Chelah Horsdal Talks Hell on Wheels, The Man in the High Castle, and You Me Her [Exclusive]
[Warning: To be read after you’ve watched tonight’s Hell on Wheels episode, “Gambit.”]
Hell on Wheels is wrapping up with a series of firsts and lasts. This season, we saw Maggie accept Durant, warts and all, and warn him against any more schemes. Well, being Durant, he couldn’t resist, even for the woman he seemingly loved, and tonight, his biggest scheme of all–faking his kidnapping–got her killed when she sold her hotel to pay his ransom and Dandy Johnny Shea shot her off her horse. Mickey finally hit the bottom of his own spiral and shot his cousin, while Durant saw everything fall away from him.
Earlier this week, I had the chance to talk with Chelah Horsdal, who’s played Maggie since the third season. We chatted about Maggie’s final arc and her roles on two other distinctly different shows–Direct TV’s You Me Her and Amazon’s The Man in the High Castle, plus the indie film Candiland, which is making the rounds on the festival circuit.
Maggie grew from the occasional one-off to recurring to her major arc this season, and Horsdal says she wasn’t always sure week to week when she’d get to play her. “From one episode to the next, I actually had no idea whether I would still be in the show. It was a real pleasant surprise to get an e-mail and see that Maggie was in the cast order for the script,” she shares. “It’s expensive for them to guarantee everyone for each episode. Financially it makes sense to not have everyone on deals. It means I had no idea from one week to the next whether I would be in Vancouver or Calgary. I never felt like spent more than 48 hours on the ground.”
That said, she did have the heads up from John Wirth that Maggie would die in the finale batch of episodes. “John had told me that they were going to use me for the season, quite significantly for a few episodes. He told me that Maggie would meet her end,” she recalls. “It’s very important to John to ensure that actors are well aware of that stuff long before it happens. He would call and check in and remind me. That was incredibly generous because all of us have been on shows where someone on the crew walks up and [spoils it].”
Horsdal says it was initially hard for her to reconcile that Maggie would genuinely believe Durant’s kidnapping to be true. “I struggled with that a lot, mostly because I think the relationship we had set up was very much that they understood each other, and that she would understand that more often than not he’s not be believed,” she explains. “The episode that Jami O’Brien wrote, where you see a romantic element develop…at first I had resisted that because I felt as though we had spent all this time building this relationship to not fall into the stereotype of it being a sexual attraction.”
“What it ended up doing for me was serving why Maggie would overcome her logic and why she would make a decision to trust him based on her heart and not her head. They justified each other. The romance between them justified why she was willing to believe and risk everything for him and the risking everything for him justified the romance.”
“I loved the way that she went, that it was true to the genre. It was not her as a victim. She went out fighting, which was really important to me. And she went out kind of heroic, and that’s not something we often get with female characters in any genre, much less a Western. She went out fighting for what she believed in.”
Horsdal did get to keep two Maggie mementos. “I tend not be terribly sentimental, but so much of Maggie came from Carol Case‘s vision of her costume,” she points out. “She gave me the nightie that she wore with Durant, and one of her lace dickies that I wear over a dresses in real life. It’s lovely to have these little touchstones.”
Working opposite Colm Meaney for so much of her run was a treat for Horsdal, and “Gambit” was fun because it exposed Maggie to several other characters played by actors who are part of her offscreen family. “Having Colm Meaney as your partner in scenes…I can’t believe how much I learned just being in the room, and how challenged I was in good ways, bad ways, all ways,” she says. “He was so inspiring and challenging.”
“[In ‘Gambit’], I love the scene with [Campbell, Webber, and Louise]. And another one with Mickey and Eva. It was such a highlight because I got to play with all of my friends. I think you got to see so much more of Maggie’s emotional landscape and her vulnerability mixed with her strength and you see her reasons for doing things. I think this was a hell of a one to go out on. It was easily my favorite of all of them, and the gun fight in Season 3.”
Horsdal is at work now on the second season of The Man in the High Castle and is thrilled to get an arc that has her slated to appear in all ten episodes. “It’s another ensemble show, so I’m surrounded by this theater company of actors. We have such an incredible time together,” she says. “This is an embarrassment of riches to go from Hell on Wheels to The Man in the High Castle, both of which share really strong art departments, incredible scripts, and directors you dream of working with, and words that are so easy to say because they are so well written…I don’t have enough words to express my gratitude. It’s been really killer.”
