Stardom for Anson Mount? Fine, but on his terms
In this image released by AMC, Anson Mount portrays Cullen Bohannon in the original series "Hell On Wheels," premiering - Sunday at 10 p.m. EST on AMC. (AP Photo/AMC, Chris Large)
NEW YORK (AP) — When first sighted, Cullen Bohannon is in Washington, D.C. He is a man of few words and piercing, haunted eyes. A Confederate soldier in the just-concluded Civil War, he now has unfinished business of his own: avenging the death of his wife.
"Did the war take her?" someone asks Bohannon, to which he tersely acknowledges, "Sump-em li-kat."
So he heads west to work on the transcontinental railroad and settle some scores at the Union Pacific construction camp.
That, in a nutshell, describes "Hell on Wheels," an epic new AMC drama taking its title from the term for the movable community that will accompany the drudgerous laying of track through fierce frontier. It is here in this transient world of harsh nature, brute ambition and clashing personalities that much of the action will take place in the series, which premieres Sunday at 10 p.m. EST.
It stars Colm Meaney, Dominique McElligott, Ben Esler, Philip Burke, Eddie Spears and rapper-actor Common, as well as Anson Mount in a role that maybe, just maybe, will launch him into stardom.
Or maybe not. Either way, the 38-year-old Mount professes not to care.
Raised in a small town in Tennessee, he says he grabbed the role of Bohannon because "it's hard to find Southern characters that are not stereotyped or vilified or aggrandized. And this managed to escape all those traps.
"As a Southerner," he adds, "you grow up with at least an inkling of what it's like to come from a conquered culture, and that's an important part of this character."
Besides, he liked Bohannon's taciturn style.
"I'm an enemy of exposition," says Mount in his honeyed Southern twang. "I feel there's no need to overstate." He likes his characters' behaviors to speak for them, and when he, as Bohannon, was presented with minimal dialogue in each new "Hell on Wheels" script, "I asked for even less," he reports with a smile.
In the past, Mount starred in the NBC lawyer drama "Conviction" and as an undercover FBI agent in the acclaimed but short-lived ABC series "Line of Fire."
His films include "City by the Sea," ''In Her Shoes" (opposite Cameron Diaz) and the upcoming "Straw Dogs," as well as the 2002 romantic road picture "Crossroads," where he co-starred with Britney Spears and was hailed by one teen fanzine as a "knockout newcomer" and "a fresh-to-Hollywood Tennessee boy."
For whatever reason, Mount did not emerge from "Crossroads" as the Next Big Thing. Nor, he insists, did he expect to.
"At the time I just saw it as a great work opportunity, and a chance to make some money that I could use to go on vacation," he says. "It was everybody else who put me in this sort of good-looking, next-big-leading man category.
"But I spent YEARS listening to people say to me, 'Are you ready? Get ready! Your life is about to change!' Oh, really?" he scoffs. "I've had a taste of my visibility going upwards and new work opportunities presenting themselves. But life doesn't change. I learned a long time ago that I'm here because of the work, and if I keep my head down and focus on my work, I'm a happy man. And if I don't, I'll be sorely disappointed regardless of the level of success."
In 1998, Mount received the Drama League Award for starring in the off-Broadway production of Terrence McNally's controversial play about a gay Jesus, "Corpus Christi," which caught him and the rest of his company between protests by religious groups and First Amendment advocates.