All Aboard Snowpiercer

A Talk with the Stars of the Epic New Netflix Series

Ever wondered what a post-apocalyptic world existing on a train, 1001 cars long, would look like? A world where class divisions and the conflicts that ensue seem so familiar and similar to those in our current reality? Then, Snowpiercer is the ride you don’t want to miss.

Snowpiercer is Netflix’s latest series based on the 1982 French graphic novel, Le Transperceneige, and the 2013 South Korean-Czech film, Snowpiercer, directed by Parasite’s highly praised filmmaker, Bong Joon-ho. Through a fun, epic – but dark and twisted – adventure, the series explores serious themes, like classism, capitalism and the unfair distribution of resources, as well as climate change and quarantine. It stars Academy Award-winning actress Jennifer Connelly and Tony Award-winning actor Daveed Diggs, while renowned Canadian screenwriter/producer Graeme Manson, the creator of the 2013 fan favourite series Orphan Black, is its Executive Producer and Showrunner. eniGma’s Mohamed Hesham got the chance to intervew Manson, Connelly and Diggs about this hot new series.

Daveed Diggs & Jennifer Connelly

Graeme Manson (Showrunner)

Graeme Manson on set with Jennifer Connelly

The premise of the series seems incredibly timely right now. How would you say the series is relevant to what is happening around the world?
I really wanted the kind of sci-fi that Snowpiercer is, to feel relevant. We purposely set the events in the story just seven years from the end of the world so that it would feel fresh and everybody would still be grieving, so you try to write something that is rubbing against the zeitgeist. I find that if you try to write about universal political themes, in this case inequality, revolution and resistance, it’s always going to feel relevant. To have a story about class divide, I think it will definitely affect people. I also hope that the underlying theme of climate change remains very important. I hope that no one forgets that emergency.

How would you say the series is different from director Bong Joon-ho’s film?
One of the first things that struck me in director Bong’s movie is the clear theme of class divisions. Then I went to the graphic novels as well, and they also have strong political themes. But over the several books of the graphic novel series, we actually meet different sets of characters and we ride different cars in the train; so it gave me the sense that there were as many Snowpiercer worlds as there are cars in this train. And a television series could do what it does best, which is to dig deeper into the characters and spend time with the people in every class.

There are a lot of different elements and fun stuff that you’re playing with, like the murder mystery on the train. What propelled you to have this storyline?
I think that it’s pretty cool that Layton is the last homicide detective on earth, and much like the movie, it allows the audience to move up the train and see it through this character’s eyes for the first time. It’s a familiar sort of trope to get audiences into the show in the beginnings of a murder mystery, while what the show really is about, namely resistance and revolution, unveils. We found that a good way in for a television audience is through something that feels familiar but can gradually deviate.

Jennifer Connelly (Melanie Cavill)

Jennifer Connelly & Alison Wright

There’s more to your character than meets the eye. How would you describe Melanie and her journey this season?
She has secrets. I think that she’s not the person that we think she is when we first meet her. She’s playing a part. She’s very complicated, challenging and surprising. I think at a certain point in this first season, she realises she’s not the person she always thought she was or wanted to be either, and she has some sort of a reckoning. All those things come to the surface ultimately. And a lot of it happens through her relationship with Layton. He’s kind of the catalyst that forces her to confront these parts of herself.

Some might describe Melanie as a villain while others would argue that she’s trying to save what’s left of the human race. How would you describe her motivations?
I think that people will be divided in their feelings about her. She presents herself in different ways, and like a lot of people, she’s neither one thing nor the other. Especially at the beginning of the season, she’s someone who’s been kind of distorted by this experience. She put some things in motion and she’s had to make choices. These choices, together with the loss that she experienced when she boarded the train, forced her to bury so much of her own humanity, to the extent that she’s become single minded in her focus. I think it has really distorted her personality, which made her quite fierce.

How did you connect to such a layered character? Would you say you have something in common with her?
I don’t necessarily try to find myself in the characters that I’m playing. I try to understand them and the choices they are making rather than try and fit them to who I am. It’s a process of really investigating where they’ve been, their point of view and their perspective. I think I have some things in common with her though. I think that she’s a pretty restrained and disciplined person, and I think that I have those characteristics, but she’s much more extreme.

This is your first time working on a television series in 20 years. How would you say television has changed since 2000?
So much has changed in these 20 years in television and in the way that we watch it. I think it’s a great time for television, especially as there’s a lot of really interesting material on TV right now. Also, many more of us are watching great dramas and great comedies at home, rather than going to theaters. That has impacted the industry, and there’s a lot of exciting talent working in television now. It’s where a lot of the great directors, writers and actors are working. I was personally excited about this opportunity and I enjoyed it so much. I like the process of doing television this time around.

Daveed Diggs (Andre Layton)

How did you prepare and connect to the character of Layton, a former homicide detective, but also the leader of a rebellion?
What I thought was really interesting about him was how this job gave him a particular set of skills that helped him be effective as the leader of a revolution. It also gave him a particular stride of empathy, one where he is really concerned about the wellbeing of his community. I think he is driven by a lot of character traits that come from the fact that he is a detective, like being almost too singularly focused sometimes. He’s trying to gather information, but when he gets entangled in this case, his instinct is to try and figure out how to throw a successful revolution.

What was it like acting opposite a seasoned actress like Jennifer Connelly in such intense confrontational scenes?
She’s better than me (laughs). It’s intimidating, but also I loved that. I love working with people who do stuff that I don’t really know how to do yet. She’s so prepared and she manages all this real subtlety on camera. I would watch her very closely, because we’re different actors with different styles, and there was so much to learn from her. She’s really brilliant and has a way of just dropping into a moment, and that is something that I’m going to work very diligently on.

What was the biggest challenge for you in portraying this role?
For me, the hardest thing was finding how much emotion should exist at every given point, because there were times where my character was feeling too much (laughs). It’s a very emotional journey that he’s on. But he’s also so careful about what he shows. That to me actually was the trickiest part. And when you’re working with science fiction and fantasy, it can kick into melodrama pretty easily. It’s a tricky line to walk. I’m not sure I succeeded, but fortunately, we have good editors who cut away if I get too weepy (laughs).

Mickey Sumner

What is the biggest lesson that you hope people take away from this show?
Mostly, I hope people have a good time. We could all use a little entertainment right now. And on top of that, I think this show brings up a few interesting questions about how class relates to resource scarcity and whether or not a certain rigid class structure allows for the best sharing of resources. I think that is something we’re going through right now. So, I hope that while we’re having fun, we also take a little bit of time to reflect on who is thriving and who is not, and who is really not being served by our systems.