Earlier this spring, the show was in the news for the departure of showrunner Frank Spotnitz. Horsdal says they’re back on track. “Everyone’s done it with love, and it’s been a very positive experience and the scripts are fantastic. All of us are really excited,” she says.
“Mostly it’s interesting to inhabit this world that doesn’t actually exist. Hell on Wheels is based in history. With The Man in the High Castle being an alternate reality….it reflects a 1962 that seems vaguely familiar because there are elements of what existed but all of a sudden you’re confronted with something that didn’t exist in 1962 because the Germans weren’t stopped in their advancement of technology, so you’ve got jets that take you from New York to LA in half an hour, and these crazy awesome bullet trains that are like something from the future now, much less 1962.
“We’re inhabiting this world that’s a little bit science fictiony but is also based in a human experience of living under Fascist rule in 1962 in North America. It’s wonderful fantasy for the actor. I’m in love with every bit of it. It was a quite a small role in the first season, and this season she’s back with two incredible storylines and it’s been expanded to 10. Between Rufus Sewell and I we’ve got some heavy lifting, which is so much fun. When you get the script and you start salivating at what you get to do…[it’s fantastic].”
You Me Her, which will return for at least two more seasons, was shot after Hell on Wheels last fall. “We block shot 10 episodes. Nisha Ganatra was our director for all of them, She said, ‘We’re making an independent film that’s disguised as a comedic series.’ Although the tone is funny, it’s also deep and emotional and connected, although not as much for my character because I’m playing a villain, which was fun,” she says. “It didn’t feel like comedy on the day [we shot]. Priscilla [Faia] is one of my dearest friends and getting to go to work every day together was magic.”
If you’ve followed Horsdal on Twitter for a while, you might recall her work a couple of years back on an independent psychological thriller called Candyland, retitled to Candiland. The film is now finished and being shown at festivals. Horsdal was just named Best Actress May 2016 by the Los Angeles Independent Film Festival Awards. It was a grueling shoot that required Horsdal to not only plumb the emotional depths of a couple who willingly cut themselves off from everyone, but it also required her to drop a significant amount of weight very, very quickly while the shoot paused to capture the later scenes.
“The response has been very strong. People are really affected by it, which I think was the goal of the filmmakers. They’ve recut it so it’s much more a thriller than it was,” she says. “When we shot it, it was much more a sick romantic movie. It was a highly emotional experience to have to be put sunder the stress of so much extreme weight loss inÂ six weeks, much less get it on film. Hopefully, it’ll get out there. I’m still nervous to see it. It was such a dark experience.”
Horsdal says she can now put these kinds of projects down at the end of the day, thanks in large part to her yellow Lab, Gaffer, who appears frequently inÂ her Twitter. “It’s [much] easier to drop into the darkness [in a role now], because there’s no longer the fear of staying there,” she says. “It’s a little more fluid.”
This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.
Catching Up with Ted Lasso and Previewing Season 2
[Warning: General spoilers ahead.] The not so dirty little secret about how I approach a new series is that I sometimes make a call based on the headspace I’m in at the time. It’s been a minute since I’ve picked up a show after the first season and then binge…
Interview: Henri Esteve on Grown-ish Season 3
An interview with Henri Esteve, who plays Javi on Freeform’s Grown-ish. He talks about his season three experience.
For All Mankind Season 2: Talking with Wrenn Schmidt, Krys Marshall, Jodi Balfour, and Sonya Walger [Exclusive]
[Warning: General spoilers ahead.] One of the hooks of For All Mankind is that it’s very much a story about the women of NASA. In Season 2, we explore the journeys of the women in the program, either through their own service or through their family affiliations. Four of those…
Rosy McEwen Talks The Alienist: Angel of Darkness Season Finale [Exclusive]
[Warning: Spoilers for the season finale episodes.] How’s everyone after that finale? I will freely admit I got a little misty in episode eight as John told Sara why he loved her, and later that he wanted her despite what he might forfeit, and then at the end when he…
Rosy McEwen Talks The Alienist: Angel of Darkness [Exclusive]
Hands down, one of the best surprises of The Alienist: Angel of Darkness is that the serial killer this season has been front and center alongside the cast as a fully-formed character. We’ve watched Libby Hatch devolve from a prim, mild-mannered nurse to a woman in a rage hell-bent on…
The Alienist: Angel of Darkness Relationship Recap: John and Sara
[Warning: Spoilers for “Belly of the Beast” and “Memento Mori”] If you’ve read me for a while (thank you!), you know two things — I lean way, way in on the characters I adore and I loathe love geometry arcs. So, I’m torn about where we are and where we…
Louriza Tronco Talks The Order Season 2 [Exclusive]
[Warning: Spoilers ahead for Season 2.] The Order’s second season is dark yet delightful entertainment on many levels, and one of its biggest sources of joy and snark is the sassy Gabrielle Dupres. Last season, she was assertive and deadly and fairly annoyed with the world. This season, she’s been…
Previewing Netflix’s Virgin River
[Warning: General spoilers ahead.] Full disclosure: I have a Netflix account for my Mom, but I’m not a regular viewer. If I get a heads up on something, I’ll go look for it, but I don’t have a wander across its offerings, which, as I understand it, is how most…
Final Thoughts From the Killjoys Team [Exclusive]
This is the day of the week I’d normally hit you up with a Killjoys preview, but now that we’ve put the series to bed and released Team Awesome Force into the wild, I have one more treat for you–some final thoughts excerpted from my conversations with the Killjoys folks….
