The fifth and final season of AMC’s hit series Hell on Wheels will premiere on Saturday, July 18th at 9/8c. One of the newest additions to the cast for the final season is actor Byron Mann. Byron will play Chang, a powerful businessman and main Chinese labor contractor vying for power in the building of the Central Pacific Railroad.
Not only will he be seen in the final season of Hell on Wheels, but he can also be seen in the film Mercenary: Absolution which was just released on DVD/Bluray as well as the critically acclaimed independent film Jasmine.
Byron should be no stranger to viewers as he has built an impressive resume both in television and in film. On the small screen, he’s made memorable appearances on shows such as Arrow, Dark Angel and Durham County. On the big screen he’s appeared in films such as The Man with the Iron Fists opposite Russell Crowe, A Dangerous Man and Sniper 3.
Today, Byron sits down with the Pop Culture Principle to talk about his work on Hell on Wheels, what it’s like working with Steven Seagal and what he looks for when choosing his next project.
Pop Culture Principle – You’ve signed on as a series regular for the fifth and final season of Hell on Wheels. Did you know a lot about the series before you signed on?
Byron Mann – I have to be honest with you; I hadn’t seen a single episode of the series. I don’t have TV because I travel a lot and that means I don’t watch a lot of television. I read the script they sent me and I really liked it and thought the writing was very strong and that was the reason I decided to sign on and do the series.
We are filming right now and the season is crazy and the gloves really come off. It tackles everything full on and it’s very gripping.
Pop Culture Principle – Can you tell us about your Hell on Wheels character Chang and what drew you to the role?
Byron Mann – There are two railroad lines that are being built and it’s turned into a race to see which one gets done first. There is the Union Pacific which I believe Cullen Bohannan played by Anson Mount, he was involved with that for the last couple of seasons.
At the end of the fourth season, I think he either was fired or quit, so now he is joining the other railroad which is called the Central Pacific which is coming from San Francisco out towards the East. So, it’s not only a rival railroad, but it is actually a race between these two railroad lines. The Central Pacific line is primarily built by the Chinese people together with the Irish. This whole season introduces and is dedicated to the Chinese side of the story.
My character is a business man/mercenary/power broker who is in charge of all the Chinese workers and there are 15,000 Chinese workers on the railroad. The fact that he controls all of them, you can see his leverage with the owners of the railroads. He’s also being setup as the adversary to Cullen Bohannan which is interesting. They both have some similarities one of them being they are both coming from civil wars. Cullen is coming from the American civil war and Chang is coming from the Chinese civil war. Now, Chang is in America and he is re-inventing himself. They both know they are very hard, battle weary creatures and it’s a really wonderful character that they have built.
We are currently filming the third episode of the season and I think it’s one of the best episodes of the season so far. I can’t say much, but as I said earlier, the gloves really come off and I can’t wait for people to see this episode.
Pop Culture Principle – Hell on Wheels has been on the air for four seasons already. Did you have any trepidation or nervousness coming on the set of an already established series?
Byron Mann – Interesting you mention that because subliminally yes. The first day of filming we filmed literally the hardest scene in the episode. I had to quote Shakespeare aloud and a lot of other stuff and it was the hardest scene in the first episode and that was my first day on this television series.
I was telling the producers couldn’t you just ease me in a little bit on the series. LOL. The first scene I had about six pages of Shakespearean dialogue, so it was definitely baptism by fire.
Pop Culture Principle – You will be starring alongside Steven Seagal in the new action film Absolution. Can you tell us the basic premise of the film?
Byron Mann – First of all, I’ve known Steven for ten years and he’s not an easy man to get to know, but I’ve gotten to know him through the years. Also, the filmmakers Keoni Waxman and Phillip B. Goldfine I’ve worked with before on several projects, so we are like family. They were looking for someone to play his partner, which I have done in the past. I saw this movie as a buddy movie like Lethal Weapon or 48 HRS. We all know what Steven is like, so I suggested that I play the total opposite of Steven’s character, the crazy one and the colorful one. We shaped the dialogue, the scenes and everything towards that direction and it really worked.
Let’s be honest, this was not meant to be a theatrical release, but a VOD release. Because of the work we did which was shaping the scenes and the dialogue towards the direction of our characters being polar opposites and the rapport we had on and off screen, it really translated. So much so that I think Lionsgate decided that they had to release it theatrically first which makes it a wonderful story in that regard.
Pop Culture Principle – You’ve worked with Steven Seagal before, most notably Belly of the Beast, what has your experience been like working with him?
>Byron Mann – Well, it’s an acquired taste. Initially, we didn’t really quite get along because he’s kind of shy and very philosophical. He’s not an ordinary man or normal. My first film was with him ten years ago in Thailand, which turned out pretty good. Over the years, you learn how makes him tick. He really likes working with good actors because he knows that it elevates the film. He also likes good films even though he does a lot of action films, it doesn’t necessarily mean he doesn’t like or appreciate good films.
Once you understand some of these things, he becomes a very loyal friend. He’s recommended me for movies and things like that. I call him all the time to see what he’s doing and we get together from time to time.
