Let me first say that there is nothing like being a part of the magic of show business…
Hell on Wheels was not Cooper’s first television appearance. At five months old, he had a small role as “Baby Bernadette” on episode 5 of Fargo, Season One. His roles have offered me a totally unique experience of being able to observe the behind the scenes of how a production is made. It’s not something that many people are lucky enough to get to do. And if you are a huge television junkie like me, it is nothing short of awe-inspiring.
We started filming in July last summer in the stunning landscape of Bragg Creek, Alberta. The little log cabin that was used was originally built for the series Lonesome Dove. This was pretty special to me as my mom had just passed a few months before and this was one of her all-time favourite shows.
We would receive our “call-time” the evening prior, which meant the time we would be required to arrive for hair (they had to darken his white blonde hair slightly), make-up and wardrobe. Cooper had his own trailer, where we would hang out before being shuttled out to set.
Filming can be long days and a lot of waiting around, especially with an 18-month-old to entertain. Just to give you an idea, one episode takes about two weeks of filming. It is early mornings and late nights and the crew works tirelessly to make it happen.
Cooper landed this role through my acting agent and when we first arrived on set, I had no idea who the character even was. I thought we would be there for one day but soon I learned that he was cast as William, the son of main character Cullen Bohannan (Anson Mount) and his wife Naomi Bohannan (Mackenzie Porter).
If you’ve watched episode 508, then you’d probably guess that the first couple days were pretty traumatic for Cooper. When you’re put into a strange place, with a crazy murderer like The Swede (Christopher Heyerdahl), trying to break down your door with an axe, of course it would be pretty scary. The director and producers wanted his authentic reaction to the experience, which was of course, screaming and crying. He was so enthrawled by the chickens that roamed outside, that a producer brought one in between takes, to help settle him down. The Swede was also there to tickle him with his giant fingers and make him laugh. The nasty villain he plays on the show is nothing like he is in real life. The extremely talented actress, Mackenzie Porter, who played Cooper’s mother, was so great with him and he felt comfortable with her right from the start. Of course Cooper’s blanket “biss” also made it into the show. After being slightly traumatized my the Swede, he held it a little tighter when he had to leave my arms the following days.
As for me, I had never watched Hell on Wheels before coming on set. So the second day, I found myself sitting beside the ruggedly handsome lead actor, Cullen Bohannon (Anson Mount). We were watching the crazy tornado-like weather unfold while eating sandwiches and making small talk. It was probably a good thing that I had never seen the show and could not be awestruck by his presense. He was great with Cooper while shooting and always commented on how well he did after shooting a scene. Now that I’ve become a big fan of the show since watching it on Netflix, I realize how lucky I was to have worked with him.
Being an Extra
After Cooper wrapped, I felt pretty devastated. I was addicted to the experience of being out on a beautiful set, watching the story unfold. I decided that I too had to be a part of it. So I became a background extra on the show for a couple episodes. I’d have to say, as far as being an extra, a period show is probably the coolest. I got to be transformed back in time as a high-society woman with full costume, included uncomfortable corset! My scenes were a different experience as I got to film in the old western town at CL Ranch and at the Fairmont Palliser hotel in downtown Calgary. I also got to be with Doc Durant (Colm Meaney), Cullen’s nemesis and legendary Star Trek character. In case you’re wondering if background work pays well, it does not. People do it for the experience, not the money. And the experience is priceless.
Catch Cooper now on Netflix, episodes 508 & 509!
Kiki Davies ~ You can always find me here: Instagram