Although he still keeps busy with small parts in Hollywood features like Non-Stop and the upcoming comedy Mr. Right, Anson Mount has made a name for himself on the hit AMC TV series Hell on Wheels, which wrapped up its fourth season last weekend. Unlike Cullen Bohannon, the character who lets his actions speak for themselves as he oversees the building of the Transcontinental Railroad, Mount has a lot to say. A self-described “video game junkie,” Mount entered the virtual world for the first time playing police detective Sebastian Castellanos, the protagonist of the Bethesda Softworks horror game The Evil Within. Mount talks about growing up with Playboys on the coffee table, drinking with RZA in New Orleans and explains why video game companies still have a lot to learn about Hollywood.
What do you think it is about the Western genre that has stood the test of time?
To put it simple, the Western is our martial arts film. It takes place in a fetal time in a world that’s mostly lawless. And it’s about following your instinct, developing your character in the absence of social structure. It’s obviously hooked into our history as people, and so I don’t think it’s going to go away any time soon.
Dating back to the Clint Eastwood Spaghetti Westerns, some of the most iconic antiheroes don’t speak much. What are the challenges of that for you as an actor?
I’m very well known on our set for cutting dialogue because I think that much of the dialogue — at least in television and a lot of film — is for the most part unnecessary. It’s probably more necessary in comedy. I don’t have a problem with that. I’ve never had a problem with that. Action speaks louder than words. And if you know what you want and you know what the moment is, often times it doesn’t require too much dialogue.
What have you learned about American history through this show?
I’ve learned a lot about the Transcontinental Railroad project and how much these people put on the line, or had nowhere else to go after the war. I find that whole project fascinating. My primary research was Stephen Ambrose’ Nothing Like It in the World, which is a great read. It’s known as his only non-military subject and then you find out very quickly why that is, because it’s a military subject. These projects were run like a military and it would never have been completed if not for the war. It’s ironic because Lincoln’s dream was not the Civil War or the Emancipation Proclamation. We know that was definitely on his agenda. His big dream was the Transcontinental Railroad, and it got started after his death. There was this upheaval of support for the idea but nobody wanted to go to war. The irony is that his dream would not have been completed without the war having provided all of these trained men who suddenly didn’t have a job.
Did having a great, great, great grandfather who was a Confederate Calvary Colonel impact your connection with Cullen Bohannon, also a Confederate soldier?
Let me put it like this, brother. I also had a great grandfather who made moonshine and that doesn’t affect the way I drink. It’s a cool fact and I don’t know if everybody thinks I was channeling his soul or something like that. There’s really not much that it can do for me. We have the same DNA, but that’s about it. I think when journalists talk to actors — and I’m not accusing you of this — sometimes they throw a softball pitch hoping to get the actor to talk about some sort of deep inner process as some sort of shamanistic thing that they do to channel those alter egos and those emotions and make it seem like what we do is magic, and it’s not.
What’s it been like for you this season without Common as your costar, after working so closely with him for years?
It was hard, man. He was maybe my favorite person, my favorite actor, I’ve ever worked with. I understand he’s got a music career too and I think he was surprised at the level, the workload that a TV series requires. Not to say he wasn’t down for it. He gave 110 percent every single day, but he’s my buddy, man. And it’s hard to see a buddy leave. He and I are both so busy. We try to grab moments if we’re both in LA or both in New York, but they’re few and far between.
You’re currently shooting the hitman romantic comedy Mr. Right in New Orleans — having grown up in the South, what’s it like to be able to film down there?
I love it. I’m not sure my liver likes it. I’ve been having a love affair with New Orleans for a very long time and I’ve got some friends that live there. I went down and shot Mr. Right and did all of my scenes in two days and I took three more days just to hang out and went out on the town with Sam Rockwell and RZA and had a hell of a time. Watch out for RZA, man, he’s a good, good guy but can really hold it down with the best of them.
Your father, Anson Adams Mount II, was one of the original contributing editors for Playboy. Did that make you a hero with the kids at school?
My father was — I can’t say he’s a product of the sexual revolution — he was a promoter of the sexual revolution. It was funny growing up in rural town in Tennessee and having a father who was comfortable having Playboys on the coffee table. I’m surprised he didn’t receive backlash for it because my house was a very popular place to come and hang out for a long time.
What was it like playing the first video game you’re in, The Evil Within?
I started it the other night and it probably would have been scarier if it wasn’t my voice. Can you imagine? What’s funny about it is it doesn’t piece together for me. You know how we have a sense that makes the voice match the character that we’re seeing? But it doesn’t work for me.
What was the experience like working on a video game?
I’m glad you asked that question. I hated it. Now, don’t get me wrong. I loved doing it. I loved working with my director and everybody from Tango and from Bethesda. I hated the process that we have worked ourselves into. I want to make very clear the distinction between those two things, because I do want to do more games. But I never met the other actors that were voicing the game, and that’s absurd to me. It’s absolutely absurd. There’s this fellow in France who did Beyond: Two Souls and he’s going to put everybody out of business because people have to fly to Paris and he puts them in the room together and they act. Brilliant.
They did that for the new Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare as well. Kevin Spacey and the rest of the cast all worked together in LA and did performance capture over two years to bring the game to life.
And you can see the difference and hear the difference and feel the difference. As the computer animation gets better and better and motion capture gets better and better, you’re going to start to see a bigger division between the people who learn this and the people who don’t. I also think it’s strange that they paid money for me to do this game and this is the first interview I’ve done about it, and you’re coming to me. It’s absurd. Why are they paying money for me if they’re not going to utilize me to promote their game? They’re still catching on to how the entertainment industry works, because the gap between video games and the entertainment industry is closing rapidly. But they got to catch up, man. And I’m not talking about Bethesda or Tango, specifically, I’m talking about everybody. They’re going to have to deal with the unions. They should realize, especially if you hire an actor who’s a fan of video games, why was I not in a studio playing this game two weeks before launch and Tweeting about it? It’s a little crazy to me. It’s like you either spend a lot less money on somebody who does voice acting professionally full time, or you get your money’s worth.
Were you a gamer growing up?
I can remember the first moment I ever walked into an arcade at the age of six and my mother put a quarter into Space Invaders. I still remember it vividly. I was immediately hooked. And I remember when friends started getting Ataris, my parents wouldn’t let me get an Atari because they thought it would rot my brain. But there were no limits on television, it was just video games that would rot my brain. So obviously because I was deprived, I’m now a video game junkie. Let that be a lesson to the parents out there whose kids are asking for a video game system. Never in my wildest dreams could I ever imagine that video games could involve acting. That’s amazing to me. That’s just so fortunate that I can do that. Maybe after I’ve said some of the things I’ve said today I won’t be, but I hope that I can step into this new medium.