How the 'Snowpiercer' Series Pays Homage to Tilda Swinton's Iconic Film Performance (Exclusive)
By Stacy Lambe
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The long-awaited TV adaptation of Snowpiercer is finally here. The stylized sci-fi saga based on the French graphic novel Le Transperceneige and Bong Joon-ho’s 2013 film tells a similar story about the remains of humanity living aboard a perpetually moving train after the world has become a frozen wasteland. In showrunner Graeme Manson’s version, cast members Jennifer Connelly, Hamilton’s Daveed Diggs, The Americans breakout Alison Wright and more play all new characters, while still paying homage to some of the performances and moments from the Korean director’s cult classic.
None of them, however, are more iconic than Tilda Swinton’s turn as Minister Mason, the train’s second in command and the spokesperson for conductor Mr. Wilford. In the series, the most recognizable version of this character is Ruth Wardle.
“When Graeme first talked to me about this character, he said that she had some similarities to Tilda Swinton’s character; she had some of the same responsibilities,” Wright tells ET about the creation of Ruth, the right hand to Head of Hospitality Melanie Cavill (Connelly) and dedicated enforcer of the Order that defines the train’s class system.
“We’ve also done a slight nod to her by having [Ruth] speak in a similar sort of way,” the actress adds. “We thought this would also be a nice touch as well.”
In ET’s exclusive preview of the premiere, Ruth’s distinct accent can be heard as she is seen reporting to the tail section to retrieve one of the passengers, former homicide detective Andre Layton (Diggs), for required assistance in the upper-class cars. She’s also seen wearing a lavish fur coat, which is a recreation of the one the Minister wore whenever she had to travel to the back of the train where the poorest survivors reside.
“It was an intentional nod to Bong Joon-ho’s film. It’s just such a great visual,” Wright says of the costuming choice, adding that it’s also a practical choice for Ruth. “It's cold back there in the tail, you know, and she doesn’t want to catch a chill or break a nail or anything.”
However, similarities between the Minister and Ruth end there, with the actress creating her own, unique character that is one of the standouts among the eclectic ensemble of performers in the show, which she describes as a “reimagining” of the source material.
Snowpiercer the series takes place in a much different timeline from the graphic novel and the film. It now starts seven years after the world has been consumed by a new ice age as the train's 1001 cars continuously commute around the globe. And given the episodic nature of TV -- and its second season renewal -- the series embraces a longer form of adventure storytelling, which allows the creative team and fans alike time to slowly discover the characters and ways of living among the massive train.
For Ruth, that means getting to explore how her zealous devotion to Mr. Wilford and the Order may clash with other passengers and employees of the train, particularly Melanie. “Ruth would love to be like Melanie. Ruth wishes that she was as cool and as perfect as her,” Wright says, teasing that any conflict in that relationship may be devastating for her character.
“She is alone on the train,” the actress continues. “She doesn't really have a confidant other than Melanie; she doesn't have a partner and she didn't get on the train with anybody.”
Snowpiercer premieres Sunday, May 17 at 9 p.m. ET on TNT.