‘Snowpiercer’ Interview: Jennifer Connelly, Daveed Diggs and Graeme Manson

Snowpiercer Season 1
Daveed Diggs and Jennifer Connelly star in ‘Snowpiercer’ (Photograph by Justina Mintz / TNT)

TNT is set to launch Snowpiercer, based on the graphic novel series and Oscar winner Bong Joon Ha’s (Parasite) feature film, on Sunday, May 17, 2020 at 9 pm ET/PT. The post-apocalyptic sci-fi series was created by Graeme Manson (Orphan Black). Jennifer Connelly, Daveed Diggs, Lena Hall, and Alison Wright star in the television adaptation which is set in a world that’s become a frozen wasteland.

As season one begins, seven years have passed since Earth was last inhabitable outside the train. All surviving humans are housed onboard a train – Snowpiercer – that continuously circles the globe, perpetually in motion so that it doesn’t freeze to the tracks.

Series creator Manson and the season one cast took part in a panel and press conference at the 2019 San Diego Comic-Con (in the good old days before massive crowds were banned). Describing the difference between the TNT series and Bong Joon Ha’s film, Manson said, “The movie was such a terrific adventure story that started in the tail and charged completely linearly up to the engine. In the TV show, we’ve got to spend a lot more time in all of these classes and all of these worlds. So, we start our drama…you know, our heart is with the tail but we spend time in every single class, so we understand everybody. We understand first-class; we understand second-class, the workers, third, and the politics of the train. That’s where the juice comes from.”

Manson loved the feature film and wanted to keep the 2013 movie’s fast pace as well as its simmering sense of injustice when adapting it for television. “I wanted to keep the tone of the movie, but we needed to tell the story in all classes at the same time,” explained Manson. “But we are telling stories that we can relate to, to characters that we are not saying, you know, we’re not saying the first-class people are evil. We’re presenting them and they have their concerns and their fears, and people down the train have others.

The physical aspect of the film, in terms of the physical action, the fighting, the adventure, we really kept that, but we chilled. The show has time. Some of my favorite scenes are just between two characters, especially later in the season when we really got to know them. When these guys really inhabited the roles.”

Oscar-winner Jennifer Connelly’s character, Melanie Cavill, is described as the head of hospitality on the train. “I am in charge of smoothing relations on the train,” explained Connelly. “Mr. Wilfred is the engineer of this train. One of my responsibilities is to make sure his order is maintained. But as the season goes on, you realize I may have more responsibilities than we initially think. I certainly have a bunch of secrets and those become also revealed throughout the season.”

The series marks Connelly’s first major foray into television since 2000. The premise and the story were so compelling she knew this was a project that would allow her to really sink her teeth into a character. “I thought she was really compelling and complex,” said Connelly. “I like the idea of staying with a character for a longer period of time and getting to discover more about her.”

Connelly’s character is in a tough spot and, more so than other characters, is forced to make complicated and even controversial decisions as she attempts to keep the passengers safe and peaceful. Asked how Melanie manages to morally reconcile some of the decisions she must make, Connelly replied, “I think all of the characters find themselves in a very extreme situation. I think to survive and for ultimately the greater good, they find themselves doing things that they never thought were possible. That they never would have said on paper, ‘This is who I am. This is how I would behave.’

I think that Melanie has a lot of responsibilities and we come to understand over the course of the show how bountiful they are. She kind of has her back up against the wall and she does what she can. Sometimes she does things that she doesn’t want to look at – but ultimately she’s forced to look at – that she doesn’t feel good about. But I do think that ultimately her heart is in the right place.”

Grammy and Tony Award-winner Daveed Diggs (Hamilton) joked that his character’s the most distinguished gentleman on the show. “Andre Layton is a tailee. We’re a class of people who in order for a last-ditch effort for survival, raided the train as it was taking off. This was the Ark, right? This was the way to survive. We didn’t have tickets so to speak so we tried to get on there and we’ve been confined to the tail of the train but allowed by Mr. Wilfred to live as long as we provide some service to the train at times. But, conditions are not good.

We are sort of in the most impoverished section of the train. Layton’s skills as a police detective before the apocalypse become of particular use to Mr. Wilfred and to the rest of the train. So, he’s granted access up through all of the other classes. A big part of the show, at least for me – at least for Layton’s character – is getting to discover all of these new sections of the train that for seven years he had no idea existed. Folks in the tail have not seen the sunlight in seven years.”

Addressing the class issues and political aspects of the series, Diggs said, “I think with all good science fiction you should have some way of examining our present. That’s why we do it. And so, if you’re dealing with class, I think there is a responsibility to be trying to allow us to look at ourselves in a different way. Just the metaphor of Snowpiercer just by itself, the basic storyline about class in a linear structure, allows us to pick this idea of class up and look at it from the front and look at it from the back. Turn it over like you would a toy train set. That’s very useful.

I think what the show’s able to do is start there and run that even further and allow us to examine ourselves with proxies. That’s what art is for. You put all the weight of examination on somebody else that is not even a real person.”

The relationship between Diggs and Connelly’s characters drives much of the action in season one. Teasing what’s in store, Connelly said they started out leery of each other based on preconceived ideas and biases of who each other were, given the striking differences between the classes on the train. “I think both characters defy each other’s expectations in an interesting way as they come to know each other and explore each other,” said Connelly. “I think that’s an interesting process. The show kind of does that. It allows us to. At first, we judge characters and have certain ideas about who they are going to be based on what they look like or which car they’re in. The more time we spend with them, the more you understand they’re hiding these things that they don’t put forward first.”

It will be seven years into life onboard Snowpiercer when episode one debuts on May 17, 2020. While each of the main characters will be fleshed out over the first season, Manson warns not to expect a lot in the way of backstories to fill in the passengers’ lives prior to boarding the train. “I’m not a huge fan of flashbacks in general. Certainly with this story it didn’t feel right to flashback to, for instance, ‘Oh, here’s my family at the moment that we realized the world ended,’” explained Manson.

However, Manson said some of the backstory may be filled in via Miss Audrey the empath, played by Lena Hall. “We do have an element of more sort of internal, a little bit more ethereal sense. It’s more about memory and guilt. It’s less about flashback for plot.”

(Additional reporting by Kevin Finnerty.)