Michelle Lovretta Talks Wrapping Up Killjoys [Exclusive]
[Warning: Spoilers for the series finale.] To quote Miss Jackson, “That’s the end?” Yes, friends, it is. And like I promised you, everything would be, was, and is alright. I went to the Killjoys source, series creator Michelle Lovretta, who wrote the last episode, to break down that delicious finale….
What They Said: Three Revealing Conversations from Survivor’s Remorse “Closure”
WARNING: Spoilers for Survivor’s Remorse “Closure” The latest episode of Starz’s Survivor’s Remorse featured conversations that showed characters really digging deep into their thoughts, emotions and motivations.
Two Takes: The Catch “The Knock-Off”
Who can you trust? If this episode of The Catch was any indication, the answer is just about nobody. Betrayal was running rampant as Felicity (Shivani Ghai) arose from the dead to seduce-con Margot, Gretchen (Maria Thayer, Gotham, The Mindy Project) played gold-hearted Alice 2.0 before swindling Ethan, Tessa jumped…
What They Said: Top 3 Quotable Moments from Preacher “El Valero”
Both Quincannon and Jesse refuse to give up on what they each think is rightfully theirs. While Jesse is struggling to face the consequences of his actions, Quincannon has laid his past demons to rest and is hellbent on moving forward and putting Annville on the map again. Despite a…
What They Said: Favorite Quotes from Supergirl “Worlds Finest”
Oh, Supergirl. That ending was cold. But I can’t hate on you because the latest episode has quickly become one of my favorites.
What They Said: Top 4 Quotable Moments from Black Sails “XXIII”
The dialogue in “XXIII” is phenomenal. It’s always a fun ride when Black Sails carries its viewers along without giving them the chance to catch their breath. When an episode moves at this unforgiving pace, there is no chance for a breather nor is there a respite from the information…
What Lucifer Said: Favorite quotes from Supernatural “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”
Supernatural episodes are almost always funny but thanks to the dialogue and a certain man speaking said dialogue, I laughed a lot during “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” You know, when I wasn’t busy fearing for Sam’s life or wondering what in the world was going on with Dean and…
What They Said: The Flash, “Legends Of Today” and Arrow, “Legends Of Yesterday”
Two nights of Arrow +Â The Flash = what more could we ask for?! I don’t know what it is about blending these shows, but I canâ€™t help but feel that every time they come together, they somehow become greater than the sum of their parts. And thatâ€™s saying a lot…
What they Said: Top 4 Quotable Moments from Graceland “Little Bo Bleep”
Shoot outs. Fake outs. And long-awaited revelations. “Little Bo Bleep” was a jam-packed episode that wrapped up some loose ends and totally frayed others. Â It finally gave us one Sarkissian in jail and pulled back the curtain on Briggs’ master plan, but it also set up Jakes for a world…
What They Said: Favorite Quotes from Poldark “Part 4”
â€œWhat have I told you, I don’t require my wife to crochet and sip tea, but I do require her to remember she’s not a beast of burden.â€ No, Iâ€™m not talking about The Rolling Stones! I have to admit though, just for a second, the lyrics popped into my…
3 Moments of Goodness from Brooklyn Nine-Nine “Johnny and Dora”
The most satisfying part of this season’s finale has to the Jake and Amy kiss. Well, they kiss three times but the last one is the best one — and it means something. The Charles and Rosa dynamic was also great. I love how she’s convinced he doesn’t know anything…