TNT’s Snowpiercer, a juggernaut hit of post-apocalyptic proportions, has always carried more stories than it’s been able to delve into.
We also saw many familiar characters take on new roles, make hard decisions, and face dramatic consequences.
As John Osweiller, Sam Otto found himself with one of the most significant circumstance changes of the whole ensemble.
When introduced on Snowpiercer Season 1 Episode 1, “Oz” was a bitter, angry, and cruel brakeman, guarding the Tail and exploiting the Tailies in terrible ways.
By the end of Snowpiercer Season 2 Episode 9, he’s assumed the position of Head of Janitorial, fallen into a romantic relationship with LJ Folger, and surprised the lot of us by performing a brilliant musical number in the Night Car.
But it turns out that this wasn’t the first character reversal Osweiller had been through.
Speaking to TV Fanatic by phone, Otto revealed that Osweiller wasn’t originally written as the hardened yob that we met in the premiere.
Snowpiercer had an infamously rocky start with an entire pilot episode shot before the current production team came together and created the show we know and love now. Osweiller was very different in that early pilot.
“It was a really big change. It was funny because the initial character was sketched as a young, kind of green, innocent man. He was trying to be courageous for a bit, so inexperienced, and wasn’t really able to apply his dream of being something to what he actually did.
“He was a bit like a bumbling idiot. He needed to learn and grow and become more skilled in what he’s trying to do. Initially, he was completely different. He was really nice, really sweet.
“And then, when they came round with the changes, it was like, ‘Okay, we’re really gonna shake this up.’ He’s now really short-fused. He’s kind of small-minded and nasty, and there’s a whole host of reasons for that.
“The arc, initially, was to take him down from a point of high ground, and then the change was to bring him up, or at least to start him down below, and see where he was going to end up after that. It was radically different.”
Watching Osweiller and LJ connect at the end of Season 1 rang a few alarm bells for viewers as we had only seen the more problematic sides of their personalities at that point.
Watching them team up in Season 2 as partners in survival who develop into a relationship of mutual value and affection was a masterclass in character growth.
Otto is circumspect about how the two came to trust and care for each other in such a — dare we say it? — innocent manner.
“It’s sweet. It’s unexpected. I think what’s interesting about it is that, because both of these characters are probably two of the younger ones we follow a bit more in this show and, given the seven years they’ve been on this train, they would’ve got on.
“Especially for LJ, she was literally a child. She would’ve been 10 or 11 years or something. Whereas with Osweiller, when the Freeze happened, he probably would’ve been 16 or 17 and then getting on the train at maybe 18 or 19.
“So they’ve never really had a chance to grow up, like common adults with hopes and dreams. Instead, they’ve been thrust into this whole new world.
“For 7 years, we’ve been locked in this very specific [space]. You know you can’t break out of your class. There’s no social mobility. And so there’s no choice. You have just to continue doing what you’re doing.
“I think, for Oz, because he’s come from this sporting background, he’s probably never earned anyone’s respect. And he’s come to a place where I don’t think anyone really likes him very much. No one really respects him.
“He’s never been given any real sort of responsibility. And so, I think there’s this kind of perhaps misplaced bitterness in the world around him. If no one likes me, then I don’t think I’m going to like anyone else either.
“And that is kind of what drives his behavior, these small moments of glorification to try and find some sense of importance, or power, and that looks like the drug stuff or the sexual favors, and the kicking Layton when he’s down in cuffs.
“But then they introduce this idea that [LJ] has a kind of similar [situation], that she’s never had a choice, and now she’s been thrust into this new world where she’s actually got to try and fend for herself.
Come on, love, you’re alright. I’m a bad egg, too.
“They kind of find their kindred spirit, I think, and that generates a sense of camaraderie, and that moves on to maybe a friendship, and then something more. Which means there’s now someone to care for and someone to care for me, and that changes everyone’s attitude a lot.”
On Snowpiercer Season 2 Episode 8, we see LJ and Oz kiss for the first time after admitting that they care for each other as only insecure young people can, covering for sincerity with frightened bravado.
“I think that’s a part of it, isn’t it? It’s like showing vulnerability. If you’re someone like this, and you show the smallest amount of vulnerability, it makes you weak. It [leaves] you exposed, and if that isn’t catered to immediately, you’re gonna have to put up the barriers straight away.
“And that’s what he’s obviously done. It’s what he’s used to doing. He never shows vulnerability. The second he does, it’s almost like he’s shot down for a moment, so he goes, ‘Oh no, I didn’t mean that at all,’ and then she brings him out of it again.
