A couple of weeks ago, we had the pleasure of interviewing Wes Chatham (Amos Burton). During the conversation, Chatham revealed how he prepared for the role, what obstacles he faced in bringing the character to the screen, and what lies ahead for him and Amos. Chatham also talked about his love of history and what can be learned from it, as well as the story of how he got into acting. We hope you enjoy!
Disclaimer: This interview contains some small spoilers for Season 4 during the first half.
Ed Akselrud- So Wes, how is everything on set? How does it feel being back after the hectic scare in May?
Wes Chatham- It’s great. I mean it’s obviously pretty surreal considering, you know, everything that happened and what we went through and then we’re coming back. The one thing that we all agree with and I think is one of the things that really holds this show together is that pretty much everyone that’s involved with it is a fan of it. Meaning, I would be reading and watching the show even if I wasn’t a part of it. So, this is the hardest that I’ve ever rooted for something that I’ve been a part of. ‘Cause there were times where our options were up and you have other options for work, but you were holding out even without any guarantees just because we love being part of this show.
I really love the connection between the fans and the show. I went to London [Film and] Comic Con not too long ago and got to meet a lot of the fans and the people that are into the show, and it’s just, it’s a really interesting community. Most of the fans I’ve met, you know, they all have really interesting careers. The Expanse attracts a certain group of people that are really fun and interesting to hang out with. There’s just a lot that I really love about this show so it’s been great so far. This is our first location and we’re shooting on Ilus, and we found this really great amazing looking location. But the weather’s changing, so…
Kyle LaBarre- We did have a question related to that – the change in environment. Is that going to change how you adapt Amos for the coming season? Is it going to change your approach at all, dealing with new external factors?
Wes- Yeah, I think it’s definitely gonna have an impact. I mean, being back in an atmosphere and kinda being in a wide open sky and a wide open space again – especially in a landscape that’s stripped back with its technology and it’s a little bit more wild and more primal. Yeah, Amos is definitely gonna be awakening things in him that impact his behaviour that he hasn’t really felt in a long time.
I’m constantly researching and developing, and trying to be honest about his struggle and what exactly he’s going through.
Ed- In regards to what you were mentioning earlier about how everyone’s a fan of the show including yourself – you’ve read the books, right? You were already familiar with the material before the show, is that true?
Wes- Yeah, so I knew about the books before the show. This is what I remember, but I don’t know if it’s 100% accurate – like I can’t remember what came first.
A friend of mine, Clint, was telling me about the books and then I started inquiring about them – this is what I remember – and then they sent me the pilot of The Expanse and I thought “Oh my god, this is what I’ve been interested in, I’ve actually read this and you know, started reading this and getting into it.” Now when I tell this story, what Clint says is that I told him about the books. So I don’t know why but we have two completely different memories.
But in any case, yeah, I read the first book and then I started the second book while we were shooting the first season, and I realised that it was kind of getting in the way because I started getting confused with what we knew in the books but we hadn’t learned in the show. So I decided that I was gonna read a book per season: In the off-season, when I finish, I’ll read the book that we’re gonna shoot the next season.
Kyle- Right. So, about that, we were wondering – how does your understanding of him in the books come through to your performance? I mean, obviously there’s the script that you’re being given and the factors that come into your on-screen performance, but how much do you feel like the books and your reading of that really influences your character?
Wes- Well, I think ultimately whenever there’s a character in a book and you bring it to screen, and you do it yourself, it’s never going to be the exact same as the books. The thing that really connected me to Amos and made me a fan of him, and really excited to play him, was the novella called The Churn. When I read The Churn, that was most interesting to me. When you get to Leviathan Wakes, I think it’s like 20 or 30 years after The Churn – I can’t remember exactly how many years – but it’s definitely a significant amount of time has passed and he has grown up from then.
