AMC Network Entertainment LLC

This browser is supported only in Windows 10 and above.

Q&A – John Wirth (Showrunner/Executive Producer)

In this interview, John Wirth (showrunner and executive producer of AMC’s Hell on Wheels) talks about the process of “reconstructing” Cullen Bohannon.

Q: What do you want to bring to Hell on Wheels as the new showrunner? What kinds of changes can fans expect from Season 3? 

A: I tip my hat to everyone involved in this show, even people who are not here anymore. And my hope is to build on the legacy that they left and take it to the next level… So this season for me has been a little bit about reconstructing Cullen Bohannon and investing him in something. As I’ve said many times, Cullen Bohannon is going to drink less and talk more this season. We’ve given him a less opaque life to get involved with. We’ve opened him up as a character.

Q: How did your expectations compare to what the experience on Hell on Wheels is actually like? 

A: [AMC have] proven to be wonderful partners. They are very smart, very engaged in the creative process, but they’re not bullies. They’re not dictatorial, which is good because I don’t like that. [Laughs] Who does?… They assured me that they were looking for someone to guide the ship who had a vision for how to take this show to a place beyond where it was.

Q: The production experienced horrific floods during the shoot. How did that impact the series? What was it like there personally?

A: We did an episode about the weather bogging down the railroad and AMC had a lot of questions about it when I was pitching the idea. They were like, “Well, come on, are you expecting us to believe that rainstorms can knock the railroad off the tracks?” So, coincidentally and ironically, we were in the middle of shooting that episode when the floods hit. I was there on a Tuesday afternoon, we were setting a scene with our actors in the river… and by Thursday morning our sets were under three feet of water. So, it happened really fast and it was pretty stunning.

Q: This season draws from actual history repeatedly. Is there a storyline or character you’re most excited about?

A: Thomas Durant is the central historical character on our show and I’m very intrigued by him… He was a very shady character, but he had an idea to build a railroad and change the country. And he did it, and it was tough. And he wanted two things: To be rich and to be famous and he died with neither… Colm Meaney is just as wonderful as his character, and we’ve really taken him apart this year. I like the new character that we’re bringing in, Louise Ellison (Jennifer Ferrin), who is the New York Tribune writer… Her involvement in stories allow us to explain how things are working. Through her eyes you see how the railroad works.

Q: You’ve worked on crime dramas The Cape, Remington Steele and The District and scifi series V and The Sarah Connor Chronicles. Which genre is more valuable when you’re on a Western?

A: It’s a wide range of different kinds of shows with different tones, and I’ve been kind of able to surf the waves of whatever the tone of the show is… What I think about is just telling a good story. Human beings are human beings. Their motivations are universal, so if we have a compelling group of characters and we’re telling good stories, it’s going to be compelling whether they’re set in the world of Hell on Wheels or wherever.

Q: Your first extended experience as a TV producer was for the Western series The Adventures of Brisco County Jr. Did Hell on Wheels feel like a return to your roots?

A: No, but it’s a real pleasure to write for a Western. Cowboys, trains, whores; what else do you need?

Q: TV and movies didn’t exist in the 1860s. What would you be doing if you were living back then?

A: If I were me living back then, sort of a wannabe writer/artist type, I’d probably be a newspaper writer I think. If I had the means to gravitate in that direction, that’s probably what I’d do. Otherwise I’d be like a gunslinger or something.

Q: Is there any aspect of life in the Old West that personally appeals to you?

A: There is. And you get a sense of it in the show because the world was beautiful. The world was really beautiful… but it is different if you’re actually standing out in the natural world yourself because what you realize is there are a lot of bugs. There are snakes. It’s hot. It’s cold. It’s windy. It wouldn’t be easy to live there, but it looks like it would be fantastic to live there! In our world, the wilderness is a character on the show.

Click here to view sneak peek photos from Hell on Wheels Season 3, premiering one week from today on Sat., Aug. 10 at 9/8c on AMC.

Read More