Pop Culture Principle – When it comes to these types of film, are you adamant about doing most of the action and fight sequences yourself?
Bryon Mann – Yes, that’s a very good point and I will come back to Absolution on this because a lot of times, you see these action films and they fight non-stop for an hour. You punch a guy 20 times and they don’t go down, but in real life, if you punch a guy once you can break his jaw. So, in films you can punch them 20 times and he’s still standing there which is screen acting.
One of the things I said to the director and the stunt coordinator, let’s have purpose behind every single fight scene. Let’s reveal something about the character and let’s move the plot a little bit. It has to have purpose and it can’t be mindless, endless kicking for half an hour because the audience will get bored.
When you see the film, I’ve added some humor, art and danger to every fight scene and again it translated so much that Lionsgate decided to release the film theatrically.
Pop Culture Principle – The film Jasmine is an official selection for the Hong Kong and Dallas international film Festivals. What can you tell us about this project and your character?
Bryon Mann – Every movie has a story and Jasmine is no different. The director and co-writer of the film is Dax Phelan and I hired him 10 years ago to go to Hong Kong and to write a script for me. He’s a white guy from the states and I didn’t think he would like or last in Hong Kong. He not only liked it, he loved it and went back several times and got writing gigs from it. He wrote the script for Jasmine while there and it is set in Hong Kong. It’s not a martial arts movie or a kung fu movie or a cop movie, but it’s like Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, but set in Hong Kong. He didn’t wait for a studio to help finance the movie, he co-financed the film himself and he just shot it and invited me to be in the movie.
After he shot it, it took him a while to put it together because he had to fund the post production which is not cheap and his mother also passed away and he had to deal with that as well. It took him about 5 years to get post production done and to make it look up to Hollywood standards. It’s a very good film and I am very proud of it and the moral of the story is very hard work pays off.
Pop Culture Principle – You’ve never played a character like this before. Is that what attracted you to the role and did it stretch you as an actor?
Byron Mann – Yes, you can say that and the character I play on Hell on Wheels is different as well. I’ve never even been in a western and would have never imagined myself in a western. You don’t see a lot of Chinese guys walking around in westerns.
Pop Culture Principle – How does it feel knowing that the industry is taking notice of an independent project like Jasmine?
Byron Mann– It’s great and for me It’s a bonus. I can’t emphasize the fact enough that hard work really pays off. A lot of people thought this film just went away because it took 5 years to do the post production, but when it was released, it came out really well because he put his heart and soul into the film. This film is a Cinderella story because the film was made for nothing but is made from the heart. So, for me to be a part of this project is fantastic.
Pop Culture Principle – You also worked on the series Arrow with Stephen Amell. What was that experience like?
Byron Mann – If you remember, I did the first season, so I knew nothing about the show or who Stephen was. Stephen hadn’t done a lot of stuff before, so he was like a new actor to me. So, I just did the part and played the guy who trained him and taught him until they found a better looking person to do that which was my daughter and then they killed me off. I had no idea it would become the show that it is today.
Most of the time it’s like that and you have no idea. When you are filming it, no one knows what the movie or show is about and you just do the best you can. Again, the writing was phenomenal, really unusually good writing for a television show and I had a great time working on that show.
Pop Culture Principle – You also have a film coming up called The Big Short with Brad Pitt, Christian Bale and Steve Carrell to name a few. What can you tell us about this project?
Byron Mann – It’s a movie with pretty deep people. As you mentioned, Brad Pitt, Ryan Gosling and Steve Carrell who I did most of my scenes with are all in it.
It’s about the 2008 subprime mortgage crisis in the US. A lot of people defaulted on their home loans. At that time if you remember, you could buy a house with no money down and no payment for two years. It’s greed, just corporate greed. The movie is based on the New York Times best seller The Big Short written by Michael Lewis who wrote Moneyball.
My character is a real life bond fund manager whose company was the biggest seller of these products in the world. The movie is about what happened and the people behind it and the colorful characters behind it. It will probably be out later this year or sometime next year. It’s a big film and I am really looking forward to it coming out.
Pop Culture Principle – What do you look for when you are choosing your next project?
Byron Mann – You don’t come across great projects often, but every once and a while they do fall in your lap. Most actors are not in a position to pick or choose. You get offered a job and you do it. For me, I want to do something that challenges me. First and foremost, the script has to be good. If I am bored by page 10 or page 20, that isn’t a good sign. If I want to read a script and I finish it in an hour that is usually a good sign. I remember reading the first script for Hell on Wheels and finished reading it in under an hour and realized it was a very interesting character.
You basically do the best you can and every now and then, you get characters that blow you away and you have to tell your agent to just close the deal because you have to do play that character.
A big thank you to Byron Mann for taking time from his schedule to talk with us. The Season 5 premiere of Hell on Wheels airs on Saturday, July 18th at 9/8c on AMC. If you would like to keep up with all of Byron’s latest news and projects, you can follow him on his official Twitter account here.
**Hell on Wheels photos courtesy of AMC/Chris Large**