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YOU can be for­given for get­ting the wrong idea about new drama se­ries Hell On Wheels.

Per­haps the ti­tle con­jures images of a se­ries about the tor­tur­ous Tour de France. Or a re­al­ity show about a para­chute pants-wear­ing bo­gan who gets his kicks from drop­ping donuts in his low­ered Com­modore.

On the con­trary, Hell On Wheels is a crit­i­cally ac­claimed pe­riod drama about the con­struc­tion of the rail­way through the wild west of Amer­ica.

It is a bru­tal post-civil War saga that in some ways re­sem­bles the renowned Dead­wood. There is plenty of vi­o­lence (in­clud­ing scalp­ing), drink­ing, sex and greed.

Mixed up in it all is a young Ir­ish im­mi­grant Sean, who has his ini­tially naive sights on achiev­ing ‘‘ the Amer­i­can dream’’. It is a plum role for Ben Esler (pic­tured), who was raised in the Melbourne sub­urb of Tem­plestowe.

‘‘ The first au­di­tion for it, I re­mem­ber just sit­ting in a wait­ing room with lots of other Ir­ish-look­ing guys,’’ Esler says.

‘‘ I just went in there (to au­di­tion) and did my best.’’

Esler, 29, back home for a break be­fore re­turn­ing to Canada to be­gin work on a sec­ond sea­son, spent many years per­form­ing bit parts in shows in­clud­ing Blue Heel­ers.

His stocks sky­rock­eted af­ter he scored a key role in the $200 mil­lion Steven Spiel­bergTom Hanks war se­ries The Pa­cific, which was filmed in Australia in 2007. Esler played gun­ner Chuck Ta­tum, whose real-life mem­oirs were used as source ma­te­rial for the show.

Hell On Wheels is be­ing pro­duced by US net­work AMC ( Break­ing Bad). ‘‘ AMC make shows that push the en­ve­lope — they get away with a fair bit,’’ Esler says.

‘‘ One of the big sto­ries in the show is about racial prej­u­dice and be­ing a black man in Amer­ica fig­ur­ing out what his life is go­ing to be like poste­man­ci­pa­tion. How real his prospects are.’’ Hell on Wheels, FX chan­nel, Sun­day, 7.30pm

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