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Actor Steven Ogg talks Snowpiercer, TWD, and GTA - Exclusive interview

Steven Ogg is one of those actors who enhances anything he's in. From his breakout role as ultra-violent stop-motion character Trevor Philips in the Grand Theft Auto V video game to his time as the ruthless Simon on The Walking Dead to his more comical turn as Flexon on The Tick, Ogg often takes his roles to the next level.

His recent projects include the indie film The Short History of the Long Road and on the TNT action drama series Snowpiercer, based on the 2013 film of the same name, which follows a train full of passengers who must infinitely circle the globe in order to survive a manmade ice age. Ogg plays Pike, one of the survivalist stowaways who lives in the harrowing "tail" of the train, where occupants are fed gelatinous protein bars made of bugs and harshly punished for stepping out of line.

In an exclusive chat with Looper, Ogg delved into what it takes to get into character to play Pike on Snowpiercer, how he doesn't necessarily see his Walking Dead and Grand Theft Auto characters as villains, and why taking on a more "normal" role is refreshing.

Steven Ogg says self-preservation fuels Pike on Snowpiercer

How would you describe your character on Snowpiercer?

Oh, just a lovable lug. [Laughs] I'm a little guilty of telling fibs. So I guess I should just try to stick to the facts. Pike is a guy who's at the back of the train, called the tail. The passengers back there have been essentially prisoners for seven years and they've struggled a lot and had to learn to survive more than anyone else on the train.

You put a bunch of people in a confined space for seven years and people can change, they can be irrational and do things out of desperation. And I think Pike is someone who's a true survivor. He's trying to figure out the best way to survive for really his own self-preservation. I mean, he's only got himself. So he's not really being super-selfish because it is a world you want to survive in. But I think he's torn between, am I doing this for me or am I doing it for them? Am I a team player, or is team spelled with an I? Maybe that's Pike's thing. He's not sure if team is spelled with an E or an I — and therein lies Pike's biggest problem. Or he's just a sh***y speller.

Pike was created just for the series, right?

Yes. Many characters were created for the series. It's sort of like the case with The Walking Dead where there's a graphic novel as a base and you can take a character that was maybe in it and create different parts. But no, Pike is not necessarily based on someone in the graphic novel.

Since Pike hasn't appeared anywhere before, where do you draw inspiration from for his character?

I always want to create a character [from scratch]. For me characters are like Dagwood sandwiches. You want them to be as complex as possible, so you draw inspiration through being in the moment. With many characters, you don't know where you're going or what's ahead. So you just really try to play the reality of the moment. And that creates complex characters.

I focus on what I am doing right now [as the character], and I think that is essentially where the inspiration for Pike comes from. Like, what is he going to do right now? I draw inspiration from what's in front of me.

The Snowpiercer set is designed to actually feel like you're in the cramped space of a train car. What's that like? Does that help you get into character?

Oh, yeah. It's amazing what they've done. You feel like you're actually on a train, especially in the tail where it's confined with so many bunks, it's like a jail cell. The details are amazing — the stacked books, the ladders on the bunk beds are made out of golf clubs. There's all of that when you're standing there, plus there's people all around and you're crowded in. There's just nowhere to go. Add to that the cinematography and it gets even more claustrophobic. Then, when you move up the train to first class, the opposite is true — you can take a dip in a swimming pool.

What's it like working with such a talented and diverse cast? You've got Academy Award winner Jennifer Connelly and not one, but two Tony Award winners in there (Daveed Diggs and Lena Hall)...

Talent aside, it's an amazing group of people, really loving and giving. We are all on a group text, where everyone checks in — even before the whole [coronavirus shutdown]. I've never experienced anything like it. It's just awesome, a real reflection of who people are. Obviously it's great to work with people that are talented, but it's who they as people that I love and cherish and that will be the memory I take away with me. Because if you work with someone who's super talented but they're a [jerk], it's not that much fun.

Steven Ogg wishes you saw more of him as a zombie on The Walking Dead

Both Snowpiercer and The Walking Dead are dystopian, post-apocalyptic TV shows. Are you particularly drawn to that type of genre?

I only do graphic novels and dystopian-future projects. That's it. [Laughs] No, no. It's funny because, honestly, it's not exactly what I normally watch or gravitate towards. It's not like I've always dreamed of being in these dystopian worlds. It's certainly not by choice. My mom is always saying, "Why don't you just do something nice?" Like, "Mom, look at me, dammit!" I'm not going "OK, do I want to be the lead in another romantic comedy, or...?"

How was it playing Simon, Negan's right-hand man, on The Walking Dead?

