'Hell on Wheels' star Anson Mount shares best advice Jon Hamm gave him
Hell on Wheels‘ season 4 finale (Nov. 22, 9 p.m. ET on AMC) finds Anson Mount’s Cullen determined to leave the railroad. While fans will have to wait to see how his decision plays out—the show has been picked up for a final season—we asked Mount a few questions he could answer.
EW: What’s some great advice you’ve gotten in Hollywood?
Anson Mount: My first Emmys party, I was introduced to Jon Hamm. I had just started doing Hell on Wheels, and I said, “Hey, man, do you mind if we talk?” “About working with AMC?” “No, just kinda about the whole thing.” He said, “Oh, okay.” So we go and bum a couple of cigarettes from Aaron Paul, and Jon says, “So, what I keep saying to myself is, ‘Why not me?'” I was like, “What do you mean?” He said, “Well, I grew up with this guy whose father was a professional baseball player, and then he got really into golf, and we would go golf with him sometimes. We were on this one hole, and I’m like an 8-iron shot away from the hole, and his father’s up on the green and says, ‘Put the ball right here,’ and points to this exact spot on the green. And I said, ‘Yeah, right.’ And he got really mad. And he said, ‘Why not you? Why not you? If not you? Somebody else. Why not you?'” So Jon said to himself, “Why not me?” And he hit the ball exactly where the guy had been pointing. So going through this whole craziness of work and fame, his mantra, I guess, has been “Why not me?” So I was handed a mantra by Jon Ham, I guess. A koan, as they say, in Buddhism. Yes, Jon Hamm is my spiritual leader. [Laughs] I don’t know if he even remembers it. Now, I see him at events and he’s like, “Oh, hey, man.” I must have really freaked him out. I must have been really needy.
What was your first role?
I played the guard in Twelve Angry Men in high school. I was terrible. Actually, the door knob fell off on one of my exits, and then on my re-entrance, I was gonna lift the latch with my finger, walk in, and give a big excuse. The time came for me to go in, and I lifted the latch, and the door didn’t open. I was shaking it and shaking it, and the canvas set is shaking. Finally, I realized it’s a twist latch. I get the knob in there to twist, stumble out, and the audience just dies laughing, and that was it. That’s when I was hooked—a completely unintentional first laugh on stage.
What’s been your worst role?
Give me a minute here, ’cause there’s gotta be something from graduate school that was just really bad…Bear with me. This is gonna be worth it, I promise…Oh, okay. Yeah. So my first year of graduate school I was very excited to get there and start working intensely on the classics and work with this very famous Romanian director named Andrei Serban. We get there, and he’s in the middle of directing the third years in their thesis, and he says he wants us to be in the play. We’re so excited, and we start rehearsing, and it turns out we’re there to basically carry spears and play a bunch of tangential roles [Laughs] including pigs. So at one point, already sweating from running around the stage so many times, we had to throw on these pig masks and grunt our way to this sand pit. It’s like, “Okay, I’m living the dream now. I’m grunting like a pig in a Black Box Theatre on 4th Street.”
Do you remember your first death scene?
It actually took a while. The first time I died on-screen wasn’t until this brilliant  film I did called Snoop Dogg’s Hood of Horror in which I play a very racist guy in the South who is living in this old folks home with a bunch of black veterans. It’s a great death scene: I’m strapped to a wheel chair, and they push me down the stairs backwards, and my neck gets impaled on a mounted Texas longhorn. And then I become animated, and an animated Snoop Dogg grabs the horn and drags me down into Hades. I think they syndicated that on Masterpiece Theatre. I’m not sure.
What qualifies as your worst death scene then?
I don’t think this is the worst, but shooting a hand-to-hand combat to the death in an airplane bathroom with Liam Neeson [in 2014’s Non-Stop] might sound like fun. But it’s another reality to have to do it. [Laughs] We were beat to death at the end of that. He’s a real big guy, so I was glad when that scene was over.
What’s the best prank you’ve played on set?
The first season of Hell on Wheels, I noticed that Colm [Meaney] had a bigger trailer than everybody, but he also had a doormat outside of his trailer. I was like, “You must think you’re pretty special with that doormat?” He’s like, [perfect impersonation] “Yes, I do. Yes, I do.” So I stole it, and put it in front of my trailer. And then a week later, he stole it back. So then I went and stole it again, and I took it to the props department and had them stencil my name on it.
Revisit Mount reading a scene from The Breakfast Club on EW Radio earlier this year.