What I did is I started back with The Churn and I used that as the foundation to create the psychology, and used my imagination of what happened to him in the past and what has shaped him; moulded him to become who he is today and how did he and Naomi’s relationship come about, how did he meet her, how did that become forged? And so I kinda used The Churn as the psychological framework to build the show off of and how that manifested itself. I let it manifest itself in whatever was truthful to me and so I didn’t allow that to be really affected by the actual books as much.
Ed- I heard that you actually took The Churn to a psychologist – or a psychiatrist, I’m not sure – to consult with about it.
Wes- Psychiatrist, yeah I did. I took it to a psychiatrist in San Diego and I gave her The Churn, and we had long talks about it, and then she referred me to books to read – things that he might be dealing with. So I did a lot of research into that and his mental health and also into trauma. I did a lot of work into trauma, and I continued to do that. There’s a book that just came out, I think it was this year, I just finished that – it’s called The Body Keeps the Score, and it’s a book about the history of trauma and abused children, sexually abused children.
I’m constantly researching and developing, and trying to be honest about his struggle and what exactly he’s going through. What’s interesting is that the better researched I am and the more accurate I show his reaction to things, the fans really are very astute – they’re very quick to pick up what’s happening and they’ll send me tweets and emails, and I’m just really impressed how they understand the psychology of Amos. ‘Cause it’s not in your face, it’s very subtle, he has subtle behaviour.
Ed- Right, it’s subtle but it’s very complex. I mean, I can’t even begin to try to explain what’s going on with him or how he came to be. What did you think of him when you first read the book – the first book – before you even got the script and before you knew that you were gonna be in the show? Do you have any thoughts about him then that you remember, and did you have any connection to him at that time?
Wes- Oh yeah, yeah. So Amos was my favorite character and he was the one that I was most attracted to and when they wanted to see me for The Expanse my first thought was – I didn’t know who they wanted to see me for, and I didn’t know if it was Holden or whatever because I’m different physically than Amos is in the books. So I immediately said “I wanna go in for Amos”, but I think they were already thinking of seeing me for Amos anyway. But Amos was the only thing I was really interested in. I knew that I wasn’t physically like he is in the books, but I knew I had a deep understanding of him psychologically so I knew that if I went in and read that, whatever the outcome is on their side, they would see my understanding of Amos.
Kyle- I actually cosplayed as Amos earlier this year for a con.
Wes- Ha, which one? Which con?
Kyle- Convergence, it’s a small [con in Minnesota].
Wes- Awesome. [Laughs] You know, every Comic Con that I’ve been to, mainly San Diego Comic Con, I’ve always been connected to a project. We had to do it for the Hunger Games and we did that two years in a row, and then it’s just work. You go in there and you promote whatever it is you’re working on. So I never really been to a Comic Con on my own. And the first time I did that was the London [Film and] Comic Con because I was going to be in Europe anyway, and they reached out and said, ‘would you come?’ And I said ‘yeah’, and I had such a good time. And it was such a good experience, getting to meet all these people hanging out. Also all the things I got to see that I’m a fan of myself and a lot of friends that I have that were in it, so I’d definitely be open to going more of those cons.
I had to shoot all night, in minimal wardrobe, in the rain. I think I got home at like 6:30 AM.
Kyle- Correct me if I’m wrong, but it seemed to me that some of the tattoos we see on Amos on screen are some of your personal tattoos, is that right?
Kyle- Now was that just an easy costuming decision, like ‘hey he’s got ‘em already, they look cool’, or was there like a greater conversation – was there a meaning that you wanted to bring forth into the character?
Wes- Well, yeah – you know that Amos is always in search of his morality. What is his line between good and evil. And a lot of the tattoos that he has are kind of stories that we created that are kind of like guiding symbols to him. And two of the tattoos that I have on my arm, not to be too specific, but they have something to do with morality. And that was just really in line with what we were trying to create, and that’s why we left those.
Kyle- That’s cool. I suspected something like that – I’m a big tattoos guy – so it’s cool to hear a little bit of confirmation behind that.
Wes- I’m a big tattoo guy now too, but the hard thing is that I can’t get any tattoos on my arms until the show is over. [Laughs] I don’t like covering them up every day.
