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Q&A – Jennifer Ferrin (Louise Ellison)

Jennifer Ferrin, who plays Louise Ellison on AMC’s Hell on Wheels, talks about her character’s connection to Amelia Earhart and the challenges of riding a horse while wearing a corset.

Q: How did you get involved with Hell on Wheels?

A: They’d just started the casting process, and I put my tape in, so I found out probably about a month later… It was awesome. I was really excited. I was a fan of the show and getting to work on a period piece is something I’ve really been wanting to do again for quite some time. Westerns are so unusual and rare on TV, so I thought it would be a new adventure for me. And working with [showrunner] John Wirth again was exciting for me.

Q: You previously worked with John Wirth on the TV show The Cape. What does he bring to the table that makes you excited to work with him again?

A: John, first of all, is an incredible writer, and he’s got that great eye for story, but then he also just has the ability to communicate really clearly with everyone, from the directors and the designers to the actors of course. It’s just a lot of patience and a lot of creativity that goes into that… I think he brings a unifying presence.

Q: What were you told about Louise Ellison’s backstory and how she fits into the Hell on Wheels universe?

A: There are a couple of historical figures that we wanted to model her after, and one of these women was Nellie Bly… She basically institutionalized herself so she could see what the conditions were like in this insane asylum in New York, and she wrote a book about that. But really it was more about her pioneering the way for women in journalism, really breaking open the injustices of women in the workplace… Working in a man’s world at that time, in the late 1800s, it was a new concept. And also Amelia Earhart, we discussed her ambition and that real dream of breaking through the mold of something that has yet to be done.

Q: Do you think any parts of your own personality have been incorporated into the character?

A: I think so! I think there’s the savviness and the intelligence and then there’s…the feistiness. I think in Episode 2 when Bohannon is taking Louise through Hell on Wheels for the first time, there’s a bit of playfulness and feistiness that started to come out in the dialogue that we didn’t plan on that started to come out between Anson Mount and I.

Q: You’re originally from Georgia. Have you and Anson bonded over your shared Southern roots?

A: Yeah, on one hand we get each other in that sense, but I think he’s got deeper southern roots than I do. [Laughs] You can tell in his accent, which is awesome… But my parents are from the North, so there’s a little bit of hodgepodge there. Anson and I actually share the same birthday, and we both live in New York, so we bonded over that right away.

Q: Do you guys talk about your zodiac signs?

A: That’s what Robin McLeavy and I talk about. We get very witchy with each other. [Laughs] We bonded right away. There are very few females on set, so at the cast dinner, she sort of zeroed in on me and came right over. And it turned out that we had met at an audition years ago, so we were meant to become fast friends.

VIDEO: Inside Episode 302, “Eminent Domain”

Q: Have you gotten any special treatment as a newcomer this season?

A: They absolutely welcomed me with open arms. I felt part of the group right away. I would probably say that the baptism was hanging out early on with Phil Burke and the boys and doing an afternoon pub crawl and watching the games — which I don’t normally do, but when you’re in Calgary, why not? Phil is so rock n’ roll and makes friends with everybody.

Q: Did you get any tips from cast members on how best to deal with “roughing it” on the set?

A: Anson’s first email to me was: “Be prepared for anything,” meaning weather-wise. It could literally be 80 degrees in the morning and 40 at night and it could snow or rain at any point… But shooting exterior is amazing in so many ways. I mean, you have this natural, beautiful landscape that you get to work with that’s so dynamic. The challenge becomes that it’s a time when electricity didn’t exist, so you’re dealing with candlelight, sunlight, and moonlight, but we have the most incredible Director of Photography, Marvin Rush, that I’ve ever worked with. He’s the most incredible DP on this planet.

Q: What’s it been like wearing the big, heavy period costumes?

A: That was definitely an adjustment. I haven’t worn a corset since drama school, and I definitely had never worn a corset while riding a horse. The layers upon and layers were great when it was cold, and a little less comfortable now that it’s gotten warm.

Q: Women’s lives are particularly hard in Hell on Wheels. If you lived back then, what would your life have been like?

A: I don’t think I’d have been living in Hell on Wheels. I might have been [a reporter]. I am a curious person and I enjoy digging into things and communicating with all different kinds of people, so if I wasn’t a reporter, I would probably be a burlesque dancer or something. [Laughs] Just shake it up a little bit.

Click here to read an interview with Anson Mount, who plays Cullen Bohannon on AMC’s Hell on Wheels.

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