Layton and Zarah are "Tailies" in Netflix's Snowpiercer.

Snowpiercer: A Conversation with Daveed Diggs

Dept. of Raps and Confabs


In the upcoming television adaptation of Snowpiercer (it premieres on Netflix on May 25), Daveed Diggs plays Andre Layton, a former Chicago homicide detective, who is called up toward the front of the hierarchical train to help solve a murder. The spiritual successor to Bong Joon-ho’s 2013 cult classic, the series expands the world of both the film and the graphic novel in interesting new ways.

Earlier this morning, we had a chat with Daveed Diggs about his first major role, what he learnt from being on set, and what Snowpiercer has in common with Hamilton.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Daveed Diggs plays Layton in Netflix's Snowpiercer.

Umapagan Ampikaipakan: Watching Snowpiercer, I got the impression that everyone on screen knew exactly what kind of show they were making. There was a cohesiveness to the performances right from the get go, which isn’t always the case in television, because it’s written and directed by so many people. It usually takes like three or four episodes before people kind of figure out what their roles are. What do you think accounts for that? Because right from the pilot, the audience is immediately invested because you guys knew exactly what you were doing.  

Daveed Diggs: I’m very glad to hear you say that. I mean, we can credit a lot of it to James Hawes our producing director for season one who sort of had his eyes on everything. But I think it was a set where we talked a lot about tone. There was a lot of talking before we shot things to sort of figure out the right sort of temperature to play a scene at. If  that makes sense. Yeah, you’re right, that it is a tricky thing to figure out, particularly with something that is science fiction or fantasy based. Because sometimes the most grounded choice isn’t the choice that serves the story best. Like sometimes we have to turn up the stakes a little bit in a way that in a different kind of show might feel, comic, or out of place, or just wrong. So, yeah, it’s a tricky balance and one a conversation we’re constantly having. So I’m glad it worked for you.

Daveed Diggs is the "Train Detective" in Snowpiercer.

UA: You have a tonne of great stuff that’s coming out. You’re in Pixar’s Soul. Central Park for Apple TV+. The Good Lord Bird. 2020 is the year of Daveed Diggs. With Snowpiercer in production for such a long time, it must have been something of a trial by fire for you. Because it was the first time your name was at the top of a call sheet. I was wondering how that helped you get ready for the insanity that is Hollywood in television and film. 

DD: That’s a great question. I think one of the nice things about a TV show is sort of how incubated it is. At least as it was in this process. Because we shot so much before anybody saw it. I think it might be different, it might feel way crazier if I was in one of those shows, like a network series, that was coming out as you’re still shooting. But because we got to sit with this thing for a while, and really work on it, it felt kind of protected in the same way that working out a play feels protected, or a film for that matter too. Because you finish it all before anybody sees it. But I think it was a great learning experience. The best for me, the most useful part about it, was that there were just so many very experienced actors and creators of television around me. And so I could ask some questions. I could watch what they were doing and try to learn things.  Getting to work with the folks at Tomorrow Studios, with Becky Clements, with Marty Adelstein. Just sitting around and talking to them. I’m doing a lot more producing now too, so getting to be on a big budget thing, around these these great producers who have a ton of experience, and just ask them questions. If you see somebody stressed out on the phone, on set, and then be like, “hey, do you mind telling me what that call is about?” Just because I’m curious as to the fires that you have to put out right now in order to make this happen. You know, this was really a great learning experience. I always love being around people who just have more experience than me. 

Daveed originated the role of the roles of Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson in the musical Hamilton, for which he won both a Grammy Award and Tony Award
Daveed originated the role of the roles of Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson in the musical Hamilton, for which he won both a Grammy Award and Tony Award

UA: Hear me out. This one might feel like a little bit of a leap. But I think there’s a throughline between Hamilton and Snowpiercer. (And also because I tend to try and connect everything back to Hamilton anyway.) But in Snowpiercer too, there is this idea of who owns the historical narrative, and how everyone should have a stake in their own destinies, There are these ideas of war and conflict, between reputation and honor.

DD: I mean, that never crossed my mind, actually. But it’s not untrue hearing you say it. What they both are is about the creation of a democracy in a certain way.  Right? They’re both projects about people who are actively trying to create a government of some sort. And those people are flawed. You know, the thing that Hamilton did so well was show our American founding fathers as profoundly flawed, petty, human individuals, which almost makes the the feat of creating, of founding a country even more impressive. And so we see the same thing on Snowpiercer, which is all of these people are struggling, and fighting, and leading revolutions, and trying to maintain balance and order. All of these people are profoundly human and deeply flawed. And not just flawed in the way that most people are flawed, but also having to deal with some deep seated grief and like psychological trauma from the end of the world, that nobody is really appropriately dealt with. I do think that’s an interesting observation. I do agree with you that there is there’s a common thread there. 

Last week, we also spoke to the series showrunner, Graeme Manson. You can find that interview here.

The first season of Snowpiercer premieres on Netflix on May 25. Don’t forget to check out our review of the series on The Goggler Podcast.

Uma has been reviewing things for most of his life: movies, television shows, books, video games, his mum's cooking, Bahir's fashion sense. He is a firm believer that the answer to most questions can be found within the cinematic canon. In fact, most of what he knows about life he learned from Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. He still hasn't forgiven Christopher Nolan for the travesties that are Interstellar and The Dark Knight Rises.

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