Durant and Shea, and she ultimately tells him to kill Shea. It really reminded me of Lady Macbeth when she gets Macbeth to kill Duncan. There was something empowering about that notion for me to play. Mickey ultimately does what Eva says, and she rewards him with sex. There’s something very primal about that scene because she has enough influence over someone to take someone else’s life away. Ultimately, she did it to protect Durant, so there is some integrity in what she asks.

Q: And it wasn’t the first time Eva has been on Durant’s side, right? She was even going to sell her horse to save him!

A: Eva’s always come to Durant’s rescue... They’ve always had this camaraderie, and I think Durant has always felt like he was in Eva’s debt. I think she’s very fond of him because he’s helped her out financially and understood her even though they’re totally different characters. There’s a history of them being strangely comfortable and intimate with each other.

Q: Tell us about that beautiful white horse that Eva gets this season. Did you grow attached to it?

A: Since Season 1, I had been telling the writers that I trained as a show jumper when I was a teenager. They waited right until the end to give me a horse, but I was grateful! [Laughs] I did one of the stunts myself, which was quite fun, so my wish finally came true. I was never really attached to the name Bucephalus. Tim Guinee named the horse after Alexander the Great’s horse who was supposed to be untamable, but I thought Eva wouldn't have any idea who Alexander the Great is. I asked the writers if I could rename the horse Free Spirit and they agreed. That was one of the most emotional days I ever had on set. It felt like the horse was a mirror of Eva and a metaphor for what she’d been through. Renaming the horse was almost like giving herself permission to be a free spirit. I felt like I closed a chapter that day.

Q: Eva has certainly been through a lot – giving away baby Rose, losing Elam, passing up the chance to run away with Declan. Has the railroad changed her for better or for worse?

A: I think for everyone, the railroad has put them through the wringer and through hell and back. With any big endeavor, like building a railroad, it’s going to take its toll. But, ultimately, I think it’s changed her for the better. She’s always been a survivor, but she went through heartbreak, and there was a time when she looked like she was going to stay in a victim mode. She rebuilt herself and gave birth to herself in a completely new way by the end of the series.

Q: The railroad is finally completed in Episode 13. Was it bittersweet to film that episode, knowing that the show was also nearing completion?

A: Filming that moment was really triumphant and the way we shot the Golden Spike [scene] was mind-blowing because we realized we had made it to the end. There was something very celebratory about that day. We had all the writers and producers dressed up in period gear as well, so they were all in that final picture that the photographer takes. It was a really happy moment to have everyone together.

Q: Fans have always had a special connection to you as shown through their fan art and even their own chin tattoos. What’s it been like to make such an impact?

A: I just feel so grateful, and I love that [her story] comes from the real life of Olive Oatman. It’s interesting because some people say, “You’re beautiful even with the tattoo,” but I thought I was beautiful as the character because of the tattoo, not despite it. I’m appreciative of the history and the story. I think tattoo art lets your body tell a story for you.

Q: What will you take away from your experience on Hell on Wheels?

A: Eva is one of the most resilient, tough and deeply spiritual women that I’ve ever played. She develops an outlook on life that is very unique. She’s lived so many lives in such a short period of time, but she ultimately always comes back to herself. She’s constantly traversing the unknown and having a sense of “anything is possible.” That kind of strength was definitely an inspiration to me over the last five years. I kept Eva’s hat and her boots, and I still rub my chin and wonder if there’s a little bit of tattoo there. [Laughs]

Read an interview with Angela Zhou, who plays Mei/Fong.

The final episodes of Hell on Wheels air Saturdays at 9/8c on AMC. To stay up-to-date with all the latest Hell on Wheels news, sign up for the weekly Hell on Wheels Telegraph.