For those of us who have been following the development of a Snowpiercer TV show, the behind-the-scenes drama has been just as potent as what might appear on the screen (showrunners in and out, moved networks, etc). The TNT (and briefly TBS) series is based on both Bong Joon-ho’s 2013 film starring Chris Evans, and the original 1982 French graphic novel Le Transperceneige. The series will reboot the film’s timeline and start seven years after the Earth has ostensibly been frozen over, killing all life except those who managed to board a perpetually-moving global train, the Snowpiercer, with its 1000 self-sustaining cars. When the Snowpiercer first embarked on its journey, those who were not rich enough to afford tickets overwhelmed the back of the train and fought their way onto it, becoming third-class citizens in this strange ecosystem. The series starts when Layton Well (Daveed Diggs), a “tail-y,” is brought to First Class to assist in a murder investigation, where he meets the voice of the train’s PA system and head of hospitality, Melanie Cavill (Jennifer Connelly)—an experience which changes them both.
Today during the TCA panel for the TNT series, the cast and showrunners were ready to move past the show’s rocky start. “It takes a really long time to make really good shit,” Daveed Diggs said, adding later that “I’m from the theater world, five years is not that weird” regarding development. “It took a long time to get it right, and we got it right,” showrunner Graeme Manson concurred.
Still, there were a lot of questions about the iterations the show has gone through in those intervening years, with Manson confirming that nothing that is in the premiere (which was available to screen, though not available yet to review) was in the original pilot. Alison Wright, who plays a member of the train’s hospitality staff, noted that “it was also huge to shoot the pilot twice, and get another go. That was pretty exciting.” Again, while that’s not uncommon in the theater world for there to be tweaks after previews, it’s pretty unusual in TV.
Jennifer Connelly added, “for me they’re separate projects, so this is just this iteration of this project. There’s the long process of filming, but really this is what I think of as Snowpiercer, which is this version, which you all will get to see soon. I was excited to be part of it and talking to Graham and hearing his ideas, and I think he’s done amazing work keeping all of these ideas together and moving forward.” The cast has also remained the same throughout the process of developing the series, which they said has brought them close together—contractual obligations aside. “I love this group of people. We haven’t seen each other in a few weeks and I’m just so giddy to be around these guys again,” Diggs said.
Manson did reveal that some of the actors had been moved into different roles from the original pilot, but didn’t specify who or in what capacity. “That takes a lot of trust and I appreciated landing with this group of people,” he said.
As for the actual filming and the logistics of a show that takes place inside a 1,000-car train, Manson said that the cars used as sets were built on airbags or wheels, so that grips could jostle the carriages back and forth during filming. “It’s part of the kinetic energy of the whole show, that the sets really define this whole world. It’s a big frozen train!” Connelly also expressed her surprise at the “rich and complex” nature of the sets, while Diggs shared “you spend a lot of time as an actor thinking about what your secrets are,” and that having a secret in the tail is basically impossible in that confined space. “It informed a lot of my choices, that this privacy didn’t exist.”
While we may see some flashes of these characters before their time on the train, the season will really be focusing on the leads and the changes they go through during this time. As Connelly said about her character, “in Episode 1 [she’s] very different from the person you know at the end of the season. What she’s been hiding, what she’s been carrying, what she’s been compartmentalizing” because of her relationship with Diggs’ character, she’s forced to confront choices that she’s made—who she is and who she has become. “It’s a gradual process that’s also not entirely linear, and I found it a very rewarding process, going through that, and watching that character unfold.”
For those wondering about the amount of cannibalism as was teased in the movie, Diggs joked saying, “there’s never enough cannibalism for cannibalism fans. Like it’s sprinkled in to the show but… it’s not the main thing.”
Manson said that the pitch that sold him on the project was that even with all of these complex themes—class struggle, politics, nuclear war, eugenics—“above all, don’t forget that it’s a hard-hitting action adventure.” With, you know, a little cannibalism sprinkled in.
Snowpiercer premieres Sunday, May 31st on TNT.
Allison Keene is the TV Editor of Paste Magazine. For more television talk, pop culture chat and general japery, you can follow her @keeneTV
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