[WATCH] Christopher Meloni (‘Underground’) on playing bounty hunter ‘selling hope to the hopeless’

“For whatever reason, I played the guy quietly,” admits Christopher Meloni as  we chat via webcam (watch above) about his role as a bounty hunter on WGN’s hit new drama seriesUnderground.” He plays August Pullman, who is hired by a wealthy plantation owner (Reed Diamond) to track down a group of runaway slaves and uses charm and deception to lure his prey. “He’s a salesman,” he explains, “and he’s got his salesman schtick down, which is, ‘I know the way North.’ I am selling hope to the hopeless.”

And, he admits, “the quiet can be interpreted in a variety of ways whether it’s a stoicism, whether it’s a man who doesn’t want to walk the road with too much bravado because possibly he’s ashamed at what he’s doing, or maybe the quiet is like a wolf. He’s a predator, so he must move silently. But quiet was, to me, kind of a core element of how this guy operated, who he was, and I thought there was kind of a mystery in that.”

This rough-and-tumble character is certainly a departure for the Emmy-nominated star of “Law & Order: S.V.U.,” who’s used to working in more metropolitan settings. Meloni readily acknowledges welcoming, “the opportunity to do a show where you get to be outdoors and running around, and expressing yourself through a different lens. I think the people 150 years ago had a lot of similarities, but they were a different breed, a different species, simply because they didn’t have iPhones, computers, telephones, electricity, none of these conveniences. So I think that developed a different type of human being.”

Always by Pullman’s side is his wide-eyed son, Ben (Brady Permenter), who’s forced to grow up quickly. “My son is important to keep reminding the audience of my character’s humanity,” he says, “and where he falls short in certain responsibilities. Maybe it’s showcasing a man doing the best he can with his circumstances.”

Meloni had high praise for “Underground,” which gives viewers a unique look at a period that may be unfamiliar to them. “The Civil War has been studied far more than what happened,” he expounds, “what truly lead up to it. A Civil War just doesn’t happen, and I think they were very smart in picking the time before the kegs blew. Where was the fuse lit? It’s burning right now.”

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