CS Interview: Steven Ogg Talks Snowpiercer Season 1
TNT’s adaptation of Bong Joon-Ho’s 2013 film Snowpiercer finally landed — you can read our review here — and to commemorate the event, we reached out to actor Steven Ogg, who discussed his role as “taillie” Pike, the show’s vast production, and how the series relates to modern society.
Set more than seven years after the world has become a frozen wasteland, Snowpiercer centers on the remnants of humanity who inhabit a perpetually moving train, with 1001 cars, that circles the globe. Class warfare, social injustice and the politics of survival play out in this riveting television adaptation based on the graphic novel series and film from Oscar winner Bong Joon Ho (Parasite). The series was renewed for a season two prior to season one airing. Production on season one wrapped and season two production is nearly completed.
Snowpiercer stars Oscar winner Jennifer Connelly (A Beautiful Mind), Grammy and Tony Award-winner Daveed Diggs (Hamilton, Black-ish), Emmy nominee Alison Wright (The Americans), Mickey Sumner (Frances Ha, Battle of the Sexes), Susan Park (Ghostbusters), Iddo Goldberg (Peaky Blinders, The Zookeeper’s Wife), Katie McGuinness (Dirty Filthy Love), Tony Award winner and Grammy nominee Lena Hall (Hedwig and the Angry Inch), Annalise Basso (Bedtime Stories), Sam Otto (Jellyfish), Roberto Urbina (Narcos), Sheila Vand (Argo) and Jaylin Fletcher (Saturday Church).
Snowpiercer is produced by Tomorrow Studios (a joint venture between Marty Adelstein and ITV Studios), along with CJ Entertainment, who produced the original film. The series is executive produced by Tomorrow Studios’ Marty Adelstein (Cowboy Bebop, One Piece, Hanna) and Becky Clements (Cowboy Bebop, One Piece, Hanna); showrunner Graeme Manson (Orphan Black), who wrote the first episode; director James Hawes (The Alienist, Black Mirror); Matthew O’Connor (Continuum, Tin Man); Scott Derrickson (Sinister, Doctor Strange), and the original film’s producers Bong Joon Ho, Miky Lee, Tae-sung Jeong, Park Chan-wook, Lee Tae-hun and Dooho Choi.
Snowpiercer premiered on Sunday, May 17, airing on US TV network TNT at 9pm ET/PT.
CS: What drew you to Snowpiercer?
Steven Ogg: I had seen the movie. I don’t know about right when it came out, but I remember the movie. I’m not a graphic novel guy myself, so I never had read those — I never gravitated towards graphic novels. I keep trying. They’re just not my thing. So, when the opportunity came to audition for it, like all of these jobs, they start with the audition. And I was fortunate enough to book it and, yeah, you start filming. A lot of the stuff I was looking up was more about isolation. I think I rewatched the movie just to get a sense of it, but it was more about I was curious. And Graeme [Manson] and I spoke a lot about, especially being in the tail — my character, Pike, is in the back of the train treated like an animal. The show opens up seven years into this journey of being in the back of the train treated like an animal. So, I was really curious as to how that affects people. You know, solitary confinement, prison, surviving. Those were the things I was sort of focused and looking at. How do people behave when they’re treated like an animal? Some people can lose it in a month! I have a panic attack in an elevator sometimes, so, imagine being on a New York City subway in the summer — it sounds absolutely so far-fetched now, doesn’t it? — but imagine being stuck on a crowded subway, 110 degrees, stuck in a tunnel. And now do that for seven years. That’d drive you crazy!
That was the stuff I sort of focused on and looked at and was curious to explore.
CS: From what I read they actually built different segments of the train and then combine them to allow you guys to run the length of it. Is that right?
Ogg: There was. The stage was enormous and there was quite a stretch of them. And they were freight cars. Especially in the tail, the details of the set were incredible. I remember the first day when you’re in it, and action gets called and you didn’t realize the train was going to be moving — like, it moves and shifts back and forth. All of sudden your lines go out the window and you stare at each other and you’re like, am I supposed to say something? I didn’t realize I was supposed to act and move. [Laughs.] That threw me off a bit.
I ended up finding myself walking — again, it just seems so eerie now when we discuss simple things like, when I was on a plane — but, you know, when you’re walking down the plane and you sort of, especially with a little turbulence and you’re getting back to your seat, you have your hands on either side of the luggage up above. That’s how I ended up walking along the train, just sort of having one hand up on the bunk beds to try to counter that shifting of side-to-side.
CS: You play Pike in the series. What is his role in the story and how does he fit in with the other characters on the show?
