Sunday, 6 November 2011

Christopher Heyerdahl in Hell on Wheels: What the critics are saying

christopher heyerdahl,the swede,hell on wheels
AMC's new western drama Hell on Wheels premieres tonight at 10 pm, after The Walking Dead.

From all accounts, Christopher Heyerdahl doesn't make an appearance until next week's episode, but critics have been mentioning him a lot in the early reviews. Just for context, most of them are not quite as enthusiastic about the show as they are about his character. (He plays a Norwegian badass called The Swede who works for the show's resident villain, railroad boss Thomas 'Doc' Durant, played by Star Trek's Colm Meaney.)

Here are a few snippets from some of the reviews flooding my inbox this week (careful, there are spoilers):

Tim Goodman, The Hollywood Reporter:
In fact, the best character appears in the second episode but isn’t mentioned in the voluminous press materials or episode synopsis (!). It’s Christopher Heyerdahl, playing a character named The Swede. How is it that in one hour -- Episode 2 -- the Swede seems fully formed and the lead, Bohannon, seems to be an intentionally murky mix of good and bad that is more theoretical than evident?

Alan Sepinwall, Hitfix:
The one real spark of originality arrives in the second episode, when we meet Doc Durant's chief of security, Tor Gundersen, better known as The Swede. Played by Christopher Heyerdahl (sci-fi fans will recognize him from shows like "Stargate: Atlantis" and "Sanctuary"), The Swede is tall and pasty and otherworldly, and always acting like he's in on some private joke. (He's actually Norwegian, but doesn't mind that no one seems to know the difference.) Like Cullen, The Swede carries his own Civil War scars, and the scene in the second episode where he explains the kind of "immoral mathematics" he learned at Andersonville is among the few times "Hell on Wheels" feels like it has any business being on the same channel as "Mad Men" and "Breaking Bad."

But that's a great performance and character in search of a more adventurous show.
Mo Ryan, AOL TV:
There is a truly compelling performance in the early going, but that doesn't come from star Anson Mount (...)

The Swede (Christopher Heyerdahl) works as the head of security for Thomas Durant (Colm Meaney), the blustery man who is building the railroad, and the Swede is someone you can easily picture smiling amiably as he slits a man's throat. Heyerdahl, a savvy and skilled character actor who is well known to fans of supernatural and sci-fi fare, has such weird magnetism on screen that the instant he appeared in 'Hell on Wheels,' I began to hope that the narrative would turn its attention to the looming Swede.

Of course that didn't happen.
Robert Lloyd, Los Angeles Times:
Especially convincing are tall, sepulchral Christopher Heyerdahl as "The Swede" (the joke is he's Norwegian), who runs the town for Duncan; Phil Burke as the sweeter and less mercenary of two entrepreneurial Irish brothers; and Robin McLeavy as a prostitute with an Indian tattoo on her chin. It took me a while to recognize Ted Levine (from "Monk") behind a thicket of whiskers as the camp foreman, but it is always good to see even a little bit of Ted Levine.
David Eckstein, Zap2it:
The pilot itself is a bit slow in the story department but strong in the character development. The series heats up in the second episode with the introduction of the railroad security chief The Swede (Christopher Heyerdahl). His quiet yet threatening presence is reminiscent of the Arnold Toht character from "Raiders of the Lost Ark" (a.k.a. The guy who burns the medallion in his hand).
Curt Wagner, Chicago Tribune:
The trio doesn’t create any sustained drama until the second episode, when we meet Doc’s enforcer, Tor Gundersen (Christopher Heyerdahl), a menacing, spectral presence who laughs because people call him “The Swede.” (The joke is that he’s actually Norwegian.) His speech about the “immoral mathematics” he learned at the Confederate prison in Andersonville is something to behold.

Heyerdahl nails the nasty villain whom viewers will love to loathe. His scenes opposite Mount crackle with tension and prove that "Hell on Wheels" will eventually gather enough steam to get somewhere.

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