Hell On Wheels tells the tale of a group of people thrown together to build the Union Pacific Railroad expansion. The town, and its people, follow the railroad and the work as it heads west. Racial tensions, harsh conditions, and a never-ending struggle for fortune flesh out the guts of what it was like in 1865, post-Civil War America.
I recently had the amazing opportunity to chat with the lovely and talented April Telek (Amazon Falls, Flight 93, Supernatural), who plays Nell, the ‘whore boss’ of Hell On Wheels. She keeps her girls on the straightest and narrowest as they can be, and keeps the men of the town at bay – with a giant broomstick when necessary!
April has quite an extensive acting background, and she has worked on some pretty high profile projects. We spoke about her role as Nell, and how it came about.
DNM: You have quite an impressive modelling resume, including competing as Miss Canada for several international competitions, while pursuing an acting career at the same time. You did both for several years, what ultimately drew you away from modelling and into acting full-time?
AP: My goal was always to be an actor. Never did I say I wanted to be a “star” or famous; I always wanted to just be an actor – that was my constant goal and intention. As a model overseas, I got to shoot about 80 commercials over my series of contracts, so I got a good idea about being on-set and a good taste of working with a camera, beyond just shooting stills.
DNM: How old were you when you landed your first acting job, and what was it?
My first gig as an actor was a two line role as a kid in a classroom in The Never Ending Story. I was cut out of the film, which was MORBIDLY embarrassing! EVERYONE I knew came to the theatre to see it!
DNM: What would you say was the most challenging role you’ve had, in terms of being the most unlike you or one that made you really step outside of your comfort zone?
AP: I feel that the most challenging role I’ve played to date has to be Lyz Glick in Flight 93. I’ve played a number of “real people” and historical figures, but this was most difficult of all. I was portraying a real, LIVING individual who was going through what was likely the most difficult time of her life, and I felt an immense amount of pressure to honour the authenticity of the situation. I am a very emotional person and Lyz Glick stayed extremely strong and stoic throughout her conversation with her husband on the doomed United Flight 93. I don’t know that I could have been that strong if I was in the same situation.
DNM: What did you see in the role of Nell that made you decide to audition for it?
AP: Well, Nell sort of came to me as a gift. I was hired to read with the actors auditioning for the show. There was really no character that was right for me to audition for – I was too old for both Eva & Ruth. After spending many hours with the material and the “creatives” behind Hell On Wheels, they mentioned that there would eventually be a “Whore Boss” in the series, and that maybe I should play her. There was no dialogue written for her at that point, and they weren’t even sure of what her name would be, but I still had to go on tape as there were over 20 producers who needed to sign-off on every single cast member. I wouldn’t pass up that opportunity, so I made a bold choice and read one of the Eva scenes, in the way I saw myself portraying a Whore Boss of course, and it paid off! What a gift!!
DNM: What is Nell’s story, does she have a background that was created in order to flesh out her character?
AP: There was no background for Nell officially provided. I’ve done my own work in that regard, but I can’t really go into it with more detail since the writing team on Hell On Wheels is so huge and they are very hush hush about story and plot lines getting out. As I said, they didn’t provide one for me. I have made one up to serve me, but it’s not anything official.
DNM: Hell On Wheels is probably the least glamorous set to work on, being set in muddy 1865. How do you guys deal with those conditions?
AP: It is a muddy mess to be sure! But to be honest, I LOVE getting down and dirty! I am mostly known for my work in comedies and sci-fi, so it is nice to play in a period piece with some real authenticity to the sets and costumes. We shoot the show in Calgary, Alberta, and the saying there is “If you don’t like the weather, just wait 5 minutes – it’ll change!”, and it does! I was booked and flown out for episodes 2 and 3, but the weather was so bad and unpredictable, scenes got flipped around and some got cut. Crazy, crazy weather!
DNM: Being set in post-emancipation America, there is a lot of racial tension that needs to be portrayed in most of the scenes. Acting out those stereotypical roles can be very intense, what do you and the rest of the cast do to unwind from the intensity of those scenes?
AP: I haven’t had to deal with much of that myself yet, and I can’t really speak for the others, but yes, there is some very heavy stuff!!
DNM: Nell has been steadily seen more as Season 1 progressed. What do you hope is in store for Nell, do you see her having a larger role in the coming seasons?
AP: As I mentioned before, I was actually supposed to be in more episodes than I was able to shoot. Because I was double booked and shooting a film in Vancouver throughout most of the summer, scheduling “Nell” became a bit of a nightmare. I’m hoping that Nell’s storyline gets juicier next season – I have some ideas of where I’d like to see Nell’s story go, but I’m more curious to hear what the audience would like to see happen.
DNM: I know you are involved with quite a few charities, would you like to talk about some of them and what they provide?
AP: I have had a very busy work year and found it difficult just juggling work and family time, but all of the organizations I contribute to are very close to my heart. My Aunt passed away in a hospice in 2006, and I was able to see firsthand how important good, end-of-life care is. It came to my attention that there was a society (in the fund-raising stage) that was working on building a hospice for the aging community that I grew up in. During my time on the board at North Shore Hospice (formally Lions Gate Hospice Society), through fund-raisers and contributions, we raised more than the $7 million necessary to build and operate the only free standing hospice on the North Shore! What an amazing experience to be part of!!
For more information: http://www.northshorehospice.ca
The CNIB is also personal for me. I have a cousin in Budapest, Hungary who had a stroke at birth and became blind. Without his incredible parents’ undying commitment to provide education and life exposure to him, his world would be remarkably different. The CNIB is an amazing organization that really helps to better the lives of the blind in my country.
For more information: http://www.cnib.ca/en/
Operation Smile is an amazing organization also. Through the contributions it receives, provides life-altering surgeries for children born with cleft palates.
For more information: www.operationsmile.org
The Hell On Wheels Season 1 finale garnered 2.84 million viewers in the premier showing, and another 1 million for the encore presentation. It follows The Walking Dead, which holds a 6.6 million viewer average. Hell On Wheels has maintained their viewer numbers, despite The Walking Dead being on hiatus since November 27, 2011. That says something about the potential (and realized) success of AMC’s latest offering.
With an incredibly talented group of actors rounding out the cast, these numbers are not surprising.
Hell On Wheels Season 2 will premiere late summer 2012.Need to catch up? The entire Seaon 1 is available on iTunes.
All Photos Courtesy of April Telek.