It’s odd to talk to actor Daveed Diggs about his new series, “Snowpiercer,” in the midst of the global pandemic. The series, an adaptation of Bong Joon Ho’s 2013 film of the same name, sees a group of people separated by class living on a globe-spanning train as the outside world endures below-freezing temperatures. Distinguishing the series from the feature is a murder mystery that compels hospitality overseer Melanie Cavill (Jennifer Connolly) to enlist the help of a tail section member, former homicide detective Andre Layton (Diggs).
A series steeped in economic disparity, isolation, and climate change feels even more timely given our situation, and Diggs is well aware of it.
“It is very hard for me to sit here in my recently purchased house with a pantry full of food on quarantine,” Diggs said. “It’s caused the actor to think how his actions could affect other people and how scarcity is being portrayed in reality.”
It’s one of the benefits of working on “Snowpiercer” and showing audiences the cycle of class disparity.
“If I watch the politics of scarcity acted out on a TV show and it’s not me, I can look at that and say, ‘Hmm, this is wrong,” Diggs said. “‘The way that the distribution of resources is enacted in the world is wrong and I do have a choice; I participate in that.'”
Diggs said it does make him more apt to use his privilege and resources to donate to organizations helping those less fortunate. It also illustrates the need for art as a lens. “The reason why we make art [is] to examine ourselves in a way that allows us to be entertained as well because we’ll get the message,” Diggs said. “That is a little bit easier to swallow than being preached to.”
The series completed its first season before the global pandemic shut down productions; Diggs said he wasn’t sure how far work had progressed on Season 2, which was greenlit last year.
Real-world issues aside, the journey to screen for the “Snowpiercer” has been fraught. The initial pilot, directed by Scott Derrickson and Josh Friedman, was never released and several cast members were either replaced or recast.
Diggs calls it an “interesting journey, because there was a different interpretation that I said yes to,” but isn’t interested in comparing the new series to what could have been. “They’re totally different takes on how to go about making the series” he says. “I loved the original one [and] I love this one.”
This new direction brought its detective story and Layton as a modern-day Phillip Marlowe. Diggs said he’s always been a fan of detective stories, particularly classic Hollywood films noir like Humphrey Bogart’s “The Maltese Falcon.” However, his favorite television detective remains Peter Falk’s “Columbo.”
“I used to watch ‘Columbo’ with my mom growing up, and I still love that show,” he said. However, the most apt comparison for “Snowpiercer” may be another long-running detective: Angela Lansbury’s “Murder, She Wrote.” As Diggs points out, stories involving small towns and high murder rates yield plenty of excitement.
Shortly after the series begins, we see Layton eat a grilled cheese sandwich and tomato soup, the character’s first significant meal in seven years. Imagine Proust’s madelines in a cyberpunk world: Diggs’ performance brings forward a breathtaking array of emotions as he associates the food with so much about his past life.
“You don’t get to do a lot of [stuff] like that … where you get to channel everything [and] something so pedestrian as a grilled cheese gets to have the weight of the world on it,” Diggs said.
The downside? The scene took 10-15 takes and “I had to eat the whole sandwich and drink the whole bowl of soup every time,” he said. “I have not eaten a grilled cheese sandwich [since that scene]. I can’t.”
“Snowpiercer” airs on TNT May 17.