How the Oscar Winner is Revitalizing Two Hit Properties

Actress Jennifer Connelly is known for her versatility, mixing bold, independent projects with larger studio films. An Oscar winner for 2002’s A Beautiful Mind, she began her film career at age eleven with Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in America (1984). Auditioning for both Leone and star Robert De Niro, the young actress would gain her artist voice early in her career. A voice that would evolve through projects such as Dark City, Requiem for a Dream, A Beautiful Mind, Blood Diamond, and Creation.

This year, Connelly is tackling the part of Melanie Cavill in Snowpiercer, TNT’s long-gestating adaptation of the 2013 Bong Joon Ho film. Cavill is the head of hospitality and a wholly original character, separate from the graphic novel and the 2013 film. Cavill is forced to work with Andre Layton (Daveed Diggs), a underclass member of the “tail” end of the train, and a revolutionary with his own agenda.

Connelly spoke to Awards Focus about the drama surrounding Snowpiercer’s journey to TNT, which included a complete pilot reshoot, as well as her role opposite Tom Cruise in the long-awaited Top Gun sequel.

Awards Focus: Snowpiercer premiered last weekend, marking the end of a complicated five year journey. Do you recall your earliest conversations about the project? Had you seen the 2013 film?

Connelly: I thought the film was great, I really enjoyed what Bong Joon Ho created. I thought there was a lot to explore in a serialized format.

AF: How was the character of Melanie Cavill initially pitched to you, did they reference anyone from the film?

Connelly: A lot of people have asked if I’m playing Tilda, but the truth is Melanie is a character that doesn’t exist in the film or the graphic novel. In terms of the pitch, when we first signed on, it was a different iteration of the show. My character was in the same position, but it was all expressed

Jennifer Connelly in TNT's 'Snowpiercer'
Jennifer Connelly in TNT’s ‘Snowpiercer’ (Photo: Jesse Giddings)

AF: With Snowpiercer, a new showrunner was added after the initial pilot was filmed. Graeme Mason then crafted a new pilot and reshoots were helmed by a new director. How would you compare the two experiences?

Connelly: Obviously I agreed to do the show when it was a different incarnation. I certainly liked that version of it, but, that isn’t to say that I didn’t love what Graeme [Mason] did. He did a fantastic job; they’re kind of like apples and oranges, the show was completely reimagined.

AF: Working with the Daveed Diggs, I’m imagining the familiarity and the comfort was stronger the second time around.

Connelly: Yeah, that was certainly the case. Also, they’re really interesting characters to have thrown together. When you first meet them, they’re diametrically opposed, but they need one another. So I think there’s a lot to play there.

AF: The science fiction genre is often utilized for social commentary on current day events. That is of course evident with Snowpierecer’s hierarchy and class systems. Was something that attracted you to the series?

Connelly: At face value, I think it’s a fun and entertaining show. What I love is that it uses its sci-fi framework to tell a very human story about survival. It asks relevant questions about the use and abuse of resources in a closed system with limited resources and the choices of the people with the power to distribute them. I think things like that are really interesting.

AF: What were some of the challenging and rewarding moments for you from this first season?

Connelly: My character has a lot of rapid-fire technical jargon, so wrapping your head around it and trying to say it with authority is a challenge. For me, the scenes that are more emotionally fraught, I always find the most fun to play.

Jennifer Connelly in TNT's 'Snowpiercer'
Jennifer Connelly in TNT’s ‘Snowpiercer’ (Photo courtesy TNT)

AF: With the pandemic, Top Gun: Maverick skipped its June premiere and is now slated for December 23rd, 2020. What can you tell us about filming with Tom Cruise? Did you go up in any of the aircrafts?

Connelly: I did. I don’t play a pilot in the film, but I was able to go up in a P-51. Tom was the pilot and that was certainly an exhilarating and memorable experience for me.

AF: How was working with Tom? It sounds like you got to experience him doing some of his own stunts.

Connelly: It was fantastic. I really enjoyed it. He’s extraordinary, his passion for what he does, his commitment, his dedication, I was just blown away by it. He was really generous with me. It was really a great experience.

AF: What were some of your memories of the first film? And what does it feel like to reincarnate and kind of revitalize such a such an iconic franchise?

Connelly: The flying was great, and the camaraderie of the film, you know, it’s a great hero’s journey for that character. He’s a great character. I think that they’ve found a really good reason to come back, they found a really good story to anchor it to, and I think that was really important. If you’re going to revisit that movie, you need to have a really good story to tell. And, I think that they found that and so it was really fun. I felt like a privilege to be part of it, and we had a great time.

AF: Lastly, as we continue through quarantine and staying at home, how do you feel about movies potentially being released on-demand? There’s been some drama with the production studios versus the theaters in the media recently. Do you think there’s a meaningful market potentially for on-demand releases? Are you a fan of maintaining the movie-going experience?

Connelly: I haven’t really been following that debate, I’ve had my head full with online school and and puppy training. That takes a lot more time than I anticipated. But I think everything is changing. I love going to movie theaters, but obviously none of us can do that right now. I think people are really eager for content, you know? So, we’ll see how that demand is met.