New York Comic-Con welcomed the cast and creator of TNT’s new Snowpiercer series to the Hammerstein Ballroom on Saturday afternoon. Back in 2013, revolutionary South Korean director Joon-ho Bong (Okja, Parasite) translated acclaimed French graphic novel Le Transperceneige into a groundbreaking post-apocalyptic adventure film starring Chris Evans. From that, Graeme Manson (Cube, Orphan Black) created the new TV series, which will debut on TNT in the Spring of 2020. The story of a globe-spanning train with 1001 cars carrying the remainder of humanity after a climate-change disaster is rife with socio-political and class commentary and deals with many issues facing the world of today.
Hammerstein Ballroom was packed to meet Executive Producer Manson and his amazing cast, which includes Academy Award winner Jennifer Connelly (A Beautiful Mind), Tony winner Daveed Diggs (Hamilton, Blindspotting), Steven Ogg (The Walking Dead), Mickey Sumner (Frances Ha, American Made), Alison Wright (The Americans, Castle Rock), Tony winner Lena Hall (Hedwig and the Angry Inch), and Sheila Vand (A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night). At the panel, they gave us their characters and backstories as well as their placement on the Snowpiercer train. Further back you are, the lower the class and moving up is very difficult.
Diggs plays Andre Layton, who has spent the last seven years in the “tail” of the train. When there’s a murder on the train, his position as “last living homicide detective” comes into play. He’s partnered with Sumner’s Bess Till, a Brakeman, or member of the train’s police. Vand portrays Layton’s ex wife, who moved up to the train working in the Nightcar, a sort of bordello/cabaret ran by Hall’s Miss Audrey. Steven Ogg is Pike, a volatile gang leader in the tail, and a dramatic opposite of Jennifer Connelly’s Melanie Cavill, the politically savvy Head of Hospitality and Wright’s Ruth, who is Melanie’s right-hand woman.
We got a chance to speak with these amazing actors about the show, what drew them to it, episodic TV versus film, and the social issues the show tackles. The eight-member Snowpiercer group were divided into four pairs for the roundtables.
Steven Ogg & Lena Hall
Geeks of Doom: Steven, you had a very successful run [as Simon] on The Walking Dead, and now Snowpiercer. Is there something about the post-apocalyptic genre that appeals to you?
Steven Ogg: Yes, I only do post-apocalyptic projects. No, I don’t even think about that. Even with Snowpiercer, I don’t think of it as post-apocalyptic strangely enough, anymore than I consider it science fiction. Same with The Walking Dead. But that’s because I never got to f*cking kill zombies, I was always with the Saviors. It’s funny because both of them happen to be, but I don’t view either of them as such, does that make sense? I see them both as these humanitarian stories of people surviving in the world and that just happens to be a post-apocalyptic one.
Lena Hall was asked about how much of herself; i.e., the stage star, musical performer; did she get to bring to the role of Miss Audrey since she runs this cabaret-style train car.
Lena Hall: Oh yes, I got to bring a lot of Lena Hall to the cabaret. When we filmed the original pilot back in the day, I was a different character and when Graeme came on board, they researched me so instead of slotting me into a character, this time the character was built for me. They saw my career and said, ‘Okay she’s definitely going to sing and wear amazing clothes’ and she’ll be this grand madame of the train. The Nightcar used to be a brothel, but now it’s a safe haven for everyone to come and heal, so I’ve become to be the empath of the train, the one who takes care of everyone and the one who knows everything about everyone. It’s cool that I got this opportunity. They looked at me and said okay, let’s tailor this to you, which is awesome.
Jennifer Connelly & Daveed Diggs
Geeks of Doom: You and your husband [actor Paul Bettany] were both in the MCU in different roles. Snowpiercer started as a graphic novel. Do you read them and were you familiar with the graphic novel before taking the part?
Jennifer Connelly: I wasn’t, I was familiar with the film version of it, but I wasn’t familiar with the graphic novels when I first read the script. But then I went back and read them and thought they were really interesting.
Daveed Diggs spoke about the complicated views of political and economic systems that the show gives, from democracy and monarchy, capitalism and communism, and how the characters are trying to recreate society.
Geeks of Doom: Blindspotting was an amazing film that dealt with various socio-economic and political issues. While the issues are different, Snowpiercer also is chock full of social commentary. Is this something you look for in the projects you choose; a way to explore social and political themes?
