Before Hell On Wheels steams onto AMC this Sunday, series lead Anson Mount explains why his character, gunslinger Cullen Bohannon, is “playable for a long period of time”. He also teases his backstory and the narrative techniques that will help bring it to life.
HOW follows the story of a former confederate soldier, Bohannon, out for revenge against a union soldier for the death of his wife. The gunslinger ends up in Hell on Wheels, the construction site of the Union Pacific Railroad, where the lines between right and wrong appear to shrink.
Here’s what Mount had to say about his character and the series lifespan in a recent interview with THR:
What attracted you to playing Cullen?
Anson Mount: It’s really rare that you come across a Southern character that’s not stereotyped, vilified or aggrandized. As a Southern man, that was very attractive for me. I was impressed at how all those bullets were dodged. There’s something about the internal conflicts that I thought was playable for a number of seasons. So this guy — what has become the quintessential Western figure, he’s driven by this instinct to balance the scales and he thinks it’s not a choice. The same gut instincts that continue to veer him off of that course, to seek revenge. He gets sidetracked when he’s needed, or when he feels like he needs to balance these other scales along the way. And I feel that’s a real internal struggle that could be playable for a long period of time.
How long do you envision the series running?
Mount: The construction of the railroad itself took six years and that’s a standard TV contract length, so we’ll see. The first season the railroad gets to a certain point but it’s a bit less protracted than you would think.
How much of Cullen’s back story is going to be revealed? What exactly happened to turn him into this renegade?
Mount: You will get different bits of back story that come in different varieties. They come in memory hits — we don’t even call them flashbacks on the show because they’re so short — like pieces of the puzzle. You get his memory hits to let you know what’s motivating him and there are times when you think, “Oh, maybe this isn’t such a bad guy,” and there are other times you think, “Maybe this guy is worse than I thought.” So it comes in the form of memory hits, and it comes in the form of information he reveals at moments when his guard is down.