Kyle- How’s the make up doing in the new weather – does that change things up as well?
Wes- When it’s cold, the tattoos and stuff are easy, because it’s so cold and your skin is dry, and everything stays on. When you’re shooting in the summer – which I love, I love coming up here in the summer and the fall – but when you get hot n’ sweaty the tattoos are really hard to keep on.
Ed- There’s probably so many things we don’t consider about production like that, that you don’t realize until you’re in it. That kind of leads me into another question – is there anything you can talk about that’s happened so far particularly notable or challenging, or interesting, that we don’t already know about on set? Is there something that you recall?
Wes- Yeah, so in terms of being on location [for Season 4], there was one night when we were at our location and it was one of the coldest nights here. It was on a Friday, and we had to make the day – I think it was towards the end of the last [previous] block. And, so we started the first half of the scene on the first block, and that was still early fall so it was a warm night, and so my wardrobe – I’m coming from something – and so I don’t have a full wardrobe. We’ll leave it at that. [Chuckles]
And, so, it was a warm night so we didn’t think much about it. And then, about a month and a half later, we had to do the second half on another block, and that night was freezing, and it started raining. And so I had to shoot all night, in minimal wardrobe, in the rain. I think I got home at like 6:30 AM. So yeah.
Kyle- So is that what you would consider the most challenging scene that you’ve had to shoot so far, or was there one earlier in the seasons that you would consider, something that tried you a little bit harder?
Wes- In terms, like out of all three seasons?
Wes- In terms of physically challenging, because I was freezing, and it was raining, and I was throwing myself on the ground, and running around, and all that stuff – I would probably say, physically, yes. Although – I believe it was Season 3 – and I was between the walls, and we were getting attacked and I was getting thrown around the walls…
Ed- Yeah, I remember the scene you are talking about.
Wes- Yeah, that one and the tool scene, when Prax’s oxygen got knocked loose and the tools are flying all over the machine shop and I was flying upside down and everything… it was challenging. I mean it was a lot of fun on the wires of course, but it was challenging in the sense of being in that space shoot, and that was another late scene. But other than that, I would say the rainy cold night was probably the most challenging. But, you know, it beats – when I was in the military for four years, it beats that.
Kyle- Yeah, we’d heard you did some time in the military as an aviation firefighter, was that right?
Wes- Correct, yeah, I was in crash and salvage.
Kyle- Would you say was that there was anything about it that you feel informed your performance as Amos?
Wes- Yeah, I think that… That was a profound experience in my life, and I think it impacted me so much as a human being that it in turn it impacts everything I do or every role I play. So there is a lot of that that plays out through Amos – you know, probably on a subconscious level, just because of having been through that.
Ed- It actually led to you acting, is that right? I mean when you met Denzel Washington, when he chose your ship [for Antwone Fisher]?
Wes- Yeah, it led to me acting professionally. I started when I was really young and I was always drawn to story, you know. I didn’t know it was going to manifest itself in the way that it has but I knew that I was going to be a part of telling stories somehow. And when Denzel was shooting the Antwone Fisher story on my ship, that was how I met Robi Reed and how everything got started for me.
Ed- Can you tell us more about that experience? You know, from the point of younger Wes experiencing that and sort of finding your calling, I suppose, at that time.
Wes- Yeah, you know it’s a really strange story. And it’s going to seem like… I’ll just tell you what happened, and I promise it’s true, it’s just not going to seem true.
Me and a friend of mine, his name is Petty Officer Jones, I think we were in the… we might have been in the Gulf? I can’t remember where we were, but we were in the ocean, and we were looking out at the ocean and talking about what our dreams were, what we wanted to do, and he asked me what I wanted to do. And I told him what I just told you guys – that I wanted to be a part of storytelling, that I’ve always wanted to be a part of making movies or TV or things like that. I started doing that when I was really young and I did some theatre when I was young, so it was always something that I wanted to do or was interested in.
