English-born Canadian actor Garfield Wilson chatted about his work on TNT’s Snowpiercer, as well as appearing in several other successful, high-profile projects throughout his career to date, including an upcoming series for Apple TV+ produced by Saturday Night Live creator Lorne Michaels.
Welcome, and thank you for taking the time to do this.
Garfield Wilson (GW): Yeah, thanks for having me. It’s great to be here.
You were born in Surrey, England and later emigrated to Canada. How much of your newfound environment affected your decision to pursue acting/performing? Was it always a passion?
GW: The seed of performing was planted ever since I can remember being a young person in England. That was my Dad bringing home a Jackson 5 album and me thinking the little guy in front, Michael Jackson, I could be that person because my afro was almost similar [laughs]. Moving to Canada, that passion never left. Then, my interest in school gravitated towards performing arts, being in the choir, or the drama club. It organically progressed from there.
You know, I took time to pursue other interests, such as sports and other things. But, ultimately, my eye was always on the prize of performing.
You appear as ‘Jackboot Kaffey’ in TNT’s Snowpiercer. How would you describe the series and your character’s involvement in the story, for anyone who’s unfamiliar?
GW: The series is a post apocalyptic world that we’re living in where the entire surface of the planet is on ice, basically. Temperatures are as low as 118 degrees. So, it’s uninhabitable. The only place where there’s life is on this train called Snowpiercer that goes around the world constantly. It’s like a modern day Noah’s Ark. And there’s different class systems. The Snowpiercer was created by a man named Wilford (played in the series by Sean Bean). He created this world – and just like the world we live in, the class structure. There’s First Class, Second Class, Middle Class.
Then there’s common folk, which is called the Tail, the actual tail of the train. There’s a government system, there’s penalties, there’s perks. In order to correct any grievances or transgressions, there’s a military police. They’re called Jackboot. My character Kaffey is part of that military police in the first season and the second season, after things go unexpectedly the other way.
How long was the process of booking the role on Snowpiercer – was it always planned to be a multi episode arc?
GW: You know, when I booked the role, the process was sort of an uneventful audition process. I’ve been auditioning for quite some time and I would have maybe 3-4 auditions per week. I would break down the sides or the lines as it were, all the information that Casting would give us at that time. They didn’t really give us that much, other than I knew of the movie, with Chris Evans, Snowpiercer (2013), so I knew what that story was about. I knew the military police.
So, my character was basically just that. Like, a two dimensional character. I wasn’t given any indication as to how many episodes this character would appear in the show. I wasn’t sure how many seasons we would get. The incredibly present surprising gift of Snowpiercer is that everyone you see that’s featured continue to be featured because they are alive. If you don’t die, you continue to exist on Snowpiercer. Those stories and those characters evolve in such a profound and poignant way. Especially given all the dramatics and all the personal highs and lows of so many different characters on that show.
Snowpiercer features an acclaimed cast of actors – Academy Award winner Jennifer Connelly and Hamilton‘s Daveed Diggs are some examples. For you personally, is there a lot of pressure working with them?
GW: I’ve been fortunate throughout my career to work with a lot of very high profile artists and actors. What I try to do when I get a role is to be as prepared as possible before I go to set. There are some moments where it’s quite surreal. I grew up being a huge Film and Television buff. I’ve watched Jennifer Connelly’s career and she’s just an incredible artist. My kids went and saw Hamilton, they were blown away by that show as many people were. Working with those two artists directly in scenes was a gift. They are just amazing people, true artists and amazing at what they do.
The integrity that they bring to the set every single day, what they bring to the show is evident. The show is riveting and it’s very compelling. It’s a team effort and everybody who’s on that set – from Locations, Art Department, Design, Wardrobe, DPs, Grips, Background Actors, Principal Actors, put everything they have into that show and it shows. You know what I mean? It was such an amazing set to be on and continues to be.
In addition to Snowpiercer, you’ve also appeared in a number of other series -including Once Upon A Time, The 100, Bates Motel, The Good Doctor and more. Do any on-set experiences, including what I didn’t mention, stand out in your mind?
GW: I had a truly epic experience doing a movie called Come To Daddy. When I auditioned, there wasn’t a lot of background the role that I played — Ronald Plum. It’s a really creepy independent dark thriller, starring Elijah Wood, directed by Ant Timpson and written by Toby Harvard. It was a wonderful script and I was really happy to get the call. We filmed in Tofino, Canada, here in British Columbia. That scene and getting to work directly with Elijah Wood, the room to bring whatever I wanted to the table. It was an awesome experience.
