Star of AMC's Hell On Wheels Anson Mount talks with TV STORE ONLINE about Season 3 of Hell On Wheels, Cullen Bohannon and his work in the films ALL THE BOYS LOVE MANDY LANE and COOK COUNTY.
TV STORE ONLINE: What a great Season 3 so far...I love the direction the show is moving in now...I know that Neil LaBute directed a few episodes of this season...How has it been to work with him?
MOUNT: He's fantastic and he's one of my very favorite directors that I've ever got to work with. I hope to work with him on the stage sometime soon...
TV STORE ONLINE: Right, and I know you've done quite a bit of theater in the past...Was that always the goal for you coming out of college?
MOUNT: Yes...I've got a MFA in classical stage from Columbia University and I try to do theater once every couple years...For me it is just like going to the gym.
TV STORE ONLINE: Do you prefer doing film and television work over theater or vice versa?
MOUNT: Personally I need both to keep strong and keep myself interested. To compare them really is like comparing waterskiing with downhill skiing. They use the same muscles but in a completely different application.
TV STORE ONLINE: Since we're half way through Season 3 now...What can fans of the show expect from the next few episodes before this season ends?
MOUNT: I can't say too much about that today. This season for me has been all about giving "Cullen" a sense of self awareness. Because when you hit the rock bottom of any addiction you either have die or figure out a way to climb out of the addiction, and Cullen is addicted to violence. The railroad has been his methadone even though at the end of Season 2 he got back into it with the war with the Indians. Obviously, Cullen isn't going to die so I wanted to figure out a way for him to climb out of his addiction a little bit and I wanted to do that by giving him some self awareness. That means that he is now thinking twice about things and drinking a little less and he's now responsible for something that is bigger than himself. Also, he has in interest now, not in Christianity or the church itself, but in whatever kind of peace that is represented in a connection to the church. The finale of this season will be incredible.
TV STORE ONLINE: Has Cullen evolved over the course of the past two seasons? Near the end of Season 1 Cullen said something to that fact, "I'm a condemned man. I'm doing the best I can in a bad time." Does he still believe in that personal ideology in Season 3?
MOUNT: I don't know how much he's going to be able to evolve. He's been to the brink and back and he's already done that sort of classic male thing where he's put his nose to the grindstone so he could ignore everything that's happened to him. In television, you have to be careful about pursing your development to quickly because we have lot of time and I know that there is a lot to mine out of him already from him becoming self aware. My hope for Cullen is that he can honestly just let go of everything at the end of it. That's my hope for him as a person and as someone who thinks of Cullen as a friend. But that might not happen. On the other hand, he may gain the world and lose his soul.
TV STORE ONLINE: Can the morality of a character or his actions effect an actor consciously or subconsciously in terms of how they approach that character?
MOUNT: Fuck No...laughing Sorry...No..No..No..No...laughing Acting is a process of make believe and don't let any other actor tell you anything else and if they do they're full of shit. Sometimes I feel like I'm on a one man mission to change the way that Americans look at actors. In Europe, they don't think that actors that play "Hamlet" have become him after they've went through this personal soul crushing experience that they were lucky enough to return from. Americans have this idea that acting is this shamanistic process where we channel spirits and I think that thought process misconstrues what we do as actors. I think that the actors that play into that just want to feel more important then they are.
TV STORE ONLINE: How much collaboration do you have with the creators and writers on Hell On Wheels (2011-Current) in terms of where Cullen is going to go as a character?
MOUNT: It's a process for sure. We talk about where Cullen may be emotionally, but I don't want to have too much of a say about that because if I knew where Cullen was going to go my life would be really boring. I like the fact that I don't know what's going to happen to him each week.
TV STORE ONLINE: In preparation in talking with you today...I took a look at a film you did back in 2009 called COOK COUNTY. You hit a big home run there...I loved what you did with that character. Could you talk about creating him?
MOUNT: Thanks very much. I did a bunch of research for that. I watched a bunch of documentaries on people that were addicted to Crystal Meth. I had a couple conversations with some recovering addicts. I took all of that information and knowledge and went into a studio and worked with a friend of mine who comes from a background of physical training and I just found the character from the outside in. I found how he moved. I also produced that film and because of that I really needed to create a character that I could put on just like a hat. People often ask me about COOK COUNTY when there's a discussion about going to a dark place as an actor and I think that's funny because I really enjoyed playing that character...laughing
TV STORE ONLINE: I think it's interesting because there's a darkness or something dangerous lurking behind your eyes when you're in that character "Bump." For me, it was as if that character could snap and attack someone at any time...
MOUNT: I think that just came from trying to produce an independent film...laughing
TV STORE ONLINE: Next month a film you had a great part in ALL THE BOYS LOVE MANDY LANE (2006) hits theaters seven years after it was first finished and eventually shelved. What was that whole experience like for you?
MOUNT: Wow...I can't believe it was that long ago now. I looked completely different back then. I was so disappointed when we finished it and it didn't get released. I really liked working with Jonathan Levine a lot. There's no wonder why he's had such great success because he's a terrific guy and a terrific director. I was so pleased with how that film came out. I had no idea that it would look at great as it does and be as good as it is. The whole thing was done on a tiny budget and we shot it just outside of Austin, Texas. I had a really great time doing it.
