Friday, July 17, 2015

Byron Mann Is Hell on Wheels

Byron Mann, photo by Kevin Thomas
Byron Mann is no stranger to the small screen (“Smallville,” “Dark Angel,” “Arrow”) or the silver screen (“Street Fighter,” “Catwoman,” “The Man with the Iron Fists”). He’s acted alongside the likes of Russell Crowe, Steven Seagal, Halle Berry and Chuck Norris, and he’s always ready, willing and able to do his own stunts. I spoke with him recently about his latest project, playing a major new role in the hit drama series “Hell on Wheels.” The historical Western begins its fifth and final season on AMC tomorrow night at 9/8c, with the first half of the season airing this summer, and the second half picking up in summer 2016.

Celebrity Extra: What can you tell me about this final season of “Hell on Wheels”?

Byron Mann: I’m in Calgary now filming this great season. It’s fantastic. This season is about the Chinese workers on the railroad and all the stories that come out of it. My character is Chang, and he is the power broker. He controls all of the workers. He gets into all of these different conflicts and vies for power with Cullen Bohannan, played by Anson Mount, and with all the other railroad owners. He is a very complex, very interesting character.

CE: How does this season compare with other seasons?

BM: It will be unlike anything you’ve ever seen. And I’m telling you the truth. It’s very gripping. It’s no-holds-barred.

CE: Without divulging too much, what can you tell me about the season? How does it open, and how are you introduced?

BM: The season opens with the introduction of the Chinese workers on the railroad. As you might be aware, the railroad in America — and certainly the line from San Francisco out to the East — was built primarily by the Chinese workers and the Irish workers. There were 15,000 Chinese workers who built this line, and their stories have never been told, on television or in movies. Kudos to the writers that they’ve dug up all of these stories and these characters. I can tell you that there will be a bitter and very complex rivalry between my character and Cullen Bohannan, which will develop and escalate throughout the whole season.

CE: How did you prepare for this role?

BM: The writers and producers gave us a lot of books to read on this history. I did some research on my character. My character parallels Cullen Bohannan in that he just came out of the Civil War in America, and my character came out of the Civil War in China.

CE: What was it like coming to work on an already-established set, co-starring for the final season of such a well-loved series?

BM: Before we started, Anson Mount gave me a call. I asked him: “What should I prepare for? I’ve never been to Calgary. I’ve never shot a Western before.” He said, “Well, bring boots.” I said, “What do you mean?” He said, “It’s going to be muddy when you come out of your trailer.” So I took his advice, and I brought my boots. And sure enough, the first day I come out of my trailer, I step down, and I’m in a pond of mud.

Also, I never thought in my wildest dreams that I would be in a Western. I didn’t even know what these guys wore. It turns out my character wears a lot of these coats and ties and stuff. I can’t even do it myself. I have to have someone dress me every day. It’s interesting. You have to have help to put them on.

CE: Tell me how it came about that you got the role in “The Big Short.”

BM: About six months ago, my brother, who works for a major bank in Asia, called me up and said: “Byron, there is this feature film that my client is doing. You should try to get a part in it or something.” But I blew him off. I said: “Well, you know nothing about the film industry. They’re probably just writing the script now.” And then six months later, I met Adam McKay (the film’s writer and director), and he cast me in the film. I found out that my brother’s client is Ben Hockett, the character that Brad Pitt plays in the movie. Isn’t that interesting? It is complete happenstance that I’m also in the film. But I can’t tell you too much, otherwise Paramount Studios will send ninja assassins to visit me.

CE: Without getting yourself ninja-ed, what can you tell me about the film?

BM: It’s about the subprime mortgage crisis in 2008, if you remember, that totally caused the collapse of the American economy. There were trickle effects all over. A lot of people lost their homes. A lot of major banks — like Lehman Brothers and Merrill Lynch — were all selling these products (that aided in the collapse). The characters played by Brad Pitt and Christian Bale and Ryan Gosling are bankers. They are trying to find out what’s behind these products and who’s selling them. So they track down my character, Wing Chau, who’s a bond manager in New York. He’s actually one of the world’s largest sellers of these products. He worked in conjunction with several major banks on Wall Street to sell them.

CE: I can’t wait to read the book this is based on; I already have it downloaded to my Kindle.

BM: It’s a great book. It’s by Michael Lewis, who also wrote “Moneyball.” He’s a great writer. And don’t be intimidated by the finance stuff, because he breaks it down very simply and very comically. Essentially that is what this movie is going to be like, too; it’s broken down in a very funny manner. It’s very accessible.

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