Interview (Part 2 of 2): ‘Snowpiercer’ Stars Stay On Track To Survive!

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Snowpiercer, Alison Wright, Daveed Diggs, Jennifer Connelly, Mickey Sumner, Lena Hall, Steven Ogg. Sheila Vand, NYCC
Image: Robin Marchant/Getty Images for WarnerMedia Company

Snowpiercer plowed it’s way through the Jacob Javits Center earlier this month when stars from the post-apocalyptic series hit the stage at New York Comic Con to discuss their take on the frozen tundra that has taken over the world.

“Set more than seven years after the world has become a frozen wasteland, Snowpiercer centers on the remnants of humanity, who inhabit a gigantic, perpetually-moving train that circles the globe. Class warfare, social injustice and the politics of survival play out in this riveting television adaptation.” – Source: Collider

Fan Fest News media consultant Brian J. Cano had the opportunity to participate in four roundtable interviews with the stars from TNT’s Snowpiercer. Check out what actors Lena Hall (Miss Audrey), Stephen Ogg (Pike), Sheila Vand (Zarah) and showrunner Graeme Manson had to say in part two of our coverage.

Interview 3: Lena Hall and Stephen Ogg

Snowpiercer, Lena Hall, Stephen Ogg, NYCC
Image: Robin Marchant/Getty Images for WarnerMedia Company

(Interview begins with crosstalk about fashion.)

Lena: Honestly this outfit is really cool because it’s by a company called Private Policy and they’re huge fans of Snowpiercer, and this is one of the pieces that they had designed… a whole line based on Snowpiercer.

Media: When’s that coming out?

Lena: It’s out. Yeah, they are huge fans.

Steven: We’re talking about a fucking outfit again?

Lena Hall: Yeah, they’re huge fans of the show… Private Policy. Huge fans of the show.

Steven Ogg: I get anxiety now because with The Walking Dead we could all just look homeless and dirty and filthy.

Media: You have a Negan beard now.

Steven: It’s quite large. But the show, everyone is so stylish. I start to have anxiety the day before [shooting] about what to wear. It’s the coolest looking fucking cast. Right?

Lena: You’re pretty cool looking. It’s the beard, but the beard is the outfit. You don’t need much else other than the beard.

Steven: But as far as wanting to dress up or wear something, everyone looks so cool.

Lena: It’s cool because [on] the show, as you go through all of the classes, everybody’s wardrobe is very vastly different. So like the people in the tail are… they’re in rags.

Steven: In rags.

Lena: They wear the same thing all the time. Then, third class, it’s more like what you would find… like H&M, like a Forever 21. Then as you keep coming up… everybody in the first class is completely luxuried out and fabulous and jewels and they’re just wearing all their amazing stuff all the time. So, it’s interesting to see what they’ve done as far as the costumes are concerned. Like how to tell the story from the back to the front and then you have a bunch of people who are wearing their uniforms because they work on the train.

Steven: Yeah, I loved that.

Lena: The uniforms are pretty cool looking. So, the world that they created… there’s so much to find. If you just go slowly with the sets and are able to pause and really look at what they’ve done with the sets and how creative they’ve been, I mean there’s so much there. It’s like Easter egg town.

Media: Can you talk about how fear plays into the dynamics of the Snowpiercer and how your characters are affected [by] or use that fear in their day-to-day existence?

Steven: I think the fear, probably where I am in the tail, is much different because it’s much more of a prison survival, starving situation. So that’s sort of a tangible fear because you’re literally in this prison, so the fear is palpable. First-class? I’m not sure what they’re fucking scared of. Not getting filet mignon again tonight? I don’t know.

Lena: Well, their fears are more like, “Is the train going to stop running one day? Are we going to freeze to death? Are we ever going to be able to get off the train?” What would be] the fear of the third class? I don’t know because you have so much to do, I would imagine that those who have more time to think about things would have larger fears. Right? The people in the tail, they don’t have anything to do because they’re stuck in the tail.

Steven: But survive.

Lena: The people in the first class, they don’t do anything because there are all these people doing everything for them, working the train. And so, they have time to fear and think about “Is the train going to stop? And what are we going to do if we’re ever able to get off?” or “Are we going to die? How do I protect all my stuff?” Right? Even though my train is really glamorous and I have a very glamorous life, I am still a third-class working citizen. My job is so important and so constant that I don’t have time to think about, except for when something directly threatens us. I don’t imagine that I’m thinking about the same things you were thinking until something happens in the show that flips everything on its head.

Media (Brian): So, as actors portraying roles in a world that has been previously glimpsed into with the movie and the book, how much of yourself, how much personal ownership of the characters do you get to work into them? How much Ogg comes through, how much Lena comes through when the director goes, “Yeah, we’ll keep that.”

Lena: I’m lucky because the character is written for me. So basically they researched who I was, and they designed it around what I do best. So I really got to bring all of myself to this character. I mean, I’m not the empath that she is, and I certainly don’t possess any of the abilities as far as that’s concerned. Sure, my friends like to talk to me, but I’m pretty harsh when it comes to telling them how to deal with their situations, unlike her. And she’s very helpful.