TV STORE ONLINE: Back to Hell On Wheels...Why do you think there has always been a interest in the western genre?
MOUNT: I think its North America's version of the martial arts film. It's connected to our history and to how we feel about who we are as a people. The genre seems to have a resurgence when there is a national identity crisis or when we as a people are not so sure of who we are or were we're going. Westerns, at their core are about an absence of law and how we get through that. There's no mistake that we had a huge Western resurgence right during the Vietnam War and then also now in the post Iraq war era.
TV STORE ONLINE: I've seen you mention in a few other interviews that you've given that Clint Eastwood was a huge influence on you in regards to how you approached Cullen on Hell On Wheels...I was wondering what your favorite Eastwood movies are?
MOUNT: All of them...laughing I really love UNFORGIVEN (1993). UNFORGIVEN was the first western that addressed the question of what it's like to kill a man. I think that's a very mature Clint Eastwood asking himself that question and I think that UNFORGIVEN has Eastwood's best performance. I really think that UNFORGIVEN changed the western genre.
TV STORE ONLINE: What do you think that you brought to the character of Cullen as a actor on Hell On Wheels that wasn't already there on the written page of the script when you first started?
MOUNT: I like to think that I bring a lot of weakness of Cullen. When I play heroes I'm not so much interested in their strengths but their weaknesses and vice versa. Look at "Bump" in COOK COUNTY for example...He could be looked at as a very dangerous, strong, masculine, and forceful presence. But what's scary about Bump isn't his strength but his weaknesses and the same goes for Cullen.
TV STORE ONLINE: I've seen you mention that in other interviews that I've read...But why are you so fascinated with that aspect of the character?
MOUNT: Because it's human. I think we're all trying to hide our weaknesses and our weaknesses tell the most about us.
TV STORE ONLINE: What are you own weaknesses in your life?
MOUNT: None of your business...laughing
TV STORE ONLINE: Fair enough...The caliber of actors on Hell On Wheels is incredible. Working with actors like Ted Levine, Colm Meaney, and Tom Noonan for example...Can working with such great actors elevate your own work?
MOUNT: Totally. When you're working with a good actor it's almost like you don't even have to act yourself. When they're constantly pursing an objective then it immediately illicits a response from you.
TV STORE ONLINE: Working on a period era series...Do you learn anything that you may not have already known about the era in which Hell On Wheels is set?
MOUNT: A good bit actually. I didn't know much about the reconstruction but I knew about The Civil War. I grew up in the south and in school they give you a very thorough education on The Civil War. I read this great book called "Nothing Like It In The World" by Stephen E. Ambrose and before each season starts I open it up and look at it in relationship to where we are on Hell On Wheels with the building of the railroad. The Season 2 arc was the building of the bridge and that was an idea that I had and the creators of the show [Joe and Tony Gayton] had at the same time. There was so much crazy shit that happened during the construction of that project that we couldn't even possibly cover it all on the show.
TV STORE ONLINE: I'd be remiss if I didn't ask you about the film you did with Britney Spears called CROSSROADS (2002)? Are you disappointed that CROSSROADS didn't get an Oscar that year?
MOUNT: Laughing....We knew we weren't making the next LAWRENCE OF ARABIA (1962). It was a very high profile movie and it came along when I needed a job. We all have student loans to pay. But that's not to detract from it. I've since met a lot of people that have a very special place in their heart for that movie and I think that's something that is really great. I actually got invited once down to Austin, Texas for a sort of Mystery Science Theater 3000 thing by a group of comedians on CROSSROADS. It was the most popular film that they would make fun of. I went down there and got to be their guest of honor and for two hours they took the piss out on me...laughing. It was so much fun. I have very fond memories of making CROSSROADS. It was a very well produced film from my point of view. Working with all the girls was lovely too. I had a great time.
TV STORE ONLINE: When Hell On Wheels first came out the reviews for the show were very mixed and in particular the N.Y. Times was particularly brutal toward the show and still is today... What do you think about that? Doesn't it prove that the critics were wrong considering the show is doing so well ratings wise and it had a big fan base? Is criticism even valid today living in the internet age?
MOUNT: I think critics still have a place. But I'm not always sure that what a critic says today can have an impact. I read critics when I'm looking for something to go out and see but I try to avoid them when they've written about me. I think that criticism keeps us real, but I'm not sure why we as a people tend to work ourselves into a place where only a handful of critics' opinions "matter". As for the show...I think it must be difficult to be a critic in television because you're always criticizing something like a show or a pilot episode that may not have even learned what it wants to be yet because it's just in it's outset. It really has to be a difficult job. I don't think I could ever be a critic.
TV STORE ONLINE: There are two great actors named "Anson". There is yourself of course then Anson "Potsie" Williams of Happy Days fame....If someone wrote a buddy cop sitcom around you and Williams called "Anson & Anson" would you consider taking the part?
MOUNT: Laughing...I think Anson Williams directs now. I don't think he's acting anymore. I'd love to meet him sometime. I'd love to compare notes with him on sharing this crazy name that we both have.