I was actually studying acting in San Diego at the time, when I was in port. So we had a long talk about that. He asked ‘who’s your favorite actor?’. I can’t remember who I said, and asked him who was his, and he said, ‘man, Denzel Washington’. And then he said to me, ‘hey, Chatham, wouldn’t it be amazing…’ ‘cause he was on the carrier that they were shooting Top Gun on with Tom Cruise and Val Kilmer, and he was telling me about that experience – and then we both said that ‘man, wouldn’t it be amazing if they were shooting a movie on my boat and this is how I got started. You know that’d be the dream.’ I’m not exaggerating, I’m just telling the truth. And then cut to… I think it was right before September 11th. We were in port – I was in gym working out. Jones was on watch. He runs up to the gym, he’s got tears in his eyes and he said – ‘Denzel Washington just walked on board the ship, he’s on the ship right now’. And we could not believe it. And it turns out Denzel Washington was shooting a movie on that boat and that’s how I got started.
Amos is not as trained or skilled, he more has a talent for violence.
Ed- Wow. That’s a hell of a story.
Wes- Yeah, I’m hesitant to tell that story ‘cause it’s hard for me to believe. It’s just the truth, it’s how it happened.
Ed- Ah yeah, I think some things like that happen sometimes. It’s amazing. Thanks for telling us that.
Kyle- That’s just luck right. Definitely got a few spot in the right place at the right time credits to your favor there.
Wes- Yeah, but also it’s preparation meeting opportunity, because I studied acting for a long time and so when they auditioned me for the part… I remember walking out, walking down, and then [Robi Reed, casting director] called me back and I went in there and she’s like ‘you’re in the military right?’ – ‘cause she was done with the ship – and I go ‘yeah.’ And she goes ‘are you an actor as well?’ and I said ‘yeah.’ And she said ‘you could do this if you wanted to, if you wanted to pursue this.’
Kyle- So, you’ve mentioned you spend a lot of time in the gym. A lot of folks are really interested in hearing about your routines. How would you say that your martial arts experience translates into your on screen performances? Especially with films like The Philly Kid, – I’d actually seen that one a few months ago and thought that it was really cool – how much do you get to utilize that experience on screen?
Wes- I mean, in more ways than one. That kind of training and that outlet that I have is kind of meditative for me. And it clears my mind of all the noise, and then it kind of gives me a clear platform to be more creative and more open and vulnerable in the moment. And so in that way it serves me greatly. It’s kinda like my antidepressant. If I need to get out and get moving and kind of exorcise those demons and then I can come back and really focus on work. And so in that way it helps greatly.
And then it really depends on what the part is. So obviously with something like The Philly Kid, it plays in a great deal because of the training that I had to really have authentic fighting moments, you know, with technique that can really allow somebody to suspend their disbelief that I’m in that situation. But then when you play someone like Amos… Amos is not as trained or skilled, he more has a talent for violence – he’s a talented amateur. And so he understands how to use his power and strength but he’s not James Bond. So he’s not smooth and refined. So you know I’ve got to sit back and think ‘how would Amos physically express himself in this situation?’
There’s this scene in the bar where this guy was picking on Alex, and I come in, and the way it was written was like – I tap him on the shoulder, and we get into an argument and then, you know, we get into this kinda long choreographed fight. And I said to them, you know, the thing that I want people to understand – which sometimes I have to let new directors know – is that Amos does not have an ego in that way. He does not have a tough guy bravado ego, he doesn’t. He’s just not afraid because he doesn’t have that chip in his mind or in his body so that’s a different experience. A lot of time ego and bravado comes from fear. And it comes from a place of weakness. And so the reality is that Amos would do the most efficient thing to eliminate the threat and there’s no honor or dignity or pride in it.
And so what I said was ‘he’s not going to tap him on the shoulder, no, what he’s going to do is that he’s going to pick up a bottle and he’s going to crush his fucking head from behind, and then when the guy’s on the ground he’s going to stomp him’. Why risk himself by spinning the guy around and having some tough guy talk? That’s just not how he’s going to do it. And if he can shoot you in the back of the head, he’ll shoot you in the back of the head, you know?
