Hell on Wheels Q&A – Showrunner John Wirth Answers Fan Questions

In this interview comprised of questions submitted by Hell on Wheels fans, showrunner John Wirth talks about which deceased character he misses the most and shares a prank Anson Mount pulled on set.

Q: Looking back, do you have a favorite episode? Why? Is there a storyline you wish you could have expanded? — Speech Girl

A: My favorite episode was the first one I wrote for the show, which is the second episode of the third season (“Eminent Domain”) when Cullen had to hang Jeb Hatch. The issues in that episode were so complex and the acting was just amazing. What everyone was doing on that episode blew me away. Adam Davidson directed it and did a fabulous job. It’s kind of hard to choose, though, because we’ve done some really powerful episodes. The one story that we never did that I always wanted to do was a buffalo hunt episode. I tried to get that in, but we just could never do it. It’s only going to be in my mind now.

Q: With so many great actors/actresses around you, do you have any that are practical jokers that you must keep an eye on, in a good way? — BliTzer

A: [Laughs] Well, if you’re working with Tim Guinee, you better watch your back! The other guy who is a bit of practical joker is Byron Mann. Anson Mount loves to be a part of all this stuff, too. Anson pulled a gag on another actor that was fantastic. This guy came in to play the snake oil salesman in Episode 5 this season, so Anson got together with Byron and they decided to tell the actor that we were adding a bunch of Cantonese dialogue to his upcoming scenes and he’d have to learn it all. He called his wife, panicked and sweating, and was working with one of our Cantonese-speaking extras who was in on the gag. He was trying to memorize all this dialogue and these guys were going around shooting surreptitiously on their iPhones and all you could hear was Anson giggling. It was pretty funny.

Q: Which character, now dead and buried, do you miss the most and why? — Julez

A: I think the obvious answer is Elam. I miss both the character for what he was to the show and I miss the actor for what he did for the show. Working with Common was one of the unexpected pleasures of my life and it didn’t last long enough for me. I’m delighted that he’s gone on to have such success in everything that he’s pursued, but I really miss him. Everybody does.

Q: In Episode 506, Cullen looks like a “Hungry Ghost” when he tells Mei, “I lost my wife and son.” Was he talking about Mary and Joshua, or Naomi and William — or both? — Karen Oleet

A: That’s a good question. I think I’ll leave it unanswered because I think it works for one or the other, or both. It’s up to the audience to decide.

Q: I live in the Calgary area and the wind is constant, yet there doesn’t seem to be any sign of things blowing around in the episodes. How did that get worked around so it seemed like the air was always still? — SteveGo

A: Well, what you probably don’t know is that we’ve spent a lot of money on a special see-through dome which we put down on top of the set and it actually stops all wind from blowing. [Laughs] Did you believe that?! We’re out in the elements, so whatever is happening happens. We don’t do anything to try to avoid the wind, rain, snow, hail or sleet. I’m aware of the wind when I’m there, but we turn the camera on and we shoot no matter what’s going on.

Q: In “Hungry Ghosts,” Cullen advises Mei not to go “home” with her father’s body. For the first time, we hear Cullen say his regret at returning home to Mississippi to honor his grandfather. He wanted to do something else besides be a farmer on the family plantation. Will we learn more about Cullen’s real wish for his life’s work in episodes 508-514? — Boudica9

A: A lot more of what’s inside of Cullen gets revealed in the last seven episodes than has been previously. We really get inside of the character and he really starts to have to deal with the changes in his life and how he’s been changed by the railroad. Facing an uncertain future because of the railroad ending brings out a lot of self-reflection from this character. I think there’s a lot we’ll learn and there’s probably an answer to that question in there somewhere.

Q: My husband has only one question: When will The Swede be taken out?! — Cathy Zamzow Estabrook

A: [Laughs] Well, I don’t know that I can tell you that The Swede will be taken out, but I can tell your husband this: The Swede and Cullen will have a pretty significant confrontation in the premiere episode next year. If you watched the Midseason Finale, you saw the coming attractions. So, don’t miss the premiere next summer!

Read an interview with Christopher Heyerdahl, who plays The Swede.

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