Media: I was lucky enough to see you on Broadway. It was fantastic. I’m very happy to find out that you’d be singing. When you said you they created this role for you, can you give us a little bit more?

Lena: Using my voices is a way to deeply connect with people. It’s almost like having a superpower. When she sings, she can deeply connect with people that way.

Steven: That’s literally her job on the train.

Lena: Yeah. Pretty much. So I feel the same way, as far as when I sing and do Broadway and perform. I feel like it’s my personal way of being enlightened or closer to whatever bigger thing is out there and being able to connect with people that way. It’s like an emotional connection. Maybe auditory, but it’s more emotional than anything. Yeah.

Media: Steven, to me you’re one of the most underrated actors. I was really glad how the doors opened for more roles. I’m curious, do you consider Trevor or Simon to be the role that really led you to get recognized?

Steven: I guess obviously the video game brought maybe more people recognizing and, I mean, they both didn’t hurt, they’re both pretty large visible projects. They both obviously helped. I know Scott Gimple was a fan of the video game, so that certainly got his eyes open to me on that. Every project, every job helps.

Media: Is that how you two connected? He play GTA and heard your voice?

Steven: Well, no, I auditioned for the show. But afterward, I found out that he was a fan. So yeah, you never know where that stuff… Did you see Chernobyl?

Lena: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Steven: Right? And so, the writer and producer on that, I had met, and he was a huge fan of GTA. We’ve been wanting to work together and I was like, “Wow, fuck.” So it’s pretty wild what people gravitate [toward] and recognize you from. So it all helps that for sure. The recognition or notoriety helps.

Media: So, we know about Audrey that she’s obviously, like you said, an ear to people on the train, a confidant. Do you think that will maybe put her in a precarious situation, like having all this dirt and secrets on people?

Lena: For sure. But she’s kind of more in control than one would think. Right? Because she’s holding all the cards essentially. She can go either way, she could alliance with one or the other. So that’s the cool thing about her is that she is literally Switzerland. The night car is literally in the middle of the train. Everyone from third, second and first comes back to the night car. Everyone’s in there mingling in this spot. It’s also kind of a conflict. “Do I take a side or do I stay in the middle and allow things to work themselves out?”

Interview 4: Shiela Vand and Graeme Manson

Snowpiercer, Sheila Vand, Graeme Manson, NYCC
Image: Robin Marchant/Getty Images for WarnerMedia Company

Media (Brian): Usually a trope of good fiction, good sci-fi, is that it subtly, or sometimes overtly, says something about the world we live in, the culture we live in and I’m sure there will be a lot of people eager to draw comparisons. So as the showrunner, are you looking to work that in? or is it just like, “Hey, I’m making some good fiction and if it lines up, cool.” What’s your goal?

Graeme: No, definitely working to have the sci-fi reflect ourselves and our society. With the baked-in themes of Snowpiercer, you don’t have to try that hard. It’s the big pressing issues of the day are in high relief on the train, you know… immigration, detention, class, all built on this horrible foundation of climate change. To me, the most important brick in this building is that the people we meet on that train… the world they left seven years ago was this world today, right now so they’re very recognizable in their guilt for destroying the world. Everybody’s carrying their own bit of that guilt. I think that we should all feel it. If we’re not feeling it, if you’re not feeling it now, you’re asleep.

Sheila: Yeah.

Media: You mention talking to climate scientists as research. I’m curious, how did that form the show? Specifically what concepts or ideas of how the future will work did you factor into making the series?

Graeme: We wanted some reality as to how it happened, what would happen, what happens at temperatures that are literally 117 degrees below zero. It doesn’t snow anymore. There’s not enough moisture for precipitation. There’s a certain scientific veracity that we wanted, but also, what kind of changes will the planet be going through during the course of the series? So, yeah, a lot of questions around that, you know. Also, if the world ended, would satellites still work? And they were like, “Yeah.” So, we’re like, great, we got satellites, okay. Lots of little discoveries like that working with those guys. We’ve also consulted with train engineers. Driving a train is the most complex thing that you can imagine. You need a degree in physics. It’s super complex, driving a train. Being able to pull and push and all that stuff. So things around veracity are part of the fun of the research, really.

Media: Do you send the whole cast with you? You’re talking now about operating a train….

Graeme: Oh no. That’s really for the writer’s room. That’s really like consulting with some people about, you know, “Okay, so how do you drive a train?” What’s the basic physics and what is the basic motion of a train? That stuff tends to then simmer down and find its way into the scripts and into the dialogue and stuff.

Media: Do you believe in the Stanley Kubrick style, you take as many shots as it takes to get that perfect take? Or because of time and money, you can only take one or three? 

Sheila: Yeah. If only we had Stanley Kubrick time.

