Hell on Wheels is a dark Western TV series about the construction of the First Transcontinental Railroad across the United States that ran on the cable channel AMC from 2011 to 2016. The series, which features Anson Mount, Colm Meaney, Common, and Dominique McElligott, chronicles the Union Pacific Railroad and its laborers, mercenaries, prostitutes, surveyors, and others who lived, worked, and died in the mobile encampment, called “Hell on Wheels”, that followed the railhead west across the Great Plains.
In particular, the story focuses on Cullen Bohannon (Mount), a former Confederate soldier who initially joins the railroad to track down Union soldiers who murdered his wife and young son during the American Civil War. In the process he becomes a foreman and eventually chief engineer on the railroad.
The dark Western TV series was created and produced by Joe and Tony Gayton, and developed by Endemol USA, under the stewardship of senior vice-president of scripted programming Jeremy Gold, and it is produced by Entertainment One and Nomadic Pictures. In 2012, AMC announced creators Joe and Tony Gayton were no longer involved in the day-to-day production of the series.
Common spoke about the challenges of playing a former slave: “Very challenging. And that’s why I took it on. It’s a lot of responsibility because what black people went through in slavery, within that system of slavery, was really treacherous. And for me, I felt like I owed it to the people that lived during that time to bring something truthful to the character. And even just revisiting some of the experiences of it, [there] was just a lot of emotion and a lot of pain. At the same time, a lot of strength came from it. What I enjoy most about the character is the fact that he was written so strong, not as just a person that was oppressed and kept his head down.”
Character Eva Oakes (Robin McLeavy) shares many traits with real-life Indian captive Olive Oatman, who was captured by the Yavapi and then traded to the Mojave. Eva’s tattoos are exactly like Olive’s, but the backstory is not.