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Q&A – Colm Meaney (Thomas Durant)

Colm Meaney, who plays Thomas Durant on AMC’s Hell on Wheels, talks to about almost getting strangled by Anson Mount and reveals his favorite Durant quote.

Q: You’ve gotten some memorable lines in Hell on Wheels. What’s your favorite?

A: There’s a line in the speech Durant gives in the pilot that I’ve always loved — “There will be perfidy of epic proportions” — because those are words that are not in common usage today. I think it captures him very well because he realizes there will be shady deals to be done, but it’s the only way to do it. For me, just looking at that as actor, it set the tone for the character and for the series.

Q: Durant names a town after himself. Think that’s an appropriate legacy to leave?

A: I think in Durant’s case, it’s rather unfortunate because as soon as he’s named the town and left it, it’s burned to the ground. [Laughs] He’s going to have to think of something else… I love the way he can’t resist the vanity aspect of naming a town or a line or something after himself.

Q: Has Durant changed in Season 2?

A: I think we’re getting to see more of the personal aspect of Durant. As a public man, he’s very assured and very clear, and he’s a dictator in many ways in this world of the railroad. In Season 2, we start to explore more of his personal side and his vulnerabilities and his doubts about himself.

Q: Durant and Lily have a new type of relationship this season. Did you think that would happen?

A: Not at all. I didn’t know it was going to happen until the day before we shot it. It was surprising to me because if you’ll remember towards the end of Season 1, Durant asked Lily to marry him and she refused. But he knows how valuable she can be in terms of a professional capacity. There’s this ability to overcome personal differences in order to serve the professional good of the railroad that I find kind of fascinating about him.

Q: You and Anson have a great scene in the train car riding back to Hell on Wheels. What was it like to shoot that?

A: Anson almost strangled me of course, but other than that it was fine. [Laughs] He’s a strong boy, you know. Once he got that chain around my neck, I thought he was for real. The furthest we could get away from each other was on either side of the train car, and it just made for great tension in the scene.

Q: At the end of that scene, Cullen asks Durant which one of them is the devil. What’s the answer?

A: When you think about it, what’s happened to Cullen is horrendous. He’s lost his wife and family. And in that sense, his behavior is a bit more understandable. But on the other hand, Durant operates from a pragmatic kind of sense of progress. I think he believes deep down that he’s doing some good by building this railroad. What I’m saying is neither of them really are the devil.

Q: The show moved locations this year. Does that tie into the plotline?

A: The idea is that the railroad is moving on, and each season we’ve completed a section of extra railroad and we move on. We needed a big gorge to be able to build a bridge this year, and there was a big gorge close by. There’s also the river… The only problem is that it’s about 50 minutes out of town, but it’s a beautiful location.

Q: Is the set itself any more pleasant?

A: The town of course has grown this year and there’s a lot more wood than canvas. But literally just yesterday we had a downpour and this set turns to mush as well. It really does. The mud, I guess it’s just the intensity of the rain we get. Within 20 minutes, a perfectly dry dusty street is like quicksand.

Q: You’ve worked on several films during the off-season. What’s it like to go from doing movies to the Hell on Wheels set?

A: I always find that it’s refreshing to switch and go and do something else and play a different character, and the different challenges that crop up on a feature kind of keep you sharp and on your toes in a way. I like to mix it up like that.

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

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