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Q&A – Kasha Kropinski (Ruth)

Kasha Kropinski, who plays Ruth on AMC’s Hell on Wheels, talks about acting in the elements and her favorite piece of Ruth wisdom.

Q: You’ve done quite a bit of acting while standing in a river…

A: It’s sort of like my natural habitat now, wading around in that river. What I always find amusing is — just to regulate our body temperature and protect the actors — we have to wear wetsuits and other sort of water gear. For example, during the Baptism scene last season, I had this flesh-colored unitard underneath all my clothes. It makes it extremely difficult to walk, especially when you’re wearing a corset. [Laughs] I felt like Gumby.

Q: Robin McLeavy said that filming the river scene in Episode 5 this season was difficult for her. How did you get through it?

A: Robin was enormously helpful to me in that scene. She’s a very spiritual person, and that was such a valuable asset just to feel that radiating off her… We couldn’t get in the water to rehearse because of the costumes, and they couldn’t have our dresses getting wet, so we stood on the bank and we talked about it. Just to be in that space, amongst nature — I was glad that that scene didn’t take place in the city or amongst the tents because it added this sort of extraterrestrial aspect to it.

Q: Ruth reveals that she was pregnant with Joseph Black Moon’s baby. Were you surprised?

A: When I first read the script, I read it as being quite ambiguous as to whether the script meant that Ruth just thought she was pregnant or was pregnant… I thought if there was an actually tangible thing that they could share between them, that would really flesh the scene out and make it more potent. So Robin and I talked to John [Wirth] and he liked the idea of it being explicitly a pregnancy, and we went from there.

Q: Has anything (else) caught you off guard about Ruth?

A: I’ve been so upset with myself in the past because I’d read all the scripts, and I’d know what was happening when I’d watch the season… When it came to actually seeing everything, there was no surprises. So this year, I studied very intently everything that was pertinent to me and would influence my character and her situation, but I like to keep everything else at a distance.

Q: So, when you watch Season 3, you’ll get to watch it as a viewer and a fan?

A: Exactly… Especially because everything is so new this year, I wanted to come in with a totally clean slate when watching it. So, I’m really excited! I want to know what happens.

Q: What’s the most valuable thing you’ve learned as an actor on this show?

A: This year, we filmed exclusively outside. And in Season 1 and 2, we did quite a bit of work in the studio and a lot of my scenes in the church didn’t actually take place on location… So I think what I’ve appreciated is the spontaneity that comes from working with and against the elements. It brings a freshness and an almost an improvisational aspect to it and attitude to it… We did a scene in the season finale, and because I had flowers in my bonnet, a bee kept swarming my face… Every time they started filming, without fail, that bee was in my close-up. [Laughs]

Q: Cullen turns to Ruth for guidance now. What’s it like working more closely with Anson?

A: I really enjoyed working with him last year, so I was glad to have the opportunity to do more on Season 3. This relationship between Cullen and Ruth, it’s so unusual. You can’t really liken it to any other relationship on the show past or present. I liked exploring that peculiarity and all the facets of what that could be… I really like the idea that she’s sort of his conscience manifest. I like that idea, that it’s this sort of surreal relationship.

Q: Do you have a favorite piece of wisdom from Ruth?

A: When she says [to Cullen], “I don’t think the railroad can save you.” I think the railroad encompasses a lot of ideas. It encompasses her, the men he works with, where they are, their lives — so I don’t think she meant that literally… And when Ruth says, “In order to put the past behind you, you have to move beyond it,” that is something I can absolutely relate to because of my ballet and my dancing. It was a very obsessing and irritating time when I had to stop.

Q: If you had to live in the 1860s, what is the one modern-day comfort would you most miss?

A: Hot running water. I do enjoy a lovely bath.

Q: You’re from South Africa, and many of your co-stars are from other countries too. Who does the best American accent?

A: Can I just say, everyone does a really good impression of me and my accent. Whenever I’m on set, everyone does this tea party sort of accent. Like, “Oh, hello, Kasha, how are you doing today?” And I just sound like the most cupcake or Mary Poppins or something, and that really amuses. And I’d say everyone does a better “me” than me.

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

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