Graeme: It’s television. So you have to know when to fish or cut bait. One of our challenges is there’s a lot of action and we can’t ever forget to tell the story underneath that action. When we go into scenes [where] set pieces are big, where directors and crews can get lost in the minutia of the technical aspects of the shots, and the action, and the throws and the kicks, and the spin kicks. I’m always like, “Let’s just remember to get the story.” Right? Underneath that. We’ve had really good incoming directors, that really falls on them. That’s my conversation with the director before when we’re looking at this whole thing. It’s like, “Okay, we’re all set technically, let’s just remember what we’re trying to say, what the characters need to go through during this sequence.”

Media: How’s the show going to be broken down? You have so many characters, classes and all this. Are you going to have episodes that cover different areas of the train? Are you going to have stand-alones that are maybe just a one or two-person story?

Speaker 3: So far each episode carries a number of threads and we visit all classes, every episode basically.

Media: How is it to balance all that?

Graeme: Super hard.

Sheila: Fun as an actor, though, because there are so many characters in this world. Three months would pass and I meet an actor for the first time who was in the show like, “Oh my God, I’ve never met you before.” That’s how it is on the train. There are parts of the train you will never have seen or gone to because it’s that big of a world. It’s fun as an actor when you actually get to feel like, wow, it’s so giant that I don’t even know the whole cast. Sometimes on my off time, I would just sort of explore the other sets or like, “What does first-class look like?”, you know or, “What does this person’s office look like?” It’s a labyrinth in there. It took me almost the whole season to just find my way around all of these studios and sets because it’s so massive.

Media (Brian): Watching the movie that obviously has a beginning, middle and end, do you forecast [the series] like, “Hey this is going to be a five-season run for me to tell the stories?” or are you just keeping it open-ended to, “Hey, let’s tell as many tales as we can?” Do you have it forecasted that far away?

Graeme: Sort of try to work in three acts. I tend to think of them, and this is what we did in Orphan Black, too… never knowing how many seasons you’re actually going to get, [we try to] work really good cliffhangers that nobody could cancel a show on.

Sheila: Start at the cliffhanger and just work backward.

Graeme: Like we’ve got to drive the whole thing off a cliff so we don’t get canceled.

Media (Brian): With a train, that’s going to be some real ending.

Graeme: But yeah. What was the second part of the question?

Media (Brian):  I think I went off a cliff too. (laughs)

Media: So BBC American comes out with an annual study about female representation in sci-fi and I’m wondering if either of you could talk about some of the things in Snowpiercer that kind of defies stereotypes when it comes to female characters in this particular genre.

Graeme: Good one.

Sheila: We have a lot of strong females.

Graeme: Can’t spoil. But you know, like…

Media: Well, [could you] talk about something that we did see at the panel. The sequence of the battle scene, for instance. You know, it was kind of murky and went really quickly, but it seems as if it’s not going to be a situation where, you know, women and children first. It’s sort of like a free for all for everyone, in terms of the action in the battle scenes. If you can talk a little bit about, maybe anything in terms of interpersonal conflict or power struggles that sort of stand out from maybe some of the other things that you see in the sci-fi genre.

Graeme: I often love pairing unlikely characters together and that’s especially a lot of fun once you start to get to know your past and you’re a little deeper into the show. So putting Wright and Jennifer (Connelly) together… gold. There’s a fun balance of putting strong females against other strong females and then putting them against the male characters as well. The Daveed Diggs-Jennifer Connelly story… that is a fraught relationship that goes through some very unlikely twists. They are enemies and they’re more than that.

Sheila: I think another thing that might make it a little different, too, is that it’s set in the near future in that way where like we’re still human beings and like you said earlier, recognizable ones. When the world ended is basically the world we know today. So the relationships are still very grounded and human, even though the circumstances are so heightened and more surreal, I suppose. But it’s not set so far in the future that there’s like an entirely new vocabulary for relating to each other. They’re sort of transitioning into that new relationship dynamics.

Graeme: It’s that the world that they’re all grieving is this world today, ours. Which makes it feel really just real and grounded for an audience.

Sheila: They still remember all that they’ve lost, as well. So it’s like there are real relationships with who’s there on the train now and the relationship with your past. Because it’s only been seven years, I feel like it’s such a good amount of time… it’s not so long that you’ve forgotten what you’ve lost. Also not so new that you’re just getting used to the train, they’ve sort of started to evolve to it.

Media: Do you think this will scare the shit out of some people and serve as a wake-up call? It seems no matter what is said, there are deniers and the political lines are drawn and then they’re like, “I don’t believe anything on this side of the line.” Do think you’ve approached it in a way that will hopefully, you know, maybe enlighten some people and plant the seed?

Graeme: I hope so, but at this point, there’s no point in even contending with a climate denier. I’m done. I won’t countenance their bullshit. So we shouldn’t. I just hope that the show does make people think and that the actors reach out and that the audience will feel this loss, feel this trauma and feel it sitting in your own living room. You know, look outside because it’s going.

Look out for Snowpiercer speeding your way springtime 2020 on TNT!

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