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Q&A – Robin McLeavy (Eva)

Robin McLeavy, who plays Eva on AMC’s Hell on Wheels, talks about being one of the few women on set and the challenges of filming with an infant.

Q: Jennifer Ferrin, who plays Louise Ellison, says that you two bonded quickly. Are you the unofficial welcome wagon for new female cast members?

A: [Laughs] Yes, I was very excited at the start of the season to have another woman on the show. I quickly took her under my wing, and it’s just great to have her around in this sea of men on Hell on Wheels.

Q: Common praised the new baby’s acting skills. Have you had any funny moments with her?

A: Common has just been in love with her the entire season… This little baby, whose name is Emily, she would just respond to whatever energy was in the scene, which was fascinating… Like she’d start crying in dramatic moments.

Q: So at the end of a scene with the baby, would you just pass her back to Common?

A: That’s pretty much how it went, yep. [Laughs] But there was this particular scene where she was being a bit grizzly, and we needed her to be quiet… Anyway, it was Dennie [Gordon], the director of Episode 3, whose idea it was to take a pacifier and tuck it into my corset so it would actually look like she was actually sucking on something. That was one of the weirdest things I’ve ever done.

Q: Toole’s brother, Declan, offers Eva a way out of Hell on Wheels. Would you have made the same decision if you were in Eva’s position?

A: It’s such a complex and layered psychology that compels Eva this season. I have no idea what I’d do personally, but for Eva… every time she looks at that child, it’s a reminder of her failed attempt at being a good woman… You’d think she’s got Elam and she’s got the baby, why isn’t she content? She should be joyful and embracing this family unit… She’s the kind of character as well that if happiness presents itself to her, she doesn’t know what to do with it because she’s so used to being in a traumatized state or in a suffering situation.

Q: Do you relate to that part of Eva at all — of sometimes not being able to realize when you’ve got a good thing going?

A: I’m definitely not that extreme. I’m not in a state of suffering. But I think everyone grapples from time to time with being grateful when really great things are happening and trusting that they’re going to stick around.

Q: Tell me about shooting the episode after we find out Eva’s baby has been stolen…

A: It was interesting going into shooting the scene [in Episode 5] where Eva… felt like she’d failed as a mother. And Neil LaBute, who was the director and who’s written so many plays that are brilliant and dark and f****d up, I went into that first rehearsal and… he was making all these morose, morbid jokes so I wouldn’t take the whole thing too seriously… I found that episode really difficult to shoot.

Q: How did you get through it?

The thing about working on television is you have such a condensed amount of time to bring a huge life event into a state of reality. And Neil was really great that day… And Marvin Rush, God bless his soul, our Director of Photography, is extraordinary, and he was like chest high in this freezing cold river with us so he could get the perfect shot.

Q: What do you do to blow off steam when you’re not filming?

A: It’s quiet here, and it’s actually a good opportunity to reflect on what I’ve done over the last six months. I do a lot of meditating. And a lot of wonderful personal growth happens here because there’s the time and the space. And then when I’m not doing that stuff, we all get really drunk together. [Laughs]

Q: Eva finds herself acting as the town physician this season. Did you research 1800s medicine to prepare for the role?

A: Yeah, I’ve looked into a range of different diseases because they were really just using their eye to diagnose diseases. But because Eva was a prostitute for so long, she kind of has that catalogue of how to deal with different symptoms, and yeah that scene with the wheat dust and the old rags was a revelation, let me tell you. [Laughs] I’m glad we had a female director, that’s all I can say. I was just informed of how contagious it was, because I had blood all over my hands.

Q: What’s the most surprising thing you’ve learned about Eva in three seasons?

A: She’s this robust, independent and ballsy frontier woman and is a survivor and has a huge set of defenses to protect herself… This season we’ve really worked at trying to find that essence and that strength and try to bring that back. And it’s been really fascinating throwing a baby into that equation.

Click here to read an interview with Common, who plays Elam Ferguson on AMC’s Hell on Wheels

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