Season 3 of the AMC drama series Hell on Wheels finds Cullen Bohannon (Anson Mount) leaving his vengeance-seeking ways behind and investing in the new American landscape. It is now 1867, the third year of the building of the transcontinental railroad, and Bohannon must not only contend with racism, greed and murder, as he leads the Union Pacific in its race across the country against the Central Pacific, but he now also has his former employer, Thomas “Doc” Durant (Colm Meaney), actively working to defeat him.
During this recent exclusive interview with Collider, I sat down with actor Anson Mount, who is always insightful about his character and the show, to talk about how different things feel in Season 3, what it was like to shoot by himself in a blizzard, what’s motivating Cullen Bohannon now, what it’s like to be at odds with Durant this season, what role the Mormons will play, Cullen’s relationship with women, the return of The Swede (Christopher Heyerdahl), and how no one can be trusted in Hell on Wheels. Check out what he had to say after the jump, and be aware that there are some spoilers.
Collider: Things feel very different this season, then they have in previous seasons.
ANSON MOUNT: Yeah, Season 3 is much more different to Season 2, than Season 2 was to Season 1. Literally, we’ve taken a show about destruction and turned it into a show about construction. It’s a very different thing.
Was it fun to have your Tom Hanks/Cast Away moment, out in the snow by yourself?
MOUNT: That’s fantastic! I love that! That’s a good way of putting it. It was three days of mostly acting by myself, and with a wolf. It was really wild to see Hell on Wheels like that. The fact that we’d never shot up there in the winter, we just felt like we had to do it. We really could not have created the beginning of this season without that Long Dark Night of the Soul. We had to shoot it in a blizzard. It wasn’t easy to shoot any of that, but it’s all about coping.
How do you think Cullen Bohannon managed to get over what he was going through and refocus himself?
MOUNT: What makes you think he’s gotten over it? Cullen Bohannon survives by remaining addicted to conflict. That’s his drug, and that’s what allows him to push all of the shit that he should be looking at into his blind spot. But, when you spend that amount of time along, in the Long Dark Night of the Soul, that starts to get so big and swollen that it starts to come out of your blind spot. It either causes schizophrenia, or you have to look at it, or you do what Cullen Bohannon did, and you start running so fast that it jerks back into your blind spot. So, he goes back to work. It’s just his way of coping with what would be termed PTSD today. He will slow down, and he’s not going to be able to look at that until he does slow down. We start to see moments, in this season, where his own conscience forces him to slow down, at times. Also, the pace of the show slows down a little bit, here and there. It’s really nice. I like it.
So, what’s motivating Cullen now?
MOUNT: He doesn’t give a shit about money. We have a scene, this season, where he gives away all of his stock certificates. He gives away all of his money. He doesn’t care. Cullen Bohannon, like every character on this show, is incredibly ambitious, and his ambition is not about money, it’s not about power, it’s not about fame, it’s not about a woman. His ambition is to win. That’s it. He wants to win the battle. But, he hasn’t yet started to consider that the battle with him is never going to stop, unless he stops.
Cullen has been Durant’s right hand man, up until now. How was it to be at odds with him, this season? Was it fun to explore that shift in dynamics?
MOUNT: It’s definitely a different dynamic, and I think that’s most exciting for Durant’s character. You get to see him suddenly destitute, without resources and without anything at his disposal. You see how this very intelligent man manages to orchestrate power and position from the lint in his pocket. And Colm [Meaney] does a phenomenal job with it all.
One of the best parts of this show is the relationship between Cullen and Elam (Common). You never know if they’re really friends, or if they’re going to fight each other. How is that relationship progressing?
MOUNT: I think it works because it doesn’t come for free. It’s a really embattled relationship. But, because we really did our due diligence in the first two seasons, with the conflict between the two characters, it’s really starting to pay off this season. There is some real heart-to-heart stuff, and there’s some getting each other’s backs in ways that now make sense, that would not have made sense in the first season. It would have been saccharin.
MOUNT: Well, his engine has been turned on. Just ‘cause your heart’s broken doesn’t mean that you don’t need that. What that does is it makes the decision that he makes at the end of that episode so much more horrible. I don’t want to play perfect. I want to play people. The network was a little concerned with how young she looked, but she also didn’t speak. When she speaks, it’s very clear that she’s a 23-year-old educated woman. But, I can’t say anything more about it.
Will that family create issues throughout the season?
MOUNT: That’s one of those things where I have to tell you to watch the show. I can’t say any more than that. We’re not done with that family. A lot of people don’t know that, in the 19th century, Mormons could be quite dangerous. When we hear the word “Mormon” today, we think of the tabernacle and funny underwear, but in the 19th century, the Mormons committed massacres. So, yeah, that’s not done.
Where are things headed with Cullen and The Swede (Christopher Heyerdahl)?
MOUNT: He has his own interesting little arc this season. We have to be careful about how to introduce that character back in because it can easily become a show about a cat and mouse chase. We’re not Tom and Jerry. So, the writers have been very smart about how to bring him back in, this season. He comes back in Episode 3.
Doesn’t there have to be some big confrontation, at some point?
MOUNT: Yeah. He’s so good, isn’t he? He’s a lovely guy.
How will Cullen’s relationships develop with both the female reporter, Louise Ellison (Jennifer Ferrin), and the minister Ruth (Kasha Kropinski)?
MOUNT: I think the addition of Louise Ellison is very smart because you can’t have a show which turns so much on the collusion between government and big business without having somebody representing the press. So, I thought it was a very smart addition. And there’s something within Cullen Bohannon that’s starting to wonder if there could be something to this whole peace thing. I’m talking as much about internal peace as truce peace. Ruth really just represents that, to him. As an actor, I’m trying to be very careful. I want the church to be something that he’s not completely comfortable with. There always has to be this excuse for him to be there. But, it does develop this season.
Does the horse riding get easier and has it become second nature, at this point?
MOUNT: Yeah, I do all of my own horse work, at this point. Different horses have different personalities. They’re just like people. Horses have different levels of intelligence and different levels of work ethic. Having been trained as a stage actor, and then you go out there and you’re on 40,000 acres and you have a horse under you and you’re shooting a real gun, you almost don’t have to act. It’s just really amazing.
Sean McGinnes (Ben Esler) is right in the middle of Cullen and Durant, working as an accountant for one and a spy for the other. Is that going to continue to be an issue?
MOUNT: Oh, that reaches real consequences, that dynamic. It’s very smartly set up. And I think that that dynamic pays tribute and is right in line with every character involved in it. That’s going to go to some interesting places. That is one of the arcs and relationships this season that I’m most excited about. I think it’s going to be fantastic, what happens with that particular triangle. Sean is the underling to both people, but from a dramatic point of view, that character now wields an incredible amount of power on the show. It’s great.
Does it feel like there’s really no way to trust anyone in Hell on Wheels anymore?
MOUNT: Yeah. In the real Hell on Wheels, there was the average of one murder per day. Not death, murder. And then, dysentery, cholera and syphilis would kill more.
Hell on Wheels airs on Saturday nights on AMC.