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SYFY WIRE Snowpiercer

Snowpiercer arrival time revealed, cast talks putting frozen dystopia on rails

By Tara Bennett & Benjamin Bullard
Snowpiercer poster featuring Jennifer Connelly and Daveed Diggs

Snowpiercer blew down the tracks at the Television Critics Association press tour Wednesday with news of a long-awaited premiere date for the dystopian, ice-bound thriller — plus a cargo hold full of neat insights from the cast and creative team. SYFY WIRE was there, making sure not to miss a stop as the cast talked about how the new show will stand apart from director Bong Joon-ho’s well-received 2013 movie of the same name.

With TNT revealing May 31 as the arrival date for the long-gestating series to finally pull into the station, executive producer Graeme Manson noted the Snowpiercer we’ll be getting this spring has gone through a transformation from the earliest days of its conception as a TV show — and he thinks it’s all the better for it.

“It had a really long birth,” said Manson. “I’m a huge fan of Bong and the graphic novels. It took a long time to get it right — and we got it right.”

Daveed Diggs (who plays Layton Well, one of the stratified society’s oppressed prisoners) agreed, confessing that “it takes a long time to make really good s***,” and adding that “five years is not long to develop a new piece of theater, if you want it to be good.”

Snowpiercer Premieres May 31 | TNT

A focus on practical effects to move the action forward meant the cast spent less time in front of a green screen background than fans might expect. “I almost never saw a green screen,” said Diggs.

Manson went on to explain the thinking behind Snowpiercer’s elaborate, carefully constructed world: “It’s not a show where they have to work in front of a green screen all the time. It can be what’s out the window, or the grand look at the post-apocalyptic world outside.”

He added that the show has undergone such substantial change in its famously back-and-forth development process that there’s little, if any, old footage left from the original pilot, shot two years ago from a script by former showrunner Josh Friedman. “I don’t think there’s any,” said Manson. “A little piece of a SFX set piece, but a full rebirth of the series [happened] when I came on. I pitched a different world.”

From the sound of things, it’s a world that isn’t short on TV-friendly visuals. Sure, Snowpiercer touches on some heady topics, from class warfare to environmentalism to the power of the state — but at the end of the day, it’s still a show about a hugely colorful cast of characters struggling to make the best of the post-apocalypse, while never getting to catch their breath aboard a speeding train.

“I was pretty impressed by the scope of our sets,” said Jennifer Connelly, who plays first-class passenger Melanie Cavill, whose voice reaches every passenger as the train’s public address announcer. “There’s great diversity and variety from car to car. For me, the more surprising aspect was how rich and complex the sets were.

“For my character you meet in Episode 1, [it’s] very different from the end of the season,” she added, hinting at how the story comes into focus as the season rolls along. “You come to understand what she’s been hiding and compartmentalize — her relationship with Layton and who she was and who she’s become. It’s not entirely linear, and I found it a rewarding process.”

“One of the first things we did was get to know all of the classes in the first couple of episodes to create an actual character drama,” added Manson, “so we can understand life in first, second, third class, and the tail.”

Set more than seven years after Earth has transformed into a frozen wasteland, Snowpiercer follows the remnants of humanity as they survive aboard a perpetually-moving train that circles the globe. In addition to Connelly and Diggs, Season 1 of TNT’s futuristic thriller stars Alison Wright, Mickey Sumner, Susan Park, Iddo Goldberg, Katie McGuinness, Lena Hall, Annalise Basso, Sam Otto, Roberto Urbina, Sheila Vand, and Jaylin Fletcher.

Snowpiercer steams into the station with its debut episode at 9 p.m. ET on Sunday, May 31.