Ogg: Well, Pike is someone who had to, like everyone in the tail, they didn’t have a ticket. They couldn’t afford a ticket. So, when the train was about to depart, he was part of this group that rushed the train — the tail, they’re not bad people. They’re not criminals. These are just people that literally couldn’t afford the ticket. Or didn’t purchase a ticket but felt that, hey, this is Noah’s Ark. The world outside is ending. Why can’t I do it? Just because I don’t have the money doesn’t mean I don’t deserve to live. But then what happens is order is quickly, sort of — well, you didn’t have a ticket, so you guys belong in the back of the train. And [these people are] kind of kept like prisoners. Like animals. And those people then become some of the working force. So, you know this whole class issue, right? In the front of the train you’ve got the rich people eating sushi, and then you’ve got the people in the back of the train that aren’t bad people, but what happens when you cut people off? When you feed them literally bug bars, they’re freedom is taken — everything is taken from them and they’re treated like animals. Well, if you treat someone bad, they’re going to maybe start acting bad. And Pike is, you know, one of those that thinks, hey, how come they have everything? And we are literally treated like gum on the bottom of the shoe. This needs to change. And again, after seven years, people are going to — if one thing doesn’t work, you try another. And sometimes one thing leads to another. And after seven years you’re maybe going to take some extreme measures. Not because that’s who you are as a person, but because desperation leads to desperate times, right?
CS: So, do you think Pike at this point cares more about revenge, or helping others find a better life in the tail section?
Ogg: I think Pike has some issues spelling team. He’s not sure if team is spelled with an i or with an e. So, I think he vacillates between surviving just for himself and possibly surviving to help other people. It changes for him. He tries different things and they don’t work and patience is running short. He’s getting a little fed up.
CS: Did you come up with Pike’s back story before the events of the show, or was that something that was already in the script?
Ogg: There’s certain things you think of. There are certainly aspects where you think, what exactly did he do? And those are just things as an actor you enjoy doing. But, at the end of the day, does it change how you drink your coffee in the morning? Not really. I think one behavior informs where one came from. And so you it’s how you act — also, it’s been seven years. Obviously things have changed. So, yeah, regarding — it was like the Walking Dead. With Simon’s backstory, you can create all sorts of things. And you can write them down in your actor’s journal, if you wish. But at the end of the day, I sort of like to live in that moment. That present time.
CS: Ok, so in the present, what do you think about the dynamic between Pike and Layton? Do you think Pike trusts him?
Ogg: There’s certainly a little back and forth with Layton. Again, dealing with seven years together — it’s like prisoners living in the same room together for seven years. There’s going to be ups and downs. There’s going to be, well, let’s try it your way for a little bit. Well, that didn’t work. Now, lets try it my way. So, with Layton, at times it’s called frenemies. They love each other. There’s respect. But its also like, no. I don’t agree with you.
CS: Do you think there’s a an argument presented by the show that this type of order is justified, or necessary?
Ogg: No, I understand. Desperate times, desperate measures. When people are backed into a corner, some people curl up in a fetal position and fall to the floor. Some people fight like mad. I think I completely understand how people can go a bit crazy. Again, that was my research, looking at solitary confinement, looking at survivors — people who are isolated. What isolation does, which, curious enough, now, as we what’s happening as we’re isolated, some people can’t take it. Going back to the beginning of the COVID, where there was a lot of that going around. Our grandparents had to go to war. All you’re being asked to do is sit on the couch. And people are going crazy — I gotta go back out, you can’t tell me to stay home! It’s like, what? Relax, man. Be by yourself. Look how people have reacted in this circumstance when you can still have your freedom. You just can’t go out and do what you used to do and people are already going nuts — I can’t stay inside for another day. What? In your house or in your apartment? How about being in a cell? You can see how people react?
CS: That is interesting. And then you throw in the stuff about the different classes.
Ogg: Well, that’s certainly what interested me. The haves and have nots. And that’s always been the case. The inequality in the world is incredible. You know, there’s climate change and all these other things we can find similarities or analogies with. For me, the biggest is inequality. There are people who have everything and people who have nothing. Why can’t we distribute that a little better? It is sort of a socialist thing, and maybe being a Canadian, that’s my meaning. That’s the whole idea of taxes, which is tough to see, because if you pay all this tax you want to see a road that doesn’t have potholes. Or, I want to see education for everyone. And I think that I’m more attracted to within Snowpiercer. The idea of the haves and have nots and how do we have more equality and a little more democracy. And does it take force? Or can you achieve democracy peacefully? That’s interesting. And as we’ve seen in many situations throughout the world, different people do it differently.
CS: What are you most excited for audiences to experience in Snowpiercer season 1?
Ogg: It is just a very fun, exciting ride. It is escape, right? This isn’t a documentary. It’s something we can just escape into. And like I say, what people can take away from it — something of quality and goodness. If you can feel inspired to then turn and make someone else’s day better, that’s the greatest gift. I listen to a lot of “sad music.” And people are always like, why do you listen to sad music? And I’m like, it’s not sad to me. It’s really beautiful and high quality. So, I take that quality and in turn pass on that high quality, if that makes sense. That’s where I hope Snowpiercer — because it’s such a fun, great ride with so many wonderful, talented people — that people don’t look at it like it’s depressing, or that it’s about this or that. But just enjoy it so much that they then wish to enrich their own lives and make someone else’s life better by upping the quality or raising the bar.