Again, my kids are huge into movies because I am. We watched The Lord of The Rings, front to back. To be working with Elijah Wood when my kids are babies and watching these epic films was a gift. He is such a giving actor, such a wonderful human being. Such a treat to work with him, it was awesome.
To that end, I love the movie. There are lots of times where as an actor you’re very excited to work on a project. The writing is good, everybody involved is great but for whatever reason, it just doesn’t land or find an audience. That particular movie and that particular time, I think it was three years ago that I did that, I’m so proud to be a part of that project. I loved the character that I played and the journey of the movie.
With such a vast array of credits under your belt, how important is being a consistently working actor, regardless of the size of the role?
GW: Yeah, when you start in this business, there’s definitely that element of it where you book a role and you’re just so excited to be on set. Then when the show comes out, you tell everybody that you’re on the show. I’ve been involved in shows earlier in my career where I’ve just got one line or just seen on camera – don’t blink or you might miss me! There’s an evolution to that, you know? I’ve been very fortunate in my career to play a wide variety of different characters and to that end, a wide variety of different projects.
For me personally, the work is not just when you’re on set, it’s actually before that. Doing your research on other actors, writers, directors and who you want to work with or admire in the business.
When you get a breakdown for an audition and you self-tape, that’s work as well. You’re not necessarily paid for it, but to actually be really invested and present in the work is fulfilling. That is why I do what I do. That was another paradigm shift for me, is that the work doesn’t happen when you get booked or get on set. The work is constant, always, you know?
In October 2020, it was reported that Lorne Michaels will be producing a new comedy musical series. You are also part of this project. What can you tell us about it?
GW: That was an absolute gift, I wasn’t expecting that call. That is going to be a very, very unique show. As you said, it’s a musical comedy involving some of the greatest artists I’ve ever worked with. Alan Cumming, Cecily Strong, Keegan-Michael Key. Oh my gosh. I’m huge fans of these people. Barry Sonnenfeld directed. Cinco Paul who created Despicable Me. The list goes on and on. We have Tony-award-winning Broadway stars on that show.
The character that I play is a supporting role, from this magical town called Schmigadoon. I think it comes out this April. Somewhere around April-May, on Apple TV+. I cannot wait to see it. It’s 6 or 7 episodes and just an epic journey. It was one of the most gratifying and awe-inspiring experiences I’ve had, because there are not a lot of projects that come around which are like that. So unique and so brilliantly done.
What advice would you give to aspiring or relatively new actors?
GW: Don’t get distracted or destablised by the beast that is the industry, you know what I mean? It can really prey on your insecurities, your self confidence and self-esteem. The unfortunate truth is that you can actually be coming up with friends of yours or have friendships along the way. They’re in the same industry, you might have friends in the same category as you are. If they’re booking the role, you’re not booking the role. If they’re getting auditions, you’re not getting auditions.
It can really prey on those insecurities and what I would tell those young actors that are coming up is that every actor’s journey is theirs and theirs alone. No one has the same journey and the roles that you get are the ones that you get for a reason. You could actually have an amazing audition that you feel you’ve just crushed and not get the call.
Or, you have an audition that you’ve thrown away, weren’t really in your right headspace. But for whatever reason, you have an intangible thing that casting directors, directors, producers, networks kind of say: “Oh my gosh. That’s what we’re looking for.” There are so many variables that contribute to somebody booking a role. Those variables are beyond your control.
Here’s the other important advice I’d give young actors: make the decision that they make not about your acting. Not about how you are invested in the role. Make it a tough decision for them. Just be connected to what you’re doing. That’s all you can do. At the end of the day, you will succeed. If you are true to your art, find that authentic place to ground yourself in the scene and understand what that conversation is, be truthful. It is inevitable.
What do you hope to accomplish with the rest of 2021?
GW: I’m hoping to crush 2021. I just completed a guest-starring role on a new NBC series called Debris. That aired last week, Monday (March 1). It’s an unbelievable show. I think they’re doing 13 episodes. I’m in episode 10. I watched the pilot episode and it’s so grounded. I love shows where there is something like supernatural/extra terrestrial but it is grounded in so much truth.
It’s really akin to those sci-fi shows that are not so fantastical, but it seems unrealistic that would ever happen. Everything that happens make you feel like a fly on the wall. That is this show called Debris on NBC.
Then, I’m set to start working on a big budget feature film in the next three months – I won’t be done until the end of June. And I can’t talk about that right now, but it is one of, if not the biggest role I’ve ever booked. I’m so incredibly excited about this. After that, who knows?
Thank you again for taking the time to speak with us today. Take care and stay safe!
GW: Yeah, you too, thank you so much.