I like the violence to be an expression that’s honest to who he is, and it doesn’t make sense to me that somebody would… like, if I watched movies where somebody grew up on the street, or he’s from prison or whatever, and they get in a fight and all of the sudden he has this highly-refined, choreographed fighting; and it’s like ‘that’s not how he would fight,’ you know? Or, somebody that’s supposed to be a trained martial artist who doesn’t really know how to throw a punch.
And that really bothers me. Fight consistency really bothers me. You know like with the chicken guy? So we’re sitting there and we’re talking to this guy and I said like ‘he would take this can of chicken and smash this guy’s face, and get over on top of him even though he’s a small guy and everything like that, but the thing is he’s gonna get the answers and this is the fastest way he can.’
Ed- Right. So in a way it’s almost like you’re a little overqualified to play Amos because you can do more than that, like you could do something that’s more choreographed and more strategic in that way and you’ve done it before in other films like The Philly Kid.
Wes- Yeah, correct. But I always want to use that physical expression – relate it in a way that’s honest from the character.
This has been the most collaborative type of show that I’ve ever been on.
Ed- So you mentioned something interesting while you were answering that – you pointed out to one of the directors is that Amos wouldn’t do a certain thing, and I’m curious to know more about that. How do you and perhaps even the other cast members interact with the directors, especially given that you’re driving your characters and you’re more familiar with them? How often do you feel like you need to say ‘stop, hey, this might be a little different’, or you think they might be coming in with the wrong idea of something – can you tell us more about that?
Wes- Yeah well, so we’re lucky now ‘cause we’re going into our fourth season and we’ve kept a lot of the directors that we really like working with, and we’ve worked with them over and over and now we all have kind of an understanding. And they also know that we spend day and night just thinking about our characters and what our characters would do, and they have the macro view of all the moving parts and set-ups and scenes and characters – they keep up with a lot of stuff, and we have to keep up with our characters and who our characters are, and especially with Amos – as you say – he’s very complex.
I work on the scripts ahead of time and then I’ll go have conversations and say ‘you know I think this is more honest and this is more accurate to who I am’, and then we talk about it and work it out, and then we make that happen. On this show, more than anything I’ve been a part of, this has been the most collaborative type of show that I’ve ever been on. So every Sunday we rehearse, and we go over the scenes, and we talk it over with the director and the writers and we kinda refine it. I think that’s been the show’s superpower – we come in on our days off and we really do the hard work of diving into the characters, and we even block it, we block the scenes.
So then we show up on set, the only thing that we’re doing is shooting the scenes, and we’ve already worked out the dialogue, we’ve already worked out the blocking. So then we go and we can really take our time and shoot the scenes. Whereas a lot of things I work on – you show up and then you talk about the scene, and then you talk about the dialogue, and then you get to shooting and you’re running out of time, and a lot of things kinda get rushed, and it doesn’t have the same quality that it could have if you did all that work ahead of time – and then when you show up, you’re just focusing on the best, most creative way to shoot it.
Ed- Yeah, this sounds like everybody’s dream project from what we’ve heard, I mean this is the same story we’ve heard from everyone – everyone loves working on this.
Wes- Yeah, it is a special thing, and that’s why we fight so hard to keep it.
Ed- So, on that topic – do you have any further aspirations in this field? Are you interested in being behind the camera or doing any writing, or if you’re fully committed to acting, are there any types of roles that you’re interested in going forward outside of The Expanse? What are your personal desires, what kind of characters are you interested in expressing outside of this, is there anything that’s kind of brooding in your mind in regards to that?
Wes- Yeah, so again like I said – I love story, I’m a huge fan of story, so I sit back and I think ‘what are the things that I’m interested in? What are my interests?’ And the reality is, it always comes back to story. I was a history major in school and even now I’m constantly reading history books. Right now I’m reading the latest Grant book, you guys read that?
