Awards Daily chats with Academy Award winner Jennifer Connelly about playing the not-so hospitable voice of the train, Melanie Cavill, on TNT’s Snowpiercer.
The world is a frozen wasteland, and the only people left are the passengers on board Snowpiercer, TNT’s new series based on the 2013 film from Academy Award winner Bong Joon-ho (Parasite).
This series is filled with awards favorites, including Tony Award winner Daveed Diggs (Hamilton), Emmy nominee Alison Wright (The Americans), and Academy Award winner Jennifer Connelly as Melanie Cavill, voice of the train who communicates everything with passengers except one huge secret.
Melanie is ever-present on the show, even when she’s not in a scene, and Connelly’s cool, calculated delivery lets you know she’s always up to something even when she appears to have everything under control.
Connelly has had a long career that’s dabbled in science fiction, including films like Labyrinth, Dark City, and most recently Alita: Battle Angel, and I chatted with her about what drew her to Snowpiercer and what it was like playing a character we haven’t seen her play before.
Awards Daily: I know Snowpiercer was held up from being released for a while. What’s it like finally seeing it get an audience?
Jennifer Connelly: I’m excited to see the whole thing finished myself! I really look forward to watching it.
AD: Does it feel like seeing it new like everyone else?
JC: It is seeing it new, because I haven’t seen the whole finished season. I saw some cuts of the episodes, but they weren’t completed when I saw them. So I’ve never seen the fully completed season. So I’ll be watching it as its airing.
AD: Were you a fan of the film before doing the series?
JC: I thought the film was great. [Bong Joon-ho] He’s a great director. I thought the film was really interesting. I really enjoyed the show. And then before we started working on it, I also spent some time looking at the graphic novel, which I thought was also really interesting. The material that the show is based on is really compelling and intriguing.
AD: Yeah, there are so many options for story lines!
JC: Yeah. And I thought there was room. Exploring it in this format, I thought it was a really good format to widen out the exploration of the materials. I thought there was definitely more to explore there.
AD: There’s a huge twist in the first episode about your character, which I loved. That you’re Mr. Wilford. What do you think this says about society, that a woman would have to pretend to be a man to gain authority?
JC: I thought about that, but in this case, it’s a very specific person for a very specific reason. So I’m not sure it’s really a comment on those gender roles in this instance. It really is that particular persona that everyone expects to be at the helm. And for a very particular reason, that you will learn about later in the season and into the second season, she has changed the course and taken matters into her own hands, let’s say. (Laughs) So I think it’s more about that particular person and why she made a decision. To have him at the helm was not an acceptable future for this train and she was going to take matters into her own hands. And the way that she goes about it, that was curious to me. She found herself in a position she hadn’t anticipated being in and playing a role she doesn’t really have experience with. She kind of improvising and trying to devise ways to get this particular job done. I think the person we first meet is this adopted persona. She’s a character she’s decided to play. It takes some time during the course of the season for us to learn who she really is. She’s been wearing this persona for so long and forced to make so many choices along the way in this role, that I think she’s gotten further and further away from the person she actually is. The first season is kind of this process of discovery, even for herself. She’s trying to get back to the person that she truly is.
AD: That makes perfect sense. You say she’s improvising, and she’s so calm and composed with the stuff she’s hit with. You never think she’s panicking.
JC: No, I don’t think of her as someone who panics. She’s someone who’s rational and logical and she’s a really strong thinker. She’s able to really compartmentalize her emotions, for the most part. I don’t mean she’s running around making stuff up arbitrarily, but the role that she’s playing, this isn’t her life’s plan. This is something where she made a choice and the role that she’s playing in hospitality, is a device. She’s using it as a way to achieve her goals. She’s had to figure out how to do that, play this role over these few years since she’s been on this train, these last seven years. And it has been seven years, so it’s not we’re catching them five days since departure. She’s had time to settle into it.
AD: I don’t think we’ve seen you play a villain before. And while I wouldn’t say Melanie is necessarily evil, she doesn’t appear to have much empathy for the people in the tail. What’s it been like playing a character that’s an anti-villain?
JC: I had a great time playing her. I think she’s a challenging character, cause at times there are things that she does that are really morally questionable. (Laughs) By anyone’s standards. But ultimately even by her own, there is a reckoning that I was alluding to earlier. Daveed’s character Layton is really the catalyst for her reckoning and her relationship with him. It was really interesting, but I like that she’s pretty surprising and complicated. She is different things at different times. Again, I think she really is compartmentalized. Everyone who got on this train had to leave everything behind. Everyone has suffered loss, and we don’t find out what hers is until much later in the season. I think it’s really had a toll on her and it’s really her drive to accomplish what she set out to accomplish together with the loss that she suffered has really distorted the person that she’s become. At certain times, her behavior is monstrous, but I think that’s something that she has to come to terms with ultimately.
AD: You’ve done science fiction throughout your career. Are you drawn to these types of parts? And if so, why?
JC: In the instance of this show, I thought that through a sci-fi lens, you are able to tell a very human story about the struggle to survive and find meaning and find love. But it’s done in this really fun and entertaining and stylish way. At face value, it’s this fun show that has some deeper things to talk about. I like that about sci-fi.
AD: This one feels very current and it’s coming out at the right time, when people are sheltering in place.
JC: The issue of confinement is definitely pretty topical right now. (Laughs) The people on Snowpiercer have all been separated from their communities, the lives that they lived, the places they loved. I think we’re all living a version of that right now.
AD: Your character wears a lot of that turquoise color, that looks so much like what the commanders’ wives wear on The Handmaid’s Tale. Is there something specific about that color that says evil? Or can we imagine that maybe this is a post-Handmaid’s universe?
JC: That was the color of the hospitality uniform. I never heard anyone mention The Handmaid’s Tale, so I don’t think there’s any direct reference to it. I think it might just be a coincidence. It’s an interesting teal. For me, it always reminded me of the Aer Lingus uniforms more. (Laughs) That’s where I went in my mind.
Snowpiercer airs on Sundays on TNT.