As AMC's Western "Hell on Wheels" rides back onto TV Sunday, star Anson Mount's character, Cullen Bohannon, is a shadow of the man so driven to avenge the murders of his wife and son.
Reeling after he killed the wrong man at the end of Season 1, the former Confederate soldier has hooked up with bandits who repeatedly rob the trains of his former employer, Thomas "Doc" Durant (Colm Meaney). He doesn't care if he lives or dies, Mount told reporters Wednesday during a conference call.
"I think he's to the point of just absolutely devil may care—absolutely," he said. Speaking as Cullen he added, "'If the Lord decides to take me now, or the devil, that's just fine with me.'
"He's absolutely gotten to that point, to the extent that I think at the beginning of the second season he's actually quite delusional."
It's a gloomy opening to a new season, but then "Hell on Wheels" went to some dark places in its freshman season last fall. The series follows the traveling town, called Hell on Wheels, that springs up to house the people building the westward-moving Transcontinental Railroad in the late 1860s, including Elam Ferguson (Common), a former slave who bonds with Bohannon despite their backgrounds.
The show became a hit in its first season, averaging 3 million viewers per episode, second only to "The Walking Dead" on AMC—and ahead of "Mad Men" and "Breaking Bad" in the Nielsen ratings. Critics weren't as pleased with the series from Joe and Tony Gayton, with many saying it focused too heavily on plot over character.
Mount said this season the show is more character-driven. "And strangely enough, it's led us into more interesting action because of that, because now the action is tied into character growth and character reversal," he said.
In that respect, audiences this season will see there's more to Cullen than his obsession with revenge. Mount said the season explores why he left home to fight in the Civil War, and why he continues to fight.
"The inner monster that ... took him away from his family during the Civil War rears its head in a different way," he said. "And the whole season I think is about defining what that thing inside of him is."
Mount talked more about the new season, Cullen's journey and his relationships with the other people in Hell on Wheels.
I was wondering if you could talk about where Cullen's head is at as we begin the season and going forward a bit.
He's faced with a life and death option. It's very clearly laid out on the table. He chooses life for obvious reasons. But then he ends up back in Hell on Wheels and then the ongoing question is why isn't he running? And that's a question for him as well throughout the entire season. That's a good question. And the answer to that is not what we're going to be led initially to believe, I don't think.
It's 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 starting in the second season of "Breaking Bad," it's a show about ego. You can't do a show about cooking crystal meth for six seasons. It just doesn't work. So it becomes a show about ego and everyone has their ego and they bump up against each other in different ways.
In the same way, this show is about ambition and that's what's going to be the driving force of the drama going forward.
Cullen and Elam's relationship is fascinating to me and it seems like there's a mutual respect and admiration. Can you tell me how approach that?
You know what? I agree with you. I think it's becoming the most interesting relationship in the series. Common and myself and the writers were very definite that we were not going to allow this to become Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder—you know, the black guy and the white guy are going to be buddies and everybody's going to love each other.
We wanted to be very true to the tropes and the stereotypes and the conflicts at that time, particularly between a former slave and a former confederate. And yet let them find themselves in situations where they have to meet each other on equal footing and situations where they end up needing something from the other person that's purely practical and yet forces them to really listen to the other person.
And I think we did a really good job with that in the first season and I think we've done an even better job of it in the second season because you end up with the two men in sort of the same position.
They're both in different ways in charge of security in Hell on Wheels and you have a man who's led men before and a man who hasn't. And that doesn't matter what color skin you are at a certain point. One has experience and the other one doesn't.
So will they be boxing each other this season?
[Laughs.] We're still shooting second season so maybe. There're some fights here and there, but I don't think between Elam and I yet.
The Swede (Christopher Heyerdahl) had it in for Cullen in the first season and now that he's in the lower position he's in, will these two still butt heads?
Oh yes, man, the Swede is going to be really interesting. Look, he's starting at a very low place, but of all the characters in the show, I would say the Swede is the most emotionally intelligent and, therefore, dangerous character. And he's going to some really interesting places this season that you're probably not even getting a glimmer of yet in the first two episodes.
Cullen was deeply affected by killing the wrong person at the end of Season 1, but was he ever all that happy or satisfied after killing any of the men who were responsible for the deaths of his family members?
That's a great question, man. I'm glad you asked that. I decided pretty much before ever finding out that Harper was going to turn out to be the wrong man, that at the end of the season, when and if Cullen does get to put his hands around the throat of someone, when he completes the deed, it's not going to be the release or the relief that he thought it was going to be. It's a deeper hollowing out of himself, that he finds there is actually nothing there.
And you've probably already seen in the second episode when Doc comes to see him before [he is to be executed] and Cullen makes the confession. He says, "You must feel awful about that," and [Cullen] says, "That's the thing. I don't feel nothing about it. Not a damn thing." And that's the real tragedy, I think, of Cullen in the first season.Copyright © 2015, RedEye