AMC's Hell on Wheels' third season is coming to an end tomorrow, and we met up with Anson Mount before the season's conclusion to ask him about the series, and some other stuff and things.
IMDB lists 2005's In Her Shoes as his most known role, but we couldn't disagree more. His performance on Hell On Wheels has been phenomenal, and if you aren't watching the series, well, you should be. Here's what Anson has to say:
Den of Geek: Everyone is talking about how this is a new golden age of television, and Hell on Wheels is a part of that. How do you feel about that, and why do you think TV is experiencing this dramatic renaissance?
Anson Mount: I don’t think it should be any surprise to anyone! If you look at the business models for studio films over the last couple of decades, you’ll see a very specific trend. There are really only about five to ten actors in the business who make really good paychecks doing films. There was a time when you could be an actor or an actress, who was not necessarily a "name," and you could make a very good living making two or three movies a year. Those times are gone.
There’s now a business model in place where you’ve got a big tentpole actor who is making 25-30 million dollars, and everyone else is making scale, take it or leave it. The same goes for directors. There are 5-10 (or fewer) directors, directors of photography, editors...all down the line who are really making big money. So there’s all of these other artists out there who are being offered nothing but scale to do a lot of work, and they’re looking at television and saying, “Well...they’re paying!’
It should be no surprise that everybody has gravitated to television, because they needed to make a living. And now you’ve got a lot of really good artists working in television, and the stigma of the small screen has completely disappeared. Everybody wants to do television, now. And the benefits of doing television are greater than they've ever been. You’ve got higher-brow material on more outlets with lesser time commitments, and from an artistic point of view, you get to paint a thirteen hour arc, rather than an hour and a half arc. There’s a big difference! Speaking as someone who likes to tell stories, I would much rather spend thirteen hours on a story...and get paid for it!
DoG: Every few years people will loudly proclaim that “the western is dead.” Hell on Wheels definitely defies that way of thinking. What do you think about this?
Anson Mount: I think it’s idiotic! It’s like saying the martial arts film is dead. It’s like saying we’ve won the war on drugs. (laughs) How can a genre die?
Essentially, the western is our martial arts film. It’s our cultural touchstone. So when we are in times in which we are questioning where we’re going as a nation, or when we’re in times of national crisis, the western tends to make a resurgence. The western is about whether or not you can follow your gut, and when, when you’re surrounded by lawlessness. What if shit really hits the fan? Can we really do it?
So, there’s no mistake why we had Sergio Leone, an Italian filmmaker, have a huge career in the 1970s right after Vietnam, so it should be no surprise why we’re seeing a lot of westerns right now.
DoG: Let’s talk some Hell on Wheels specifics, then! Lilly Bell died back in season two. Do you think Cullen should have a leading lady on the show?
Anson Mount: Well, I’m not a writer! That’s like you asking me if I think I should have a girlfriend! I don’t know! If the right person comes along...sure! I do think it would have been a mistake to introduce that during the season, though.
No offense to anyone who enjoys our show, but there are a lot of people out there who want Hell on Wheels to be a romance novel. And it’s never going to be a romance novel, because the show is not about love. It’s not about two people finding each other. Hell on Wheels is strictly about ambition the same way that Breaking Bad is strictly about ego. We’re not gonna make a romance novel, and the people expecting that are going to be sorely disappointed.
DoG: Speaking of romance, when you have to change direction from other types of roles (such as romantic comedies, etc), how difficult is it for you as an actor to switch gears after things like that and get back into more action-oriented or physical parts?
Anson Mount: It’s not hard at all. It’s just a different costume and a different sandbox. Sometimes you have to tweak the rules a little, but it’s like jumping from a Monopoly board to a checkers board. It’s a different game, but do you have trouble stopping in the middle of a Monopoly game and starting a game of checkers?
People read way too much into the craft of acting, and they want to make it into some sort of mystical process that only we shamans can practice. That’s bullshit. It’s play! It’s all it is! But there are a lot of actors that buy into that stereotype because it makes their job seem a lot more important than it actually is. It’s this propagated myth that seems to only really exist in North America, and I haven’t really encountered it anywhere else. You don’t go to England and ask an English stage actor if they get “caught” in the character of Hamlet. No! (laughs) They change their clothes, they go to the pub, have a pint, have a laugh, and then they go home!
I think that’s because there’s better training in Europe than there is here. There’s more of a respect for acting than there is here. Here, it seems like there’s this perception among actors and spectators that acting is some kind of appendage that you’re born with, and only the chosen shall perform. It’s bullshit!
DoG: You obviously don’t feel like you were “born to act,” but what led you into it?
Anson Mount: It’s simple! I get to play make believe for a living. Who wouldn’t want to do that? And I like the people. I like theater people. I used to paint in high school, and painters, bless ‘em, tend to be very boring people. Actors and theater artists are very exciting.
DoG: And what makes you seek out particular kinds of roles?
Anson Mount: Roles that make me go, “oh shit.” Those are the roles I like. I like to read a role and say, “Shit. How the fuck am I gonna do this?” And then I have to figure it out. To some degree, it should be a puzzle. If it’s not, then what’s the point?
DoG: With Hell on Wheels there’s a certain amount of physicality to the role, for example, there was a really brutal fight between Cullen and Elam back in season one. Is that particularly taxing for you? Are you inclined to do more scenes like that in the future?
Anson Mount: If it goes with the role, then sure. I’ve found myself enjoying fight choreography in a way I didn’t think I would. I have a background as a wrestler, so that’s fun. It can be a cool thing to do. It can be very taxing, though.
Traditionally, the more exciting a scene is, the more boring it is to shoot. That’s because it’s comprised of many more, much smaller pieces, so there’s a lot of editing involved. It’s all shorter, faster, smaller, from more angles, and that takes an extraordinary amount of time to shoot. And that means that it’s extraordinarily boring! (laughs)
DoG: You're almost done with Hell on Wheels season 3. Are you keeping your schedule open to make season 4 happen?
Anson Mount: Traditionally, AMC doesn’t rush their decisions. I feel very good about our numbers, and with AMC’s decreasing slate of scripted projects, I think we stand a very good chance of coming back!
DoG: What else have you got cooking right now?
Anson Mount: Well, All the Boys Love Mandy Lane is coming out (released October 6th), which is a movie I shot eight years ago, so you’ll get to see a much younger Anson Mount. It’s also Jonathan Levine’s first film. He directed The Wackness and 50/50, so it’s a unique opportunity to see a very successful filmmaker’s first film in theaters for the first time. Then in February, I’ve got Non-Stop with Liam Neeson coming out as well.
DoG: Thanks for your time, Anson!