Hell on Wheels Q&A – Dohn Norwood (Psalms)

Dohn Norwood, who plays Psalms on AMC’s Hell on Wheels, compares himself with his character and shares his techniques for staying focused while on set.

Q: What were you most looking forward to when you started filming Season 4?

A: Revisiting the character of Psalms, and further development of the character. When he was introduced, he was a Freedman, and you didn’t think that there would be anything new or different from the other guys. Now, he’s starting to see things differently as he becomes head of labor on the railroad. To see him go from being property to being in charge is a huge leap. It’s a major arc: He went from being this angry, bitter guy who looked out for himself to looking out for others.

Q: You’ve been playing Psalms for four seasons now. In what ways are you most similar to Psalms? In what ways are you the most different?

A: We’re similar in that he’s a good storyteller and he looks out for others and his fellow man. Taking the time period into consideration, African Americans were very limited in the choices that they had, so I would imagine Psalms had a more tenacious personality. It’s not that I’m not tenacious, but you had to do a lot more then. That was probably a drive that you had and didn’t even know it. At that time, you had no idea if you would live to see the next day. You counted your blessings.

Q: You’ve had your share of fight scenes on the show. Do you enjoy doing them? Were you hoping there would be more this season?

A: There’s a good amount of action and a lot going on. Doing a Western and being able to play cowboys and Indians is cool. You get to revisit your kid days.

Q: After the disappearances of Cullen and Elam, Psalms worked his way up through the ranks of the railroad. Do you ever tease Anson Mount about being his boss now?

A: [Laughs] Not necessarily. “Never thought I’d live to see the day I be the boss of the boss,” Psalms says, but Cullen Bohannon is always going to be resurrected from whatever circumstances he’s in.

Q: You recently found out you’re going to be a father -- congratulations! Has the show taught you any dos or don'ts of being a parent?

A: A lot of the actors have. Some of my cast mates are fathers, so they share my excitement. This is my first child, and they’ve reminisced about the anxiety and the fears as well as the joy of having a child, especially the first child.

Q: You’ve previously shared some of your on-set techniques for staying focused, such as doing pushups and vocal pitch exercises. Are there any new or unusual tactics you’ve been using this season?

A: This year, I’ve been doing more stretching and some tai chi. I try to keep my body moving and to stay in the present. It depends on the scene, too, because sometimes joking and laughing with the crew and cast can help with a moment and staying emotionally present. I’ve also been communicating much more with the directors to see what kind of picture they’re painting. That’s been very educational and advantageous. As I’m getting older and a little stiff, aside from yoga, I wanted to do something to strengthen and focus myself. My wife and I are celebrating our first anniversary, we have a child on the way, we’re looking for a home, I’m on the show and trying to advance my career, and I’m also writing scripts. There’s a lot going on, and it helps to gather yourself mentally, physically and emotionally.

Q: Has being on the show helped with your scriptwriting at all?

A: Absolutely, in terms of character development and creating noise, imagery, and the work it’s going to take to manifest. It’s one thing to imagine it, but when you’re editing and refining it, you want any reader to be able to build that too.

Q: You tweeted a photo of an ice cream truck that came on location this season. What was it like to see the truck sitting in the middle of an 1860s set? Who was the most excited about it?

A: I think we were all equally excited. [Laughs] It was funny because we were in the middle of nowhere -- on location at the old Hell on Wheels set -- and it was grungy and dirty, so to see that truck drive out there... I’m sure the driver was weirded out. It was an interesting juxtaposition, especially to see all these adults running like children. We had one last year, and we’ve had café and smoothie trucks, so we were all hoping for one this year. Nothing gets people excited like ice cream!

Read an interview with Robin McLeavy, who plays Eva >>