If you’ve read us for a while (thank you), you know that Hell on Wheels is near and dear to us, dating back to the first season. The final episodes, set to air next year, are now shooting in Calgary, and I was fortunate enough to visit the set late last week for a peek behind the scenes.
They’re shooting the penultimate episode right now, so I can’t tell you anything on the pertinents of the day’s scenes, but I can tell you that a fantastically warm and welcoming group of people are putting together one of our favorite shows. The very large crew–easily over 100 people–were working outdoors the day I was there, and thankfully Calgary gave us a beautiful, cool but not cold, blue day. It was a terrific visit.
The show shoots on a ranch outside of town, and takes advantage of its prairies and vistas for several of the outdoor scenes. There is also a fixed set of streets and full buildings–many of which we’ve seen portray Laramie and Truckee, including the livery, Mickey’s bar, and Eva’s brothel. I was extremely chuffed to stand in the street where Eva had that terrific conversation with Brigham Young about coming home to the Mormons.
I walked through the saloon and hotel, which are immaculately decorated with period furniture and linens. The United Pacific office–complete with the bear–is full of papers, pens, desks, and period pieces, and if you’re at all a 19th century antique buff, the set would be your heaven.
Around back, Chang’s house and office and the tents for Truckee’s Chinatown still stand–everything in close proximity for easy and efficient shooting. Because of the way production runs, only one set tends to be in use at a time, but it allows for quick switches when an episode spans several locations.
Also still standing were the tunnel sets from earlier in season 5a, where we saw Bohannon and Tao (RIP, sniff) down in the mines. What we didn’t see in full detail onscreen was still there, too–a full bedroom complete with a bed, laundry line, stockpile of jars and cans of food, and a reading desk with books.
I met Marvin V. Rush, the director of photography, who’s created the amazing look of the show for its entire run, and he echoed what we’ve heard from our other Hell on Wheels interviews, that Calgary has become an integral character on its own. Unit photographer Chris Large was also on set, and he’s been the one to bring us all the terrific still photography over the years. I asked whether he tries to capture precise moments as they unfold onscreen and he said, no. Instead, his goal is to capture the big moments to help paint a picture of what the episode is about, while also being mindful to not spoil the episode.
I had the chance to chat with Jennifer Ferrin, Colm Meaney, Dohn Norwood, Phil Burke, and Kevin Davey. Here’s what they had to say about their picks for favorite moments that we’ve seen so far in the series:
Jennifer Ferrin: “Certainly the scenes with Eva and the abortion, because Louise is such a hardened character. We didn’t get to see much of her personal life at all. To play that vulnerability was really a little gift in the trajectory of her story, because for the most part, she’s been really rock solid, and hardened, which you had to be then. To be able to really share that was great. And all my scenes with Campbell. I loved working with Jake [Weber]. The scene where they got together was so exciting, the way it was written, but we didn’t know what it was going to be until we actually rehearsed it. Marvin Rush, our DP, was directing that episode and really wanted to give us an opportunity to rehearse, which was imperative. It wasn’t a sex scene, it was a game of chess, and that was so much fun to find, I think for both of us.”
Colm Meaney: “The terrific scene in the [5a] finale around the conference table to try to figure out how to end the thing, and the relationship with Maggie that developed was very interesting.”
Dohn Norwood: “The [real estate] scene with Durant and Psalms represented a lot. Having slaves buy land was a big deal. Also revealing the Central Pacific side of things and showing how Asian and Asian Americans participated in the construction of the railroad and the dangers they faced, was an interesting perspective to convey to audiences.”
Phil Burke: “I have fruit in every episode–I love that. That’s a complete straight rip-off of Brad Pitt in Oceans 12. Mickey’s still proving himself to everyone else. He’s still not on the level he wants to be. There’s still a level of show off and try hard, who doesn’t know he belongs, even though he does. There’s a few chips on his shoulder, and he’s [proving himself] by buying fresh fruit, or a nice suit. I love acting with Robin and Andrew [Howard]. Any time I can get in a scene with those guys and play around is fantastic. I like my office. I started a small art collection. The true diehard fans will notice the art collection.”
Kevin Davey: “In episode four of season four, right at the beginning in the teaser, I’m walking around town picking up dead bodies. We go to pick up what we think is a dead body and it’s actually Cullen Bohannon in the mud and he turns over and brings his gun up, and I just lean down and say, ‘Top of the morning, Mr. Bohannon.’ I thought it was a comedy moment, grinning at this disheveled Mr. Bohannon.”
You can catch up with Hell on Wheels through iTunes, Netflix and DVD. Season 5a is also on AMC.com a little while longer. Season 5b returns to AMC in the Summer 2016. Our library of Hell on Wheels previews, interviews, and recaps is here. Keep an eye on our Instagram for more exclusive pictures from the set.a
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