Snowpiercer: Working on Mister Wilford’s Train

Alison Wright’s and Mickey Sumner’s characters are employed aboard the titular train on Snowpiercer with different levels of devotion.

Ruth and Till in Snowpiercer
Photo: Justina Mintz / TNT

Life aboard the titular world-circling train in TNT’s Snowpiercer may be centered around the need to survive in a frozen, apocalyptic future, but the day-to-day life of those on board is more focused on bringing meaning and fulfillment to a claustrophobic existence. Alison Wright, for example, plays a hospitality hostess who is faithful and confident that the eternal engine designed by Mr. Wilford will always provide, and Mickey Sumner is a brakeman who acts as a cop-like enforcer of rules that she never bothered to question. The two actors spoke to us about their roles and how their characters’ loyalties will be tested in very different ways when the show premieres on May 17, 2020.

Wright’s character Ruth is not only thankful for her life aboard the train; she dedicates her time to making sure others are comfortable as well, especially those in first class. “Ruth is quite a zealot for Mr. Wilford,” Wright says. “She’s a big fan of his and feels eternally grateful that he’s managed to keep her alive and everybody else alive. She’s very proud to work for him, very proud to wear the teal uniform, and very proud to keep law and order for him. Life is actually a little bit better for her on the train than it was before. So things are going pretty well for her.”

Brakeman Bess Till, according to Sumner, also starts out in Snowpiercer as someone dedicated to her job. “She’s very much a part of the brakeman uniform. She does what she’s told; she enforces the law,” says Sumner. “But before the freeze she was a rookie cop in Detroit and I think never really fulfilled her cop dream. Then she comes on the train as a sort of kind of cop, but I think there’s a sense of pride that she was one of the true cops on the train. Not a lot of the other brakemen came from [a law enforcement background].”

The catalyst that changes everything in Snowpiercer is former detective Andre Layton, played by Daveed Diggs, who comes forward from the impoverished tail section to solve a murder, but Wright cautions viewers against seeing that mystery as the central conflict. “It’s just an element of the story that’s not something that’s going to be the structure of the story for the entire way. I think it’s just a way into a story and perhaps a great way into how we police the train… There are many different levels of security and enforcement on the train, and I figure the murder mystery is a great way to meet a lot of characters quickly.”

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Because of Layton’s devotion to justice, Brakeman Till forms an affinity for him that she and her peers haven’t felt for the non-paying stowaways in the tail during the many revolutions of the train’s journey in Snowpiercer. “He sees her, and it ignites a place in her where she remembers maybe what the true sense of being a cop is, like who you’re in service to,” says Sumner. “For seven years she has been in service to this machine that maybe she hasn’t been treating people quite as nice as she should.”

Wright admits that it’s not as easy for Ruth to accept the changes that are in store on Snowpiercer, not just because of Layton but because of the unconscionable idea that someone would murder a fellow survivor in this apocalyptic time. “It really throws everyone into a bit of a tizz because… we’re not supposed to be killing each other. This is not the deal,” says Wright, almost in Ruth’s voice. “And everyone’s been — apart from the tail that shouldn’t be there in the first place — everyone’s been following the rules.”

Sumner concludes that the message of Snowpiercer with its haves and have-nots is particularly relevant in today’s world and should draw in potential viewers. “I think that these are the stories that should be told right now. There is a sharp reflection of what society… is struggling with right now, and we do have a class warfare happening in society,” Sumner says. “Those are the stories as an actor that I want to be part of, whether or not my character does things that I maybe do not agree with. That’s another thing. But I think being a part of something that is bringing up topics that are vital for us to discuss and try and heal and work out, you need to have a place to have discourse and discussions.”

Whether audiences will see Snowpiercer as the place for that discussion will be revealed once the series premieres at 9pm ET/PT on May 17, 2020 on TNT. The story doesn’t even end after the ten-episode first season either! The show has already been renewed for a second season, giving potential fans plenty of reasons to come aboard and enjoy the ride.