“Snowpiercer” is an action film for people who thought they were sick of action films. It's bracing, gritty, dystopian, and filled with actors who give commanding performances within ceaselessly stunning visuals. At Comic-Con, we caught up with star Chris Evans, who plays the reluctant ringleader against an ice-age survival train's elite class, to discuss the movie, which filmed in Austria and ended up earning enough acclaim to outperform its small arthouse release and spread to 150 U.S. theaters.
1. Director Bong Joon-ho shot “Snowpiercer” the way Alfred Hitchcock shot most of his movies — with no extra footage necessary.
“If [you and I] were having a scene, we would shoot a master, then get us together on a two-shot, then do the whole scene on your single and then on my single. We'd have a lot of options to cut the scene together as you so choose,” said Evans. “Bong will shoot the edit in his mind. If he saw a scene between you and I, in the first three lines he [already] sees the first three lines as a two-shot, the next two lines were on you, and the next two lines were on me, that's what he shoots! There is no footage of me saying certain dialogue! He shoots the movie according to what he sees in his brain. It's the most bold, terrifying thing I've seen any director do. It obviously worked out. I would never be that confident. But I mean, it worked out. It's one of those amazing things you can do when you're that powerful… And at the end of the day, you watch the scene! It's unbelievable! That doesn't happen in movies.”
2. When you act alongside Tilda Swinton, you become fixated and forget to do your job.
“She's not human. We're all lucky to be witnessing her as an actress. We're all going to be better people for witnessing her performances,” Evans said. “The best thing about Tilda — I've worked with some actors [who aren't like this] — the best thing an actor can do is trust the director and be willing to collaborate. It's a collaboration. Tilda is a good enough actress to be as confident enough in her ability so that if Bong gives her a note — any note — she's like, 'Sure. Let's try it.' She's up for anything because she knows it's going to be phenomenal. So there's a beautiful collaboration there and a bold willingness. It's so real and so authentic, you find yourself as an actor watching it. You're not acting anymore! You're just spectating. 'Man, this is good! Oh, shit, I have a line.' It's so easy to get lost in what she does. It's so real and so present. She really is another stratosphere.”
3. During filming, the front and back halves of the train were actually quite friendly.
“On set, there was a deep sense of unity. It's such a unique film. It was a different way of shooting, a different script, and we were shooting in a foreign location where no one knows each other. So the sense of camaraderie was very strong on this movie. So no, I never felt the need to avoid the front.”
4. Evans responded as an actor to Bong Joon-ho's tersest notes. Others don't.
“[Directing] is not just setting shots, and it's not just communicating with every single department. It's about knowing your actor and what they need and what they want. Some actors, to get them where thy need to go, you need to pull them aside for a 20-minute discussion about whether their mom hugged them enough,” Evans said. “Other actors, you just need to get out of their way. It's an art unto itself, how to gauge your actor and get what you need. I couldn't have asked for a better experience with Bong. He gave me everything I could've wanted and needed. He was phenomenally supportive even on the more emotional days. He's among the best directors I've ever worked with in terms of getting me where I needed even on days where I struggled. Even with the slight language barrier, he knew how to pick certain words. It sounds awful to say, but he could give you such a simple note, and I'd be like, 'I got it. I got it! I know exactly what you want.' You have to approach every actor with kid gloves because you never know what they'll need.”
5. Evans got the confidence to shoot his final monologue thanks to his own faith in the director.
“You give a performance but you hand your performance over,” Evans explained. “I've seen a lot of times when you do certain things [on camera] and it may not be what you want it to be. It's only scary if you don't trust your director. If you trust your director, it's beyond exciting. Wish I could think of a clever analogy, but there's a beautiful cradle that a good director can provide so you can take risks. If you don't trust your director, it really handicaps you. If you feel confident that your director is going to massage the performance into something that works in the final product, you feel a lot more willing to take chances.”