Today, we think of most celebrities as bigger than life people with whom we seldom if ever actually rub elbows. We may follow them with eyes wide and mouths agape, in magazines or on the Internet, in films, or on television. However, although entertaining, many are too often shallow and self-absorbed. Enter Anson Mount, a New York City-based actor most recently known for his lead role as Cullen Bohannon in the hit AMC series, Hell on Wheels. Mount is a refreshing change from the usual stories of celebrities, getting into trouble or doing (and getting away with) things we could only imagine doing. After seeing the devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy on the New York and New Jersey coastlines in late October of 2012, Mount was immediately moved to do all he could to help. Not just by writing a check, but by providing hands on assistance to the community that he calls home.
Describe your job and responsibilities.
My job and my work, are two different things. My job is showing up on a particular set and doing twelve hour days, while living in different cities. My work is what I craft as an actor. I like the challenge of trying to tell a story collaboratively, even though it can be a pain sometimes.
How did you get to where you are?
I started [acting] in high school in Tennessee, performing in plays. I then moved on to Sewanee, the University of the South, where I received an undergraduate degree in Theater Arts. They allowed me financial aid for an internship at an acting studio in NYC during my senior year. When I graduated I was accepted to Columbia's MFA program. I got an agent, and it just kind of snowballed.
How do you go from acting to community activism?
I haven't left one for the other, but this is my community. When I saw the devastation, first hand, and I'm not talking blocks of devastation, but mile upon mile upon mile of devastation, I knew I couldn't walk away and just throw money over my shoulder at it. I come from a small town in Tennessee. If your neighbor's house gets hit by a tornado, you help them. That's just what you do.
So a few friends of mine and I went to one of the larger 'warehouse club' stores in Brooklyn to buy supplies, using 501c3 status we had access to. We were spending a lot of money there, but they were making a tremendous amount of money because of the tragedy. So I asked if they could give us any further discount, and they put us through a ridiculous amount of red tape, basically telling us that we could make contributions to the Red Cross through them instead. It really upset us, and so we decided to take things into our own hands.
We took supplies we'd purchased, and even about 60 gallons of gasoline we had emptied from one of my friends boat with us out to Rockaway. When we reached the first FEMA location, it was madness. There were just piles of food and clothing that the trucks had dumped. People were rummaging through it all, unassisted, walking on the clothes, which were strewn all over. FEMA said they couldn't take the gasoline because of HAZMAT rules, but wouldn't give us access to any police who might be able to help us either, because they were doing other things for them. So we went to the police on our own, and they just pointed to people waiting in line at the gas stations for the fuel trucks to arrive. Rather than start a riot at the gas station, we drove around and gave it to older folks to top off their generators. But the lack of organization was disturbing.
So I got involved with Team Rubicon. Team Rubicon is a group that unites the skills and experiences of military veterans with first responders to rapidly deploy emergency response teams. They were hands on immediately, and were far and above the most efficient group there, because this is exactly what they do. They go right in and do the dirty work. They scoop out garages, they rip out the destroyed carpet and drywall in homes, and clear away the wreckage. But nothing you see on TV can actually convey to you the extent and severity of the devastation.
How might you improve on what you've already done?
Actually I'm in the process of doing that right now. I run with a group in the Ragnar Relay Series and we are putting together a couple of fundraising races to generate further aid for those affected by this disaster. Our team captain's company has done a lot of work with LiveStrong as well as Ragnar Relay. We are planning several events to continue the fundraising. One will be a race in the spring that will end at the Jersey Shore and hopefully involve Governor Christie at the finish line. And we are also putting together another race in Washington D.C., that will be comprised of me, and a member from each branch of the military. The goal would be to get an inter-team competition to raise money for Team Rubicon and their continued involvement in the disaster relief.
So the effort is ongoing and can be contributed to at this website.
Describe a hurdle or failure you faced that deepened your commitment to your community.
I found the biggest obstacle was the lack of organization of all the different groups and folks trying to help out the relief effort. Everyone thinks that FEMA or the Red Cross will come in and save the day all by themselves. A disaster of this size is overwhelming, and FEMA and the Red Cross alone aren't enough. That's why my friends and I decided to utilize the resources of Team Rubicon because they are experienced in this sort of thing.
Once I realized that waiting for the government or other organizations to just ride to the rescue was wasting valuable time and help, I saw that I had to find a way to move past those obstacles on my own, and Team Rubicon was the group I chose to work with. It made me realize not just how vulnerable we are to natural disasters, but how conditioned we are to believe that the government is going to come in and save us... and it's not.
And so I think that we can all stand to be better neighbors. I fell in love with this city all over again when I ran into the traffic jams of all the people trying to get into the Rockaways just to help. I met a lot of great people that I never would have met, and that was a lot of fun.