“So, yeah, that’s an exposure of something sweet and innocent which is within them both that hasn’t really been exposed before.”
Much like LJ being thrust into the post-revolution train, Otto found himself immersed in the world of Snowpiercer shortly after completing drama school in 2016.
“I did literally one play. I came out of drama school and did one play, and then I started working in TV and film. Snowpiercer was really one of the first jobs I’ve done, to be honest. I’ve been involved with this since the beginning, [since] 2017.
“I came out of my drama school in 2016. Then I did a play. Then I did this miniseries, did a couple of small things. And then I got cast in Snowpiercer, and because of the nature of the epically long process involved with really getting season 1 out, with all the options, and the availability checks and stuff, it’s meant that this has been my life, basically, for the last three years, four years.
“I can’t say I was really in the theater. My training was theatrical, theater trained. I would love to do more theater, but obviously, right now, it’s not gonna happen any time soon.
As first roles go, Snowpiercer has proven to be an amazing experience for Otto.
“It’s incredible. I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have been a part of it. And what a journey it’s been! To look back now, almost four years later, it’s amazing to see how it’s developed and changed, grown, become this thing now. It’s awesome.”
Drama school was a three-year program for Otto, but it was the gatekeeper for the life he saw for himself.
“Drama school was the only option I had, really. It was the thing I needed to do to not only actually train but also to give me the kind of exposure and ability to meet agents and casting directors and everything at the end of the process, which would open those doors. [It would] enable access to the industry as a whole, which I would just have never had before.”
As a child, Otto didn’t imagine himself on stage and screen. In fact, he dreamed the dream of many UK youngsters of being a footballer (hopefully playing for Tottenham Hotspur). Detail-oriented fans of Snowpiercer will remember that Osweiller played soccer in his pre-Freeze life.
“That was probably the dream for me when I was really young. I don’t know what else. I used to love cars and stuff when I was young. I flirted with so many things. I did track athletics for quite a while when I was about 15 to 20.
“I played music, ’cause I do music, and I sing and stuff as well. That was something that was always a possibility.
“The thing is, with acting, you have access to all of these things. That’s what’s so great about it for somebody who has multiple interests like myself. I love reading and writing. I love exercise. I love music. I love tracing and drawing and stuff, so it’s like I’m not leaving anything out by doing this job.
“I’m getting the opportunity to do some music stuff within this role. There’s an opportunity to play parts that have more physical aspects to them or creative aspects to them.
“That was in the back of my mind for most of my growing up life, thinking maybe I could do [acting]. I came from a place where it was nowhere near me; there was no access to it at all.
“We had an amateur dramatics club in the small town I grew up in, but it really wasn’t leading anywhere. It never really felt like a realistic possibility until I just thought, ‘You know what? One might give it a go, see what happens.'”
Not only has Osweiller demonstrated some admirable work ethic and ambition in Season 2, but there was a collective jaw drop when he sat down at the piano and performed Sara Bareilles and Ingrid Michaelson’s “Winter Song” for Mr. Wilford’s private dinner party on the finale.
“It wasn’t planned initially at all. It was very much he’d heard I had this thing, you know, played piano and sing and stuff. It was this really interesting thing they could bring into the character somehow. Really sort of pull the rug out from underneath the audience’s feet in terms of what they expect from this guy.
“And that’s what’s great about it. It’s sort of unexpected; it comes completely out of left field. At the beginning of Season 2, Graeme spoke to me about this possibility, and I was like, ‘Oh man, oh wow, that’s gonna be a real change, but it was gonna be so unexpected, and it’s really exciting.”
“It’s almost like this is something that he doesn’t really want to show. He’s done it for a long time. For the way that he’s been, this is something that makes him look… I don’t know. It’s a sensitive side.
“It’s a vulnerability that exposes something, a core that perhaps he’s been hiding for a long time because it makes him not weak but vulnerable. Exposed.
“There was a sense as I’m walking up here that it’s not performance. It’s not like I’m about to show off. It’s, ‘Alright, you’re really gonna do this. You’re really gonna show this. Okay, let’s do it.’
“Because Wilford is this really odd man who clearly gets off on strange performative things, so perhaps there’s a small sense of logic in [Oz’s] mind that goes, ‘This is like the only thing I can possibly do. It might work to convince him that I’m worth something.’
“You know it’s a weird survival tactic, but maybe it comes off.”
Snowpiercer already boasts one of the more musically talented casts out there with not one but two Tony Award winners in Lena Hall and Daveed Diggs. How did Otto feel performing in that company?
