Anson Mount Talks The Swede and What’s Next for Bohannon in Hell on Wheels [Exclusive]
Tonight’s Hell on Wheels season finale set up next season’s final run with what looks to finally be the gloves coming off between Bohannon and The Swede after a long-simmering antagonism. When I chatted with Anson Mount yesterday (read part one here),Â we talked about that relationship, and what he wants for Bohannon, as ell as the parallels between Bohannon and his newer antagonist, Chang.
Before we get to that final moment, we spend much of the episodeÂ in discussion about the complexities of a terminus for the railroad, and it’s by far the talkiest episode we’ve seen. Mount was happy to have the switch up. “I absolutely like the mix [of dialogue-heavy episodes and episodes with moreÂ action]. Â I want to see the mix. Not just as the actor. We were paying our historical homage in that episode and I’m happy with how that turned out,” he says. “We’ve been talking amongst ourselves, and it’s one of the most non-Hell on Wheels episodes we’ve ever done.”
The final scene with The Swede took advantage of the Calgary weather, and is a tip of that hatÂ to where he and Bohannon are heading. “There was a day where we shooting where there was a tornado that was struggling to touch down, so we put Chris [Heyerdahl] in the field in front to capture and use it,” he explains. “For reasons that are very [prophetic] in terms of plot that I can’t really talk about [yet], pretty much the entire beginning of season 6 is just him and me.”
As the show has rebooted every season with Bohannon as its center, I asked about how The Swede always seemed to resurface as part ofÂ each new landscape, and whether he was a necessary foe. “If you’re going to tell a story about the history of American hubris that is so large,Â there are two sides to the story,” he points out. “It healed the country and was the beginning of [the United States becoming] a super power and [the country] tapping into its natural resources. I don’t think you could tell that story without a psychopath in there.”
Mount explains that The Swede and Bohannon are equally homicidal, and either could be the villain or the hero–it’s a matter of perspective. He say Heyerdahl is very protective of his character. “He looks at this as his story. He’s very defensive about his character, and he’s right,” he says. “On paper, if you look at what The Swede has done and Bohannon has done, you would come out of that thinking The Swede is the hero. He gets judged and Bohannon gets a free ride. I’ve always appreciated that interpretation.”
Over the course of the series, Bohannon tried to kill The Swede once with a hanging that didn’t take,Â leaving a neckÂ scar as a constant reminder. I asked why Bohannon hasn’t tried to kill him again when there have been other opportunities. “The third and beginning of the fourth season, [Bohannon]Â made a vow and [wanted] to take care of [his] child,” he says. “[The Swede]Â was there and he was certainly a son of a bitch but onceÂ [Bohannon] got clear of him, [he] got clear, andÂ [The Swede]Â was this thing on the horizon.”
“When [they] meet again and he’s on this quest, he’s not the [same] Swede,Â but [Bohannon] doesn’tÂ trust him. What’s great about him is he serves as Cullen’s watermark in terms of how much I’m willing to go through in order to convince myself I have healed from being an arbitrary killer. How much will I put up with? How much will I risk to allow him to exist in my presence? I think that’s where the character functions very well.”
MountÂ was impressed with the research and forethought that brought Chang into the story this season as another deeply scarred war veteran. “[At this point in history], China had just itself come through an extremely bloody war and to have that work in comparison to where Cullen came from is just so great,” he says.
Byron Mann came in highly recommended by RZA, with whom Mount worked last fall on Mr. Right (which will premiere next month at the Toronto International Film Festival) and who had previouslyÂ worked with Mann on The Man With the Iron Fists. “We had a great time. He’s very talented, very giving, very lovely. A true Chinese man. He has a place in LAÂ [but]Â he is from Hong Kong. He gets the character unlike anybody that could have played hm. He brings in a refreshing counter to Bohannon because he plays someone who is strong and maybe even more broken than Bohannon because of a war. I think it was a really brilliant.”
In the season just wrapped, Mount was apart from the previous seasons’ cast, and he missed them. “It’s really tough. It’s a little bit like shooting two different TV shows,” he shares. “Because of the way you schedule productions…when they’re shooting in the Laramie location,Â those are days I’m not working and vice versa, but we’re about to change that.”
As the cast and crew wind down and shoot the final episodes, they’re aware of the finality of it. “[It’s felt] like one continuous season, very bittersweet. It’sÂ a little bit like last semester of senior year. There’s definitely an impending nostalgia in the background. We don’t really have a word for it in English. There’s a sense that what we’re experiencing is nostalgic,” he says. “And we’reÂ just enjoying the work. It’s 57 episodes that we have in the can. It’s amazing. I don’t have anything to compare it to.”
Mount says it’s been particularly resonant for him that Bohannon’s journey is ending alongside his own in this role–the longest continuous performance of his career. “Right now, the only thing I can tell you is that I’m trying to make him a much more brittle Bohannon than we have seen,” he says. “With episode 8 (next year), [I’m] putting my foot down from that episode to the end. I want to create a brittle, breakable, Bohannon.”
“I very much believe in the concept of opposites. You must immediately consider the opposite choice. In the Western, the go-to choice is always that this protagonist [is] strong, svelte,Â knows everything, and is a super cowboy. My immediate thought going into the [final run was], ‘Can we do the opposite so that he’s becoming more breakable, more tender?’Â That’s what I’m trying to do, by hook or a crook.”
“Especially with the television arc Western, the thing that this actually happening is that he’s aging. I wanted a character who is aware of that, that he’s going to die at some point. He’s not going to be this dynamic person that he was five years ago. [The end of the railroad is] catching up to him.Â And not only does he see it, I see it. I’m coming to the end of the largest arc I’ve played. We often compare building the railroad to production. I’m going to miss Cullen a lot. I’m not entirely sure how I’m going to say goodbye. It’s very real.”
We’re so glad we have seven hours left before the story is complete.
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