Talk about sheltering in place. Consider the premise of TNT’s new sci-fi drama series, “Snowpiercer” starring Daveed Diggs.
Set several years after an apocalyptic climate event turned the world into a frozen wasteland, 3,000 human survivors find themselves isolated on a massive, perpetually moving train.
Suddenly, being quarantined in your home doesn’t seem all that oppressive.
But will audiences gravitate to a postapocalyptic saga at a time when they’re experiencing their own hardships amid a global pandemic? Daveed Diggs, who stars in “Snowpiercer,” is anxious to find out.
“It’s hard to say. Who knows what people want in these uncertain times?” he said. “ … At least there’s enough action in this show to keep it escapist for the audience.”
Brett Weitz, general manager of TNT, TBS and TruTV, sounds confident that the time is right.
“People are home watching television,” he recently told Variety. “They want an escape, and they want entertainment. No matter what’s happening, people want that disconnect. Although this is a far-fetched premise, I think in this day and age it’s become a little less far-fetched but still an escape. People will want to sit back and watch with more of a moment of acknowledgment and a sense of understanding because of what we’re all dealing with right now.”
Based on a series of graphic novels and a 2014 film adaptation directed by “Parasite” Oscar-winner Bong Joon Ho, “Snowpiercer” dabbles in class warfare, social injustice and the politics of survival. Wealthy citizens enjoy lives of luxury at the front of the train’s 1,001 cars. Meanwhile, the poor are forced into squalid rear compartments by armed guards. Naturally, tensions simmer between the haves and have-nots.
For Diggs, the Oakland, Calif., native who gained fame as a Tony-winning member of the original cast of “Hamilton,” this marks his first lead role on a television series. It’s a major commitment he didn’t take lightly going in.
“I’ve done a lot of recurring TV roles where I can come and go,” he says. “The world (of ‘Snowpiercer’) is expansive enough to where I wouldn’t feel pissed off if I had to live in it for a helluva long time. The story can go a lot of places. It gives you enough to chew on.”
Diggs plays Andre Layton, one of the have-not “Tailies.” But when a grisly murder happens, Melanie Cavill (Jennifer Connelly), the powerful head of hospitality, enlists Layton to help solve the case. He, after all, was a Chicago homicide detective before the second ice age hit.
The assignment allows Layton to have access to the other classes on the train for the first time. Not surprisingly, he doesn’t like the disparity he sees.
“He’s a guy who rides super-tough for his community. He always feels in service to the tail,” Diggs says of the character. “As his morality is challenged, he’ll be forced to make some really hard decisions and will have to deal with the effects of those decisions forever. I love that he’s not left off the hook.”
“Snowpiercer” has had a tumultuous journey to its premiere. In the works since 2016, the series went through two showrunners and jumped networks, going from TNT to TBS and back to TNT. Despite the behind-the-scenes drama, it already has been renewed for a second season.
Diggs insists he wasn’t bothered by the delays.
“One of the good things about my personality is that I’m incapable of worrying about things that aren’t my job,” he says. “And through it all, my job didn’t change. I continued to show up. … But it did feel a little weird to be working on a second season while not knowing if anyone watched the first.”
The “Snowpiercer” cast and crew were just a couple weeks shy of wrapping season two in Vancouver, B.C., when production was halted due to the coronavirus outbreak. In those early days of the pandemic, Diggs experienced some “fear and anxiety” as his normally hectic schedule ground to a halt.
“I spent a lot of time in bed and that’s very unlike me,” he recalls. “I felt, at times, like my heart was racing too fast. … I had to grant myself permission to stay in bed and give my body the rest it needed. I’m in a very productive period right now, but I had to wait to get there.”
Thanks to the doors opened by “Hamilton,” Diggs in recent years has had the opportunity to work on a variety of showbiz projects — “trying everything” in the process. The pandemic, he says, prompted “a lot of self-reflection,” and he’s determined to emerge from it with a more selective approach when it comes to his work.
“I want to do the things that feel good to be doing — even if it means doing less,” he says. “And I’ve become much more concerned about who I want to create art with.”
Among the projects he’s involved with is a Starz TV series inspired by “Blindspotting,” the acclaimed 2018 Oakland-based film that he wrote, produced and starred in with his lifelong friend, Rafael Casal. Diggs also provided voice work for “Central Park,” an animated series debuting in late May on Apple TV+, and for “Soul,” the next feature film from Pixar.
But wait, there’s more. Diggs will play the legendary Frederick Douglass in the upcoming Showtime miniseries “The Good Lord Bird.” He’s also writing a feature-length screenplay, while finishing off an album with Clipping, his experimental hip-hop group.
“I’m just trying to find things I can do to spread joy and keep spirits up,” he says.
(Article written by Chuck Barney)