“Well, they already know I do, that I sing and play piano. It’s amazing to know how experienced and talented those guys are and to have that in parallel with them.”
Osweiller’s position as Head of Janitorial Service comes when the previous Head, Terence, is taken out by Pike on Layton’s orders on Snowpiercer Season 2 Episode 5. There was surprisingly little comment made about the murder in its wake, something Otto’s noted as curious.
“It’s interesting, though, isn’t it? ‘Cause, we don’t really go into it, but we’re really living the aftermath of that. That whole thing is a massive moment in the course of the story.
“Layton makes this huge decision which really goes against his character and his moral base and stuff, to ki– remove somebody. And he asks somebody else to do it as well, which is really dark.
“And obviously, LJ and Oz were very complicit in that. There’s that moment where he walks by, and they give him a nod. No one’s there to protect Terrence. Terrence calls for Osweiller, but he’s not there because he’s very much facilitated his death.
“It’s kind of a part of the grey morality that life is like on Snowpiercer, I think. We kind of have to understand that these things have become almost less taboo. Most literally murder, but for these guys, it’s almost like this has happened before, and it’ll happen again.
“In this moment, I think, for both LJ and Oz, they’re just removing their conscience from it, saying this is going to give us more power and more influence, and therefore this is a good thing. Especially given the history with Terrence.”
It’s a zero-sum world now. Set a thing in motion, watch it tumble down the line. All that’s coming is coming head-on. The whole great shit show flattened down into a single line. To climb, someone else falls. To gain, someone else loses.
With Osweiller quite literally singing for his supper and then not appearing in the final hour of the finale, where does Otto see his character standing when Season 3 hits the rails?
“So he stays on Snowpiercer, so he’s there. I think there’s a decision to be made that comes later on, because obviously at this point, it’s just the status quo.
“With the pirate train gone, this is now Wilford’s train again. It’s Wilford’s world. There isn’t a choice to be made at this point. There isn’t another side to go on to.
“So [the only option is] the same thing that Osweiller’s always done. He gets on with what’s in front of him. So perhaps that choice will come later, down the line. We’ll have to see what happens in Season 3.”
The COVID-19 pandemic affected the very end of Season 2 filming. Season 3 filming has begun under the new normal of pandemic protocols which make life on set a whole new game.
“Well, it’s just very different. I mean, it’s a massive privilege even to be here and working. You know, back in the UK where I flew here from, it’s very much still locked down. We weren’t even able to leave our houses.
“People living in apartments in the cities couldn’t even leave their apartments. And so I’m thoroughly privileged to even come to Canada where things aren’t as restricted at all. I can actually walk out on the street and go to shops and stuff.”
“[Regarding] the testing and stuff, I appreciate that we have even the chance even to be doing this. They’re testing like three times a week, and I’m very grateful to the nurses and to everyone involved with making sure we’re kept safe and stuff.
“There are so many measures in place. It’s just part of the new world, isn’t it? Who knows how long it will last, but there’s so much in place to keep us all safe and make sure we’re not gonna be endangering anybody else.
“So it’s part and parcel of the COVID world, which is the new thing. But I’m kind of used to it by now.”
With his wide range of interests, Otto has found ways to fill his downtime. As per COVID-19 protocols, travelers from outside Canada are required to quarantine for 14 days upon arrival.
“I do have a lot of different things I do. Like I say, obviously playing the piano and trying to make music and stuff. Learning and playing new pieces and things is something I tend to do a lot of.
“But also I love getting out and about, like running, cycling, skiing, hiking, and stuff. [Vancouver] is the best place in the world for all those things, so I actually love being here for that reason. I got a bike when I got out of quarantine last year, and I’ve been cycling about and stuff.
“Otherwise, one of the things I did during my two-week quarantine — because I knew I was going to be stuck indoors for two weeks — was I found these little miniatures that I painted when I was young.
“So I brought some of them with me which hadn’t been finished. It was like a little project for my two-week quarantine. I brought some paints, and I painted these little… they’re actually Lord of the Rings miniatures. I painted my little Frodo Baggins and stuff, which is quite fun.
“I like reading as well, so I’ve got some books on the go and that sort of thing.
“At the moment, I’m reading The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. I’d never gotten around to reading it before, and I’d heard of it as being an epic tale of following your heart and following your dreams and stuff. That’s one thing I’m looking at at the moment.
“And my landlord has been kind enough to give me The Cunning Man by Robertson Davies, who is apparently a Canadian. I haven’t read it before, so that’s gonna be cool.
“I just like having a book on the go