“It’s not just a climate disaster; it’s a manmade climate disaster made by global warming and then an attempt to reverse global warming.” This is how showrunner and Executive Producer Graeme Manson explains what caused the polar apocalypse that turned the last of humanity into refugees living aboard a massive 1001-car train perpetually circumnavigating the globe in TNT’s upcoming series Snowpiercer.
Viewers may remember the eponymous 2013 film from director Bong Joon-ho, but they may not be aware the story is based on the French graphic novel Le Transperceneige from author
Jennifer Connelly stars as Melanie Cavill, the head of hospitality on the train. “She is quite literally the voice of the train, makes the announcements, the daily announcements, is there to sort of make sure things run smoothly and order is maintained,” Connelly explains. “But she’s also someone who is harboring a secret, and that will become divulged over the course of the season. And we learn that things are more complicated than they may seem at first.”
Connelly, a veteran of genre film, says she doesn’t treat science fiction or fantasy roles any different from straight dramas. “The characters are real no matter what the genre. So it’s kinda playing Melanie in this world or playing her right now in New York City, it’s the same character.”
It’s the transition from film work to television that’s unusual for Connelly. “The pace is different,” she says. “Also the fact that the document is evolving as you’re working. You know, you’re doing film and I mean there are revisions but pretty much you have a document. That’s it. You have a script. You’re shooting a script. And, you know, new pages will come ahead. But this, whole scripts are coming in, and you’re learning new things about characters and new plot points. So that’s a different process.”
While the story of Bong Joon-ho’s film takes place about fifteen years into life aboard the titular train, the show begins only 7 years into the voyage and only 7 years in our own future. “It grounds the whole thing. It doesn’t feel futuristic; it feels like these are people from our society who boarded this train to be the last survivors, Graeme Manson says. “So it’s visceral, and it’s immediate.”
Class differences, central to the graphic novel and film, are also at the forefront of the show with the wealthy first-class living in the front cars of the train and the underclass residing in the tail. Pike, played by Steven Ogg, is among those living in the tail. “I guess he’s a bit of a s--t-stirrer, somewhat,” Ogg says of Pike. “He likes to stir the pot. But I think he’s also one to believe that there’s the haves and the have-nots, and we’re the have-nots; why can’t we have more of what’s up there? So I think he’s pretty hungry to get a bit of a better life, if not for everyone in the tail, certainly for himself.”
Ogg is no stranger to navigating post-apocalyptic worlds. He’s most recognizable as Simon from The Walking Dead. “I think a lot of these characters – Pike and Simon – it’s more an actor’s choice to portray them with as many different angles as possible without knowing where they’re going. I didn’t know Simon was going to introduce Negan, and I didn’t know what was going to happen. So I portrayed him with as many sorta angles. And Pike is similar to that too, not knowing where he’s going to be or go other than I’m in the tail. Let’s put as many different colors out there.”
The story of the show begins with a murder. Daveed Diggs plays Andre Layton, a passenger in the tail of the train who was a homicide detective before the world ended who now plots revolution onboard Snowpiercer while being recruited to solve the murder. “I think that the breadth of that leads to coming into all sorts of conflicts with everybody else on the train,” Diggs says. “And who can you trust? And who is your real family? And these are all the questions that Layton is asking himself throughout the season.”
His work solving the murder teams Layton with Brakeman Bess Till, played by Mickey Sumner. “A brakeman in Snowpiercer world is essentially a train cop, so it’s my job to keep order and be of service to Wilfred’s law,” Sumner explains.
Already a huge fan of Bong Joon-ho’s work including the Snowpiercer film, Sumner was thrilled to land the role, where she also gets the opportunity to pay homage to another of her favorite films. “I have a favorite place on the train, which is the noodle bar, which is a real homage to Blade Runner, that scene where Harrison Ford is sitting there eating noodles. And I have that moment myself with noodles. And the scene on this train, it’s just such a beautiful homage. I’m a big Blade Runner fan. “
Another member of the train’s establishment is Ruth Wardle, who in some respects will be most reminiscent of Tilda Swinton’s character in the film. Ruth is Melanie’s right hand in the Hospitality Department. “Ruth is responsible for keeping the first-class passengers happy and dealing with any problems that they might have,” her portrayer Alison Wright says. “In a way, she’s having a great time on the train, and life is much better for her than it ever was before. And sometimes she’ll push that a little too far, that fact. You know, she’s enjoying what she has on the train and the little bit of power that she has.”
Tony Award-winning Lena Hall plays Miss Audrey, the madame of the Nightcar, the train’s cabaret and brothel. “I was a performer, and I have this amazing ability to kind of read people’s minds,” Hall says. “It’s not a totally psychic connection but it’s an empathic connection to people like a therapist but more of a holistic type of thing.”
“The original purpose of the train was, like, a luxury liner, and it wasn’t initially meant to be an ark, the end of the world but it became the ark. So my original job of providing, you know, the brothel services and just the entertainment has expanded to actually being the empath and helping people through their pain of everything they lost in the old world and having to live in confined quarters of a train – no matter where you are on a train, being there for years is still difficult. So, you know, I’m able to get people off the train in their mind.”
Hall says she would love to do a musical episode, especially since there are a number of Broadway performers on the show, but she doesn’t know how the writers would justify it within the story.
Rounding out the cast is Sheila Vand, who plays Layton’s wife who stowed away with her husband on the train but managed to escape the poverty of the Tail to work uptrain in the Nightcar. “My character begins to explore different relationship dynamics like polyamory and different ideas of what even love means to her and relationship because she came on the train married, a very monogamous situation,” Vand says.
“I think it’s the third graphic novel, in the preface, the writer wrote to Rochette, the artist, to ask what makes a great Snowpiercer story,” recalls showrunner Graeme Manson. “And I don’t have that quote here, but it’s essentially was like, it listed the political struggles of peoples, about migration and immigration and the threat of nuclear power, disaster, and went through all these things. But then it said, at its heart, it’s a hardcore action/adventure story with the hope of a better world.”
Snowpiercer premieres in Spring of 2020 on TNT.