In an unprecedented pop culture event, ABC and IMAX are teaming up to bring the iconic comic book characters of The Inhumans to the screen — first as a two-hour IMAX premiere, then as an ongoing show on ABC.
Den of Geek was part of a group of reporters who visited the impressive set of The Inhumans TV show back in Hawaii in April. While there, we had a chance to talk with actor Anson Mount (Hell on Wheels) about what it was like to bring Black Bolt — the King of the Inhumans, a man whose voice can destroy entire citites — to the screen. Here’s what he told us…
When you speak, shit happens.
I’ve always wanted someone to say that to me, “Anson, when you speak, shit happens.”
How often are you actually going to utter dialogue on this show?
Uh, wow. That’s not up to me. [Laughs] I don’t know. I think it would be a boring show if suddenly my character started talking regularly. They can’t. I mean, he sneezes, he blows half the world away, it’s that powerful.
So, I really was attracted to the role because of the obstacle of playing a character, where the lead of the show doesn’t speak. Like, when else am I going to get that opportunity. So, yeah. Jeph Loeb knew exactly… he reeled me in like a fish, man. He knew exactly what was going to prick up my ears about this, and it was that kind of challenge.
So, yeah, they got me a signed consultant, but it’s [American Sign Language]. I can’t do ASL. He’s not from here. He wouldn’t know ASL. So, I’m building my own signed-system, my own Lexicon. I’ve borrowed some of the underlying rules of ASL to make it work more efficiently, but I’m actually double-checking my signs against ASL to make sure there is no overlap.
Does it make it more challenging to lead as an actor and forces you to use other parts of your body to express?
Yeah, that’s a good question, cause so much of being prepared as an actor is getting your preparation, whether it’s your lines or whatever mechanical side of your work needs to be in the muscle memory body, but getting my- I’m going to use a real word I hate, getting your “instrument” to switch from going here to going here. It’s homework. It’s work, but I like to work. I like the challenge. Otherwise, why do it?
When Roel Reine came in to do our pilot, his first thing he said to me was, “Okay, we’ve got it figured out. So, we’re going to come up with 15 or 16 signs you can just sort of repeat.” I said, “No, no, that’s not what’s going to happen. It’s going to be an actual language.”
It’s hard. It’s tough. I don’t think it’s as hard as actually learning a different language. Like, I’m terrible with languages. I hated Spanish. So, it’s not that. It’s different than that, but it is… you can’t be thinking about your choreography while you’re trying to act. I’ve worked to get it into the muscle memory of my body, like it’s a dance.Your character is someone who has to exhibit extreme self-control or as you said the consequences are dire. What are the things or people that test that self-control? What things get under his skin?
Well, it’s a great aspect of the character. He can’t lose control or bad shit happens. So, I think that the character’s immediately endearing to us because he’s a leader who is aware of the power of his own voice, and that’s what makes the role work.
But you have to play that as a human. If there is an arc of growth for Black Bolt, I’m thinking that it’s forcing himself to become so stoic. He’s conflated that with being emotionally removed, and you can’t affective role when you’re holding part of yourself back, because your identity as a king is the state. Right? I hope that answers that question.
What were the topics that you’ve studied more to make this body language? Did you go for dance kind of language?
I watched some ASL translators, but I also watched [musical] conductors, good conductors. I get a little peeks and glances at what I’m doing to make sure it’s clear.
So, is your sign language effectively going to be the new Klingon? You know a lot of people they need shows and series [laughing] … especially the fans, they take it really seriously, and also on the back of that, are you going to create any potential curses that are secrets that we’ll get to discover as Easter eggs?
You hit the nail on the head, my friend. I actually … one of my secret goals is for people to be deciphering what I’m saying. In terms of curses, I hadn’t really thought of that, because we’re network.
They would never know.
I’ll give you a hint as to some of the creative ways… for instance, this is the sign for Maximus, OK? Because it’s also frustration, headache. This is the sign for Gorgon. You know why? In the books, he has a tendency to [makes bite noises]. Stuff like that, is fun.
Talking about the fandom that comes with the Inhumans comic books, what have you received from fans so far?
Honestly, I’ve been keeping my head pretty down. I went on a social media hiatus when I started working on this. I was on it for a couple of months. I’m just working too hard to really think about it right now. I don’t really like talking about my work as I’m doing it. I mean, this is a great exception. The lines have been drawn. We know what we can and can’t talk about, and this time has been set aside, and I’m used to it.
But, by and large, even EPK drives me a bit mad, because I feel like we spend millions of dollars and blood, sweat, and tears to create this illusion, and then somebody comes in and says, “Okay, let’s break apart the illusion.” I’m going to leave it up to them when the time is right and when it comes out.
Because you come to this with so many firsts, obviously, IMAX, theatrical release, new technology, the fact that you don’t effectively have a written script, has it kind of changed the way that you approach projects from here on in?
Nah. I’m thankful that I’ve gotten to the point in my career in my life where I’ve learned, it’s a crapshoot. Okay? I mean, you stack your deck; you hire the best people, you do multiple drafts, you work hard, you put your best foot forward. At the end of the day, you could have the best of everything and turn out a turkey or you could be doing something that you think is a lost cause and it pulls together. In the court of public opinion, it’s even more random, you know? So, for me I just do my best job every day, and then I go home, and it took me a long time to get here.
I know we’re out of time. I just want to ask you one quick thing real fast. You did Hell on Wheels for many, many years. Great show.
Were you apprehensive at all at turning around so quickly and signing on to something that could also be another multi-year commitment?
Well, first of all, it wasn’t quick at all. I sat on my rear end about a year and a half.
Oh, I forgot you shot both seasons back-to-back.
First of all, I have fallen in love with long-art television, episodic, serialized television. I love it, I love starting a season with a hubris of not knowing where you’re going and you know you’ve got to figure it out, I think it’s great. So, no, on that level, it didn’t bother me at all. I didn’t see myself going back to network.
But, I got to be honest with you, the business changed from before Hell on Wheels to post Hell on Wheels. When I got out of Hell on Wheels, I was suddenly… to say that I was competing with movie stars is not even fair. I was not even getting my day in court, because every movie star wants their TV show now. To the cable networks, it’s an embarrassment of riches.
So, finally I was like, “I guess network is still hiring,” (laughs) and that’s fine, that’s great. The biggest… the only real, real difference is the structure that’s forced upon you by having act breaks, commercial breaks, shorter amount of time, but no.
This interview has been edited for length and content.
The Inhumans premieres exclusively in IMAX theaters for a two-week engagement starting September 1st. The show will have its official ABC premiere on September 29th at 8 p.m. ET.