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What’s Up, Anson Mount? The Hell on Wheels Star on Juggling TV and Theater & His Broadway Dream Roles

What’s Up, Anson Mount? The Hell on Wheels Star on Juggling TV and Theater & His Broadway Dream Roles
Anson Mount in 'Hell on Wheels,' 'Venus in Fur' (with Steffanie Leigh) & 'Safe'
'I haven’t paid for a haircut in four years.'

If you haven’t seen AMC’s Hell on Wheels, it’s time to do a binge-watch of this post-Civil War drama in preparation for the season three premiere on August 10. Anson Mount plays Cullen Bohannon, a brooding Confederate soldier who joins a trans-Continental railroad construction crew alongside an emancipated slave played by rapper-turned-actor Common. As the scruffily sexy Cullen, Mount is unrecognizable from his clean-shaven roles in movies like Safe and Crossroads—not to mention NYC stage roles in Three Sisters, Mourning Becomes Electra and Corpus Christi. (He earned an MFA from Columbia.) Last winter, the Nashville-born and Brooklyn-based actor flew to Singapore to star in David Ives' Venus in Fur opposite former Mary Poppins headliner Steffanie Leigh. Mount recently chatted with about going to Hell and the roles he’d love to play on Broadway. (Our vote: ex-minister Shannon in Night of the Iguana.)

What’s coming up this season on Hell on Wheels?
It’s going to be our best season by far. We have new show runner, John Wirth [V, Terminator], and he’s brought great, fresh ideas. At the end of season two, we left Cullen almost at a place of no return. I think of him as a man battling an addiction to violence, and when you’re at the rock bottom of any addiction, there are two ways to go: One is death, and the other is to climb out of the hole. I wanted there to be a maturation of the character this year.

Never mind that: What about his love life? [SPOILER ALERT: A major female character was killed at the end of season two.]
How do I answer that? [Laughs.] I’ve always held that this is not a show about love, it’s a show about pure, unadulterated ambition. In terms of pursuing a love interest, I wouldn’t hold your breath.

Well, there’s always your bromance with Common.
Yeah, that relationship has become the heart and soul of the show. Common is one of my favorite people I’ve ever worked with.

Did you come up with the look of your character before the show began?
I didn’t have this look at the time I was cast, but I was very clear with the creators and the makeup department that I didn’t want them to make me look pretty. I wanted to grow out the beard, and I wanted to be dirty.

Do you feel more comfortable with Cullen's look, or when you’re clean-shaven in a movie like Safe? I didn’t recognize you!
Thank you—that’s a big compliment. I try not to think too much about how to present myself. Whatever the next job is, I go in and let them do whatever they feel they need to do to me. I haven’t paid for a haircut in four years.

Let’s talk theater: How did you end up doing Venus in Fur in Singapore last March?
[Director] Ed Iskandar and I had wanted to do something together for a couple of years; I think he’s going to be one of the big New York theater directors. The Singapore Rep tapped him to direct Venus in Fur, and he called me and said, “Do you want to go to Singapore and do a play?” I said, “Why not?” For me, [stage acting] is like going to the gym; it keeps me strong.

Would you like to do a play on Broadway?
You know, that’s the one thing I’ve never done. Obviously I would love to, just to participate in that tradition, but the right thing has never come along at the right time. It’s a big commitment, so the project has to be the right.

Any dream stage roles?
Absolutely. I think I’m finally in a place in my life where I could do an Astrov [in Uncle Vanya] and I desperately want to play De Flores in The Changeling by Thomas Middleton. I’ve been wanting to play Jean in Miss Julie, but it’s been done so many times. It’s the same with Hamlet: I need to play Hamlet before I get too old, but it’s hard to come up with a reason for doing it again. I would love to play Richard III. But speaking of Chekhov, Solyony in Three Sisters [at Classic Stage] was a dream come true. 

So many highbrow choices! What about Tennessee Williams?
To be honest with you, I am not as big a Tennessee Williams scholar as I should be, having attended [University of the South in] Sewanee. All of my training was classical, so that’s what I go to.

You’re very active on Twitter. Do you enjoy hearing from adoring fans?
I have a love-hate relationship with Twitter. It’s a great way of keeping the fan base excited about the show and a fun way to catch up with current events, but it can be a little much. I try to stay away from thinking about people’s perceptions of me—and there is a lot of that on Twitter.

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