With the fearful, apocalyptic feelings associated with today’s coronavirus pandemic, it at first might not seem like the ideal time to premiere a series like TNT’s Snowpiercer, a dystopian sci-fi thriller set in a devastated postapocalyptic world.
But with movies like Contagion and Outbreak — which eerily parallel our battle against a life-threatening virus — being some of the most-streamed movies by viewers these days, there seems to be a cathartic release, and some hope, to be found in watching fictional characters fight against dire situations, as is the case with Snowpiercer.
“I think art is useful in a few different ways,” offers Daveed Diggs, the Tony-winning star of Hamilton who headlines Snowpiercer and thinks the series has a vital place, especially now.
“One of those ways,” he continues, “is that, particularly with science fiction, if we use it as allegory for [our real world], it allows us to externalize it a little bit so that we can comment on it, so that we can have conversations that don’t feel as personal. But we can still talk about the things that are going on in our world. That’s one of the great functions of science fiction.
“The other [thing] about Snowpiercer,” Diggs adds, “is it’s actually really fun. … There’s a ton of really propulsive storytelling.”
The storytelling in Snowpiercer is indeed as propulsive as the super-train of its title. The series is based on the 1982 French graphic novel Le Transperceneige and the 2013 feature film adaptation Snowpiercer. That movie was cowritten and directed by Oscar winner Bong Joon Ho (Parasite) and starred Chris Evans, Tilda Swinton, Octavia Spencer, Ed Harris and John Hurt. Diehard fans of the cult classic should feel comfortable knowing that Bong is onboard as a producer of this series, even if there are necessary differences.
According to Diggs, “I would say [the series] borrows more heavily from the graphic novels but also diverges from there, too. It is its own Snowpiercer story. … I think fans of both [the graphic novels and the movie] will find it, I hope, highly respectful or even reverential of the original.”
Snowpiercer is set seven years after Earth has become a frozen wasteland. The gigantic Snowpiercer train has been created to house the remnants of humanity — or at least those privileged enough to be allowed aboard — and now perpetually circles the globe.
Those on the train also include the less privileged who managed to fight their way onboard before it departed, and who now spend their lives locked in the train’s Tail, far away from those enjoying life in First Class.
When we meet Diggs’ character, Andre Layton, he is among those in the Tail. In his former life, Andre was a homicide detective. Now, as apparently the last surviving person with such skills, he is brought uptrain by the leaders of the Snowpiercer to help investigate a murder.
While Andre is “a staunch supporter of the Tail,” according to Diggs, and does not want to leave the others behind, he is not given much choice by those at the front of the Snowpiercer.
Among those powers-that-be is Melanie Cavill (Oscar winner Jennifer Connelly), the train’s Head of Hospitality whose deceptively soothing voice is regularly heard over the train’s PA system.
As with Andre, we get glimpses of who Cavill is, and the secrets she may be hiding, in the first episode. Diggs explains that as the series progresses, more about them and other characters will be learned.
“We do dive into the past a little bit,” he says, “but there’s a method that I think is really smart by which Snowpiercer deals with flashbacks, and it has to do with this idea that one of the unifying factors between classes on the train is that everybody there has experienced trauma [following the end of the world]. There’s a kind of healing that needs to go on for that, and there are folks who are responsible for that healing. That process is how flashbacks are dealt with.”
As a major character itself, more of the Snowpiercer is also slowly uncovered as Andre discovers other parts of the train during his investigation. And it’s not just the detective who is impressed as he explores this wider world — Diggs, too, was amazed at what the series’ set designers kept coming up with.
“Oh, man,” recalls the actor. “The train keeps revealing itself. It’s pretty incredible, really, as an actor, because the production design is kind of fantastic. So, you would walk into these spaces just like, ‘How did you do this?’ … It felt like every week I would show up and see new cars. I mean, to the point where they kept having to add more stages.”
While Season 1 of Snowpiercer was completed before the pandemic shut down many TV productions, filming on the second season was suspended. But Diggs says, “We were almost done, so I’m not super worried about [finishing Season 2].”
In the meantime, he assures viewers that Season 1 offers “great action sequences, and espionage and mystery. I do think it will be enjoyable for folks. Also, we may be inside for quite a while. You’re going to want to watch everything at this point.”
Snowpiercer premieres Sunday, May 17, at 9pm ET on TNT.