Interview: Anson Mount Talks About Cullen Bohannon And Hell On Wheels Season 2

Prepare to go back in time this weekend as Anson Mount returns to AMC for season 2 of Hell On Wheels. After a dramatic first season, Mount is ready to delve even further into his dark side as the vengeful former Confederate soldier Cullen Bohannon. Real Style Network caught up with Anson before this weekend’s premiere to find what he thinks about Cullen Bohannon and what we can expect from this season of Hell On Wheels.

Q: This season seems to be about changing fortunes. Could you talk about where Cullen Bohannon’s head is at the start of  the season and going forward?

Anson Mount: He’s faced with a life and death option, but then he ends up back in Hell On Wheels. The ongoing question is ‘Why isn’t he running?’ That’s a question for him throughout the entire season and it’s a good question. The answer to that is not what we are going to be led initially to believe, I don’t think. It is going to turn out to be for reasons that are deeply personal and have to do with the deeper motivations of the character, just like you find out in the second season of  Breaking Bad that it’s a show about ego. You can’t do a show about cooking crystal meth for six seasons. It just doesn’t work. It becomes a show about ego. Everyone has their ego and they bump up against each other in different ways. In the same way, this show is about ambition. That is what is going to be the driving force of the drama going forward.

Q: Can you tell us anything about how Cullen may grow or change this season?

Anson Mount: I think that the ongoing question for Cullen Bohannon this season, and it’s repeated many times throughout the season, is ‘Why is he here? Why has he remained? Why is he still with the railroad?’ At a certain point he thinks he knows what that reason is and maybe it has to do with one of those other characters and maybe it doesn’t. I think it turns out that that is probably not the reason either. He starts to be challenged in a lot of different ways by characters in terms of what it is that he wants from his life on this planet. It’s not an easy answer. It’s not a quick answer. As a matter of fact, it’s kind of a soul searching season.

Q: When a character like yours has a mysterious background — but as far as we know he has come close to death — does that open up possibilities? Does it give him more of a ‘devil may care’ attitude?

Anson Mount: I think he comes into this world already at that point when he has lost his wife, child and is sort of spinning out of control. It turns out that hunting down and killing these men is actually a form of self-punishment as well. When he so clumsily kills the wrong man at the end of the season he is absolutely at the point of devil may care. If the lord decides to take me down or the devil, that is just fine with me. He has absolutely gotten to that point. To the point that, I think at the beginning of the second season, he’s actually quite delusional. He ends up in a situation with some former confederates that I think is completely delusional. He finds himself eventually back in Hell On Wheels and the inner monster that is what took him away from his family during the Civil War rears its head in a different way. The whole season is about defining what that thing inside of him is.

Q: We usually hear that actors create back story for a character when they start on a show. With your character, what kind of back story did you create for Cullen?

Anson Mount: Cullen’s back story has come into light in the last part of the second season. [There are] a lot of character revelations about Cullen and who he was and where he came from. They are not necessarily the things that you would expect. It turns out that the Cullen Bohannon that we think we know is not the Cullen Bohannon that exists. I can’t get into it more specifically than that. I think that if you come into a long arc dramatic show and you come in and you slap down your back story, you aren’t doing anybody any favours. More often than not, the writers don’t even know the full back story; they haven’t figured it out yet. You can’t really do that and expect for it to work in a collaborative way. I knew some generalities. This season at the beginning, once I figured out what this show wanted to be, where it was going and what it was about, I needed to go back and do some rewiring of Cullen’s back story and so did the writers. We just got to talking about it and it developed from there. I will give you a hint that I think we figured out this season about what the show wants to be about in a larger character way rather than in a plot way. The one word I can say is ambition.

Q: Your character is consumed with rage all of the time. Is that hard to walk away from at the end of the day and pick up again?

Anson Mount: No, not at all. Sometimes I feel like I am launching a one man campaign to change people’s minds about what we do as actors. I think that there is a big misconception that actors are these shamans who channel characters and emotion and that we are somehow mortally affected by our work. I think that some actors play into that because it makes them and their work seem more important. That is not the case at all. We play make believe. I think it’s a process of playing intelligently and playing well, but it’s a process of play. If I am doing anything else, then I am not doing my job and I need to spend time in the looney bin. It was an enormous amount of fun for me. I continue to have a great time for this season. I have been trying to find ways of lightening Cullen up a bit because I think we need to see different facets of him at some point.

Q: After two seasons do you feel like you get Cullen and what drives him?

Anson Mount: After two seasons? God no! I think that it would be a very boring job if I did. I think if you ask Bryan Cranston if he knows everything about Walter White, I would hope that he would say no not yet. I am hoping to continue to learn things along the way. This year I learned the difference between the first and second seasons and how the first season is plot driven and the second season has to become character driven. That led me into learning different parts of Cullen’s back story. I am hoping that the third season is even more revelatory.

Q: How many seasons do you see the show running?

Anson Mount: I have heard five thrown out there. I wouldn’t mind six. When you add together all of the outlining projects that had to be completed when the rails were connected, it was a six year engagement.

Q: So you see it paralleling the actual length it took?

Anson Mount: I would like to. I don’t think you necessarily need to, but I would like to. There is some talk about getting into the Central Pacific part of the story and the whole contest between the two companies and the whole Asian-American workforce. You can’t tell the entire story without getting into Central Pacific. That opens up a whole new bag of worms in terms of storytelling. We haven’t even started drilling through the Rockies and that is a huge part of the story. We’ve also been talking about a season set in Utah… which is a fascinating part of the construction of the transcontinental railroad that I would like to spend an entire season on. Then the ongoing questions comes down to where does Cullen Bohannon end up in all of this? That conversation is constantly in flux.

We can’t wait to find out what the future holds for Cullen! Catch the Hell On Wheels season 2 premiere on AMC this Sunday at 9 pm EST. In the  meantime you can follow the single and heterosexual Anson on his twitter where  he patiently answers fan questions about his days on set 🙂

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