Daveed Diggs: I think the thing we tried to do in Blindspotting and that I look for in all material is something where we remove ourselves from the concept of dichotomy, where there’s only two sides on an issue. I am attracted to things that trust an audience to be smart enough to not preach at them and to allow people to live complicated, full, difficult lives like we all do. And to trust that the politics of the show or the film will reveal itself and be okay with dissent. Not everyone is going to feel the same about Jennifer’s character. We don’t all feel the same way. I probably only like three out of the five of you if we got to know each other. But she probably likes the other two. Those are things that attract me in projects, those that don’t tell me how to feel.
Connelly delved into the complex morality of Melanie, describing her as not a “moustache twirling villain,” but as someone who has to make hard decisions for the betterment of everyone on the train.
Jennifer Connelly: She [Melanie] wants humanity to survive. She makes mistakes and has to confront those mistakes and figure out how to move forward, and that’s where I think she becomes very interesting as a character.
Graeme Manson & Sheila Vand
Geeks of Doom: Graeme, you obviously have a long career writing, producing with Orphan Black was a huge success. On Snowpiercer, you’re the showrunner, you’re producing, and you’ve written episodes. Which hat, aside from the one you have on, do you enjoy wearing the most?
Graeme Manson: I’m a writer. Showrunning is a different term on every show, it doesn’t even exist as a credit. I have to have a strong producer/director like James Hawes. I worked in the art department, so I know production, I’ve done it for years. But I feel my strongest game is in the writer’s room and that’s where I really like to be. I show-run from the writer’s room. Though I am around all the time.
On what drew them to the project:
Graeme Manson: I thought it was really fresh and when I heard there was a possibility of making the show, I went back and rewatched the movie, and then picked up the graphic novels, which I had not read thoroughly. As I began to reabsorb the material, I began to really want this job, and I was not looking for another TV job. I was taking a break, living in LA for the very first time. But it’s the material, its Snowpiercer, and I thought a cast with these guys was a gift.
Sheila Vand: I love genre stuff like science fiction and fantasy. As a performer, part of the reason I became an actor was to disappear and escape into other worlds. I love naturalism too, nothing against naturalism, but I think we get enough of it in our lives. For me I was really excited about the idea of doing something that was a genre type film or show. I love the movie as well. I love camp and how colorful and vibrant the tone of the movie and the show is. It gives you a little more liberty to be more theatrical as an actor instead of doing the kitchen sink drama. It’s fun to have a world where there’s so much action and romance and philosophy and it lends itself to juicy drama. And the cast is amazing. I’m a huge fan of Jennifer and Daveed and was really excited to get to work with them.
Graeme Manson: I could see how moving around the train and the different classes, you could really do a mash-up of tones and I love mash-ups. I love to be able to do gory, tear-jerking drama, great twists, and action and this one could really support all those things. It could support a tone that’s very complex
Alison Wright & Mickey Sumner
They both mentioned how the script was the most important thing:
Geeks of Doom: Was there something specific about the writing that drew you to this show?
Allison Wright: Well, you always want to work on something you feel has brains behind it ideally. Writing, stories, relationships, real drama, that’s what you want.
Mickey Sumner: Also, entertainment that is reflecting the world we’re living in today, which is a society that is fraught with challenges. I was a huge fan of the movie and that was a big reason I was so excited to audition for this show. The script was very powerful though.
Geeks of Doom: Mickey, as a police officer or a Brakeman on the train, did this role require you to use physicality, was there a lot of stunt work?
Mickey Sumner: Yes, I had a lot of stunt training, which was always a dream of mine. Working with the stunt coordinators and I had an amazing stunt double, who was very generous and patient with me. I was learning how to use a baton and hit people and an axe. I got to do all the cool stuff. It was a real training feat, so I’m proud of that.
Snowpiercer comes to TNT in the Spring of 2020 and based on everyone’s enthusiasm for the project, I can’t wait. Graeme Manson has a history of success in TV and the cast features stars of films, TV, Broadway, and more. As many of them alluded, the world is dealing with many of the issues their characters struggle with in the series, making this a show well worth seeking out. Check out the trailer here below and check back at Geeks of Doom for episode reviews next Spring.