There’s just a few short weeks before AMC’s Hell On Wheels rolls onto the TV schedule, and the network has given us our best look yet at the new western. A six-minute featurette explores the making of the period piece and its diverse cast of characters.
Hell on Wheels tells the story of the transcontinental railroad, and both the real and fictional personalities that shaped it. The show takes its name from the traveling camp that followed the railroad’s progression across the United States after the Civil War. Hell on Wheels is a shantytown of workers, thieves, priests and prostitutes – the population sign reads “one less every day.”
Into this inhospitable land, filled with even less hospitable people, rides Cullen Bohannon (Anson Mount, Straw Dogs), a former Confederate who’s searching for his wife’s Union murderers. He’s tracked them to the traveling town and takes a job as a black-hatted fixer – “I’m willin’ to do just about anything.” The anti-hero seems to be a standard cowboy seeking vengeance.
Thomas Durant is the only character on the show who’s based on a real person. The Union Pacific railroad tycoon manipulated government subsidies to fund the transcontinental expansion, artificially lengthening the track to pad his pockets. The larger-than-life businessman is played by Colm Meaney of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Con Air.
In previous episodes, I mistook Meaney’s character for a Catholic preacher – have a glance at his firebrand style and you’ll see why.
Rapper Common plays Elam Ferguson, a half Caucasian, half African-American former slave who feels outcast in all aspects of the railroad community. Even among the recently freed slaves, his education and racial differences single him out. Dominique McElligott (Moon) will play Lilly Bell, the English wife of a railroad surveyor who thrives in Hell on Wheels despite its wild surroundings.
Between AMC’s reputation for stellar storytelling (not to mention period piece drama in Mad Men), Hell on Wheels is shaping up to be a promising start to a revival of the western genre. The video above, especially Meaney’s depiction of Durant, should get you excited for another solid entry in the networks’ offering of original series. We’ll have a full review of the premiere in three weeks.
Hell on Wheels premieres November 6th at 10PM on AMC.
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