“Hell on Wheels” 9 p.m. Sundays, AMC
BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — Actor Colm Meaney is a man without a country. Sure, the Dublin-born actor, who played Chief O’Brien on both “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” and “The Next Generation,” has lived in Beverly Hills for 15 years.
But when you ask him where home is, he pauses. “It’s becoming Spain, I think. It’s kind of happening that way; we’re building a new house there so I think that’s going to become our main base. I still have my house here ... and I love the house here and my wife loves the house here, too.”
If Meaney finds himself all over the globe, he’s also all over the screen in shows like “Soldiers of Fortune,” “The Commitments” and “The Damned United.” Currently he’s co-starring on AMC’s “Hell on Wheels” as the cunning railroad baron Doc Durant.
“I’d heard about the pilot. Everybody in town heard this was a great pilot,” he said.
“Then my agents and manager got it to me, and I loved it from the get-go. I loved it from the audience perspective, reading the script I took such great pleasure out of it and I loved the character. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a character as well-written as this. Certainly in the last 10 or 15 years I haven’t seen writing that has such a depth and such a clarity, and the vocabulary!
“To have this vocabulary where you use words like, ‘There will be perfidy of epic proportions.’ That’s Shakespearean, that’s beautiful. What struck me about it, it reminded me of films like ‘Treasure of the Sierra Madre’ when films were dialogue-intensive, when actors gave performances and they moved at a clip, apace — Walter Brennan, Walter Huston, those kind of guys. Rat-a-tat-tat like that. That’s what this reminded me of. I thought this was magic; I wanted to do this desperately.”
Years on both the London and New York stages seasoned Meaney for a variety of roles. But when he first moved to L.A. from New York, it was a massive adjustment.
“I’d done some film and television in Ireland and the U.K., but when I went to New York it was predominately theater, regional theater. In a funny way, it was more of a culture shock coming to Los Angeles than it was coming to New York from Europe.
“I was working in the theater in New York. I began to understand that unlike London where you have film, television, theater — everything is centered in London. Whereas in the U.S., if you wanted to work in film and television — especially in the ’80s — you had to come to Los Angeles.”
He longed to crash the film world. “You can work 52 weeks a year in the theater and still not make a living — so I had a young daughter, a family to support, this is why I came out here. I loved being here ... I wasn’t suffering any hardship, but it was a difficult time,” he said.
For now, Meaney, 59, is relishing the chance to tunnel under Doc Durant’s thick skin. “The thing about playing villains is you get to play extremes, and to make those extremes believable is an acting challenge, in a way,” he said.
“This guy can go from anger, rage, to a kind of cunning — ‘Oh, I should’ve done that.’ It’s the great flips that they do, which I suppose would be called bipolar or manic depressive in other situations,” he laughed.
“As an actor you have to be very dexterous in the way you go from the rage to the contemplative very quickly. And I love those challenges.”