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Snowpiercer’s Mickey Sumner On The Timely Significance Of The Post-Apocalyptic Show

Amid a worldwide pandemic and global protests, it seems only fitting that Snowpiercer, the television adaption of Bong Joon Ho’s 2013 cult-classic film, would be released on Netflix. Set in a post-apocalyptic world, where the global climate slips into an icy, uninhabitable wasteland, the world’s only survivors are the 3,000 people lucky enough to have boarded a giant train that perpetually circles the globe. The show places us seven years into the train’s run, showing the building tensions between the different classes, who live in varying degrees of luxury and squalor, depending on the ticket they could afford. Amid this rising frustration, a mysterious murder aboard the train forces former detective Andre Layton, played by Daveed Diggs, out of the tail section, where the lowest class resides. He teams up with a brakeman—the train’s version of a police officer—named Bess Till, played by Mickey Sumner, to track down the killer. All the while, concerns of shortened food supplies and failing mechanics create a ticking clock—how long can the human race live like this?

The themes of the show are eerily reflective of the isolation and social unrest we’re currently experiencing. Led by showrunner Graeme Mason, whose previous work includes Orphan Black, the series is a dark, action-packed look at human survival and the dangers of classism. It’s already secured a second season, though the Covid-19 pandemic has thrown a wrench in the filming schedule.

We caught up with Mickey Sumner to talk about the show, how she’s spending quarantine and how a Humans of New York post helped her fulfill a man’s last wish.

Where are you currently spending quarantine?

“I’m in British Columbia. I’m so grateful to Canadians and Canada for letting us stay in your beautiful country. We actually bought a cabin here a few years ago and then we were filming in Vancouver and they shut us down early and we just decided to come out to our cabin.”

Has Covid-19 affected the filming of your second season?

“Yeah that’s right, we only completed eight episodes and we were in the middle of nine and 10. We’re happy we got eight in the can though!”

Are there any books or TV shows keeping you sane at this time?

“In the beginning, I was watching a lot of TV and binging shows and then we sort of became more normalized to it. I have a three-year-old son, so we’re focusing a lot on him. Currently, I’m reading White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo. I’m really trying to dig into my privilege and be a better citizen and friend.”

Photographed by Justina Mintz

As an actor, how do you think this pandemic will affect the film and television industry?

“You know, I have no idea. I’ve spoken to a lot of people in different parts of the industry, agents and producers, actors, directors, and nobody knows anything. That’s really the honest answer. I really hope we can go back to work safely and more consciously and I’m just waiting to see how that’s going to be possible. I think British Columbia is doing quite well with the virus, so I’m happy to be working in Vancouver.”

How did you prepare for your role in Snowpiercer?

“I played Bess Till, a brakeman who’s essentially a cop on the train. I actually spent a lot of time Skyping two female cops from the NYPD—they’re retired now but the came up through the NYPD in the Eighties. I spent a lot of time interviewing them and learning—Till was a rookie cop in Detroit and obviously the cop duties are a little different on the train, but I wanted to understand what it was like to be a female cop on the police force, so they gave me a lot of insight. I also worked on my accent with a dialect coach. I worked pretty hard on the details.”

How does this show reflect our current situation and how can we better understand our society through it?

“I don’t think there’s a single aspect of the show that doesn’t relate to what’s going on right now. Three weeks ago, it was like, ok Covid, and now there’s a revolution on the streets—for a great reason. The oppression of human beings has to end. And that’s what we see on the show. The treatment and prejudice—I don’t think the show is about racism, but I do think it’s about classism and prejudice and here we are. This is not a futuristic, sci-fi show really, because it’s current and it’s now. It’s an allegory, but it’s about now.”

Photographed by Justina Mintz

Through a recent Humans of New York post, you were able to help a woman fulfill her father’s last wish by getting a painting of his to his favourite singer, your father, Sting. Can you tell me a bit about how this happened?

“I was just making breakfast and my friend Rebecca Henderson, another actor, texted me and said, ‘have you seen this Instagram post?’ And she always sends me posts, so I just clicked on it and started reading and was like ‘oh my god’, I was getting so moved and then I hit the moment that the dying wish of Elizabeth’s dad was to give this painting to my dad and I was like ‘oh, I can help’. So, I commented on the feed and then I didn’t hear anything so I direct messaged the Humans of New York Page and Brandon [Stanton] got back to me and I was like ‘could you connect me to this woman? I can help her’ and he was like ‘great’! And it just snowballed from there. Then Elizabeth and I got on the phone and we started talking about what she wanted to do and how she wanted to do it and I just sort of facilitated it and it was my honour to do so.”

I hear you’ve set up a fundraiser for multiple sclerosis, the condition that affected Elizabeth’s father—can you tell me a bit about that?

“There were millions and millions of people who saw that post and were touched by it and sending heart and crying emojis and we realized ok, let’s try to move these likes and these emojis into actual impact that can help people and families with MS. We called up the National Multiple Sclerosis Society and asked if they wanted to do a fundraiser on GoFundMe—I don’t know if we needed their blessing, but they gave us their blessing. Then my dad received the painting and it was this beautiful completion of this man’s last request to his daughter. I still feel really emotional about it that I got to be part of it, it was a real privilege. We’ve raised $42,000 in the last 10 days. We just want to make a difference and hopefully, that money will do that.”

Snowpiercer is available now on Netflix with new episodes released every Monday.

Feature image photographed by Brian Bowen Smith, styled by Erica Cloud, makeup by Jamie Greenberg, and hair by Brian Fisher.