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Published: Wednesday, 9/19/2012 - Updated: 2 years ago

Colm Meaney loves playing the villain in AMC's 'Hell on Wheels'

BY LUAINE LEE
McCLATCHY-TRIBUNE NEWS SERVICE

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. -- Actor Colm Meaney is a man without a country. Sure, the Dublin-born actor, who played Chief O'Brien on 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."

Meaney has two daughters, a 27-year-old with his first wife and a 7-year-old with his second wife, Ines Glorian. His younger daughter attends school in Spain.

As he explains it, this internationalism has caused more than one snafu. "My wife is a designer from Paris. Most of her background is fashion but she's designed for theater and film as well. We met on a Western in Spain. We have three anniversaries. When we met -- I know it was June. We got married here in Beverly Hills, and that was the 15th of March [2007]. My wife is French with a green card, my daughter was born in Spain but she's traveling on an Irish passport, so we said, 'Look, we've got to get married to sort this out. In October we had a big wedding party in Spain so we have these three dates we recognize."

If Meaney finds himself all over the globe, he's also all over the screen in shows such as Soldiers of Fortune, The Commitments, and The Damned United. Currently he's co-starring on AMC's Hell on Wheels as cunning railroad baron Doc Durant.

"I'd heard about the pilot. Everybody in town heard this was a great pilot," he says, easing into a lounge chair next to a round glass-topped table.

"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 the London and New York stages seasoned Meaney for a variety of roles. But when he first moved to Los Angeles 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 says.

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 says.

"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 bi-polar or manic depressive in other situations," he laughs.

"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."

Another challenge is his older daughter, Brenda, who wants to be an actress. "She is doing the MFA program at Yale in acting, but all through her teens I did my best to discourage her," he shakes his head.

"She went to college and got a very good degree in history of art and history, and at the time wanted to be an archeologist. And I thought, 'This is great. She's going to be an archeologist, what a wonderful, interesting life.' She got her degree and kind of hung around for a year or so and hemmed and hawed and then said, 'Dad, I want to act.' ... If somebody has it in their heart that they want to do this, it's very hard to stop them. It really is."



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