Q: How did you find out you would be a series regular for the final season? What was your reaction when you heard the news?
A: The producers actually came up to me sometime last year and said they wanted that to happen. I was thrilled, but until you’re on set acting, it’s hard to believe anything is completely real. I think I got excited, but tried to rein it in.
Q: You’re a man of many talents. In addition to acting, you’re also a fireman, a beekeeper and a tightrope walker. How do you manage all of that?
A: Well, I do those things, but I don’t know how well I do any of them. [Laughs] When you tightrope walk, you have to be absolutely focused but also completely relaxed at the same time, because you’re always falling out of balance. You can’t really think about your taxes, your career or your marriage. You really don’t have time for anything other than the wire that you’re on. I know it sounds strange, but I find it very relaxing.
Q: Had you lived during the 1800s, what would you have been doing for a living on the railroad?
A: I’d probably be injuring myself from clumsiness. I’m Irish, so I’m sure I would be doing manual labor. Frankly, I’m as dumb as a bag of hammers, so that’s probably as far as I would get on the ladder of success on the railroad.
Q: Byron Mann mentioned you were a big prankster on the Hell on Wheels set. Which of your fellow actors were the easiest to prank?
A: Oh my god! I’ve done things to a lot of people. They’ve also done a lot to me, but I wind up being the guy who gets blamed. Let us throw Anson Mount into the hopper because Anson’s very good at ducking his head beneath the radar and I frequently get blamed for his shenanigans. Early on, though, we were all staying at a hotel up in the mountains to shoot. Anson plays a hero, so he has to stay in shape. When I found out Anson was going to the gym to use the treadmill, I went and bought some Snickers bars and I just went down to the gym, sat next to his treadmill and ate them. [Laughs] That made me happy. I occasionally leave Snickers bars in his trailer now.
Q: You recently tweeted a picture of you on a snowmobile riding up into the Canadian Rockies. What was that experience like? Were you the warmest actor on set in that buffalo coat?
A: We were filming at 8,000 feet in the Rockies and it was the only way to get the cast and crew up and down. It was an exhilarating blast to ride on that thing. The buffalo coat is incredibly warm. We had a scene once where I’m sitting on a horse and I had to get on it, but the horse didn’t want me to. The wrangler said the horse probably thought I was a bear! I had to take the coat off and let the horse sniff it. It was kind of crazy.
Q: What do you think Collis Huntington’s biggest driving force is? Do you see any major differences or similarities between him and Durant?
A: Historically, they were very similar in a way because they were both terrible thieves. [Laughs] I think the difference with Durant is that Huntington got away with a lot of things and Durant didn’t. That might have been because Huntington was a little smarter about it, but I think it also had to do with the fact that the Central Pacific’s offices were in California and they were a long way from Washington. When investigations did happen, there were things like “mysterious” fires that burned all the records. Huntington’s folks were actually dirt farmers and they were so poor that he was taken away and placed in a home somewhere. I think there must have been some deep seed of insecurity planted around him because of poverty.
Q: In Episode 503, Huntington shares the story of how he turned $90 into a profitable business during the California Gold Rush. What do you think about his vision of the world being divided between the man with a shovel in his hand and the man who sells the shovels?
A: There were thousands of people trying to find gold and he very quickly identified a place he could definitely make a profit. He was very smart about it. There’s an extraordinary story about how he came to California. He got dropped off by a steamship so he could cross Panama and catch another ship. People got stuck in Panama, and they got sick and were dying left and right. Huntington made thousands of dollars by figuring out how to procure medicine and sell it to people. He’s this unbelievable engine of capitalistic energy and he had this insane ability to constantly find opportunity.
Q: Your character is full of colorful language and quips like, “I’d rather feed my scrotum to a grinder monkey.” Is it hard to keep a straight face when you’re delivering lines like that?
A: It isn’t hard because the cast is fantastic and you want to always try to show up for them as best you can, so you try not to giggle. That line was fantastic. It got a lot of Twitter play, but it made me glad I’m not a method actor because then I would have to feed my scrotum to a grinder monkey!
Read an interview with Byron Mann, who plays Chang.Read More