Ed- Oh no, but we should. Yeah, we saw you were reading the Gulag Archipelago last year, we were gonna ask about that.
Wes- The reason that I think that I’m so drawn to history is because of the story, it’s just the story. And if you get a chance to read the Grant book, it’s phenomenal. It’s pretty spectacular, same guy that wrote the Hamilton book that the musical was based on [Ron Chernow]. And so I’m definitely interested in writing, and I love acting, I love writing – anything to do with this, I’m interested in. But you know, I think something that would practically happen is me writing my own story. And I don’t know yet if I would direct it, but I do think that writing is something that I’m interested in.
With the Gulag Archipelago, I read this book on Putin and I can’t remember the name of it, I think it was two years ago [The Man Without a Face by Masha Gessen]. Really great writer, it’s a great book. It was so interesting and so terrifying, but it went into a lot of Russian history and that area. So then I just got really interested in that and started reading a lot of stuff about Russian history, and Gulag Archipelago is just one of the books that I came across.
But even when it comes to sports, if you look at boxing or you look at MMA, what really attracts people to that is – there is the excitement of the violence and all that – but the reality is it’s the story. I mean, it’s a perfect scene, you know, there’s one guy on one side that has devoted his life and he wants to be the champion of the world, and that is his dream and he wants that more than anything; and then there’s a guy on the other side and it’s his dream, he wants to be the champion of the world. And the only thing in each other’s way is each other. And so they stand in the ring and if you have a connection to one of the guys, if you follow their story, if you listen to what they’ve been through to get to where they’ve been, then you are captivated, you’re glued. That’s what a great dramatic scene should be – you have somebody that wants something more than anything in the world, and then you have something in his way that’s very formidable. How is he gonna get what he wants? And then if you watch a boxing match, that is a perfect scene, and so that’s what I’ve always been interested in.
I think that this story deserves to be able to live at its fullest expression and its fullest potential. And I think that if it can, it can be something really special.
Kyle- Seems like [stage combat] performance is really your bread and butter, then; do you have any particular stories in mind along those lines that you’ve been thinking about writing or putting together for a while?
Wes- Yes, I’m always writing things down, and there’s a few things I’m interested in and I’ve thought about a few times. Making a short while I’m up here with some of the cast members just for fun, like getting together, you know? Jeremy [Benning] is my favorite DP [Director of Photography] – getting together, getting the equipment together and making a short while we’re up here, telling a fun story. But it’s interesting because when you talk about stories that I would like to tell, or kind of gravitate towards, I’m a huge Stephen King fan. I’m like, ‘what is it about him or his stories that I love so much?’ And I think it has something to do with this town that he always sets these stories in. The worlds that he creates these stories in are always really interesting to me. I like those Americana small towns where something supernatural or really scary happens in.
Ed- That’s fantastic. Alright, well I think it’s time we got out of your hair. Thank you so much for taking the time. This really means a lot to us.
Kyle- Thank you.
Wes- Oh man. I really enjoyed talking to you guys and I really appreciate all the support and love you guys give us. I hope we can continue this symbiotic relationship for many many years.
Ed- Oh yeah, for sure.
Kyle- Hopefully so. I will say, it’s especially cool from a fan perspective. This is just something that’s kind of unheard of – to see performers making such a direct effort to reach out to interact with fans. So on behalf of the entire fan community, thank you so much for being who you guys are and for taking the effort that it takes to do your very hectic job.
Wes- I appreciate it man. Thank you. And again, what’s interesting about this is that I’ve worked on plenty of other things where as soon as it was done, I’m done. I moved on, you know. But this is something that I’m a fan of, like I said earlier. Being a part of the world, it’s really kind of a special feeling. I think that this story deserves to be able to live at its fullest expression and its fullest potential. And I think that if it can, it can be something really special. And that’s what I’m fighting for – the ideal. That really special thing.
We want to thank Wes again for taking time from his very busy schedule to talk with us. It was great fun for us and we hope you’ve enjoyed the conversation as much as we did. Thanks for reading!