It was awesome. It was such a great group of wonderful people. We just had so much fun. I've been incredibly fortunate to work with really lovely people on all these shows, and The Walking Dead was a great family to be part of.

What was it like to play both a main character and a Walker on the show?

I was glad I had that death, but I sort of wish they would have come back to me a little more after the work I did. I was like, we get it, Jeffrey Dean Morgan [as Negan] is going to talk for another half an hour... can we see me as a zombie for a bit longer? But it was fun to go through the five hours of makeup to become a zombie, after seeing all these other people do it.

You played a villain in Westworld too. Are you drawn to villainous characters?

Well, Rebus actually turned good but, unfortunately, these shows are so large that a lot gets cut out.

All of these characters I play, I don't know if they're villainous. I certainly don't see them that way. It's not like I have to like a character to play him. They're just complex people that tend to lean toward the dark side as opposed to the light. I mean, we're all sort of one step away from insanity in a sense. So I think these characters I play are all just a little more in touch with that insanity and darkness. I just try to make the characters interesting.

Instead of "villain," I see them more as unpredictable. When you don't get a full season, a full story arc, you tend to play these things moment-to-moment, which then creates this unpredictable character — one moment you're smiling and happy and the next you're killing someone. So, yeah, I guess some of the characters I've played are kind of mean. [In real life] I'm just a big goofball idiot.

Steven Ogg equates himself to Mark Hamill when it comes to Grand Theft Auto

The thing that kind of kicked off your whole career was being in Grand Theft Auto V. Do you enjoy that stop-motion/voice work? How do you feel about that particular role?

It's incredible. It's sort of like, Mark Hamill is forever Luke Skywalker, and I might forever be Trevor from Grand Theft Auto. Listen, I'm proud of it, so it doesn't bug me because it was work I enjoyed.

Just like theater, film, or TV, with motion-capture the words are the words and your job as an actor is to say those words and create these characters. It's just the technique that's different — there's no big production, you're just in your motion-capture outfit in a warehouse. But it sure was fun to create this rather crazy, impulsive character that I had a blast playing.

Do you have any information about Grand Theft Auto VI or personal thoughts on where the franchise should go next?

I don't know s***. Actors are the last to know anything. You want to know anything about any production — maybe not a motion capture — go talk to the hair and makeup department or special effects team because they have to budget the entire season. They know everything.

I spoke at the Vancouver Acting School and someone asked, "What's your advice for young actors?" And I said, "The first day, be friends with hair and makeup because that's how you're going to know where your character's storyline is going." Actors are the last to know.

[In terms of GTA6] I don't follow video games, so I'm not in that world. I have no idea. I don't think they bring characters back ever; they all seem to be one-offs. But who knows?

Steven Ogg wants to play more normal characters — and the Wonder Twins too

You played retired superhero Flexon on The Tick. If you could have your pick of comic book characters to play, who would you choose?

Flexon was kind of based on... oh, what the hell is his name? I think it was Rubber Man. [Note: It was Plastic Man.] He was part of the Justice League in the '70s and '80s cartoon. He wore those big Elvis glasses.

I actually don't read comic books or watch comic-based movies. So I'm kind of a terrible person to answer that question. But you know who I did love? The Wonder Twins. Maybe I could play both of them. Sure, why not? Mark Ruffalo plays two people [as the Hulk].

I just found them so hilarious because you've got Superman and all these people with amazing powers and the Wonder Twins always chose to be, like, a bucket of ice. It's like, what the f***? But I thought it was the cutest thing in the world. You've got superpowers and you're choosing to be a bucket of water? What? You're going to make the bad guy slip? I sort of like that. So they'd be fun to play.

Out of all the characters that you've played which generates the biggest fanbase for you?

I guess Grand Theft Auto. But The Walking Dead has sort of kept up with that. So it would probably be GTA and then The Walking Dead. But globally, it's definitely Grand Theft Auto. I've been all over the world — China, Brazil, Europe, Canada, the Philippines, a lot of places — and the response to Grand Theft Auto is crazy. Yeah, it's pretty global, which is really nuts. I've never played the game myself, but I hear it's interesting.

Which character has been your favorite to play?

I don't know. That's like asking for a favorite pet, you just kind of love them all. Plus, I don't really remember stuff. It's the experience of the people that I walk away with.

Maybe because it's the most recent, but I was just in this film The Short History of the Long Road, with Sabrina Carpenter. I play her father. I don't want to say it's my favorite, but that was a great role to play because he was just a dad. That's it. Just a regular dude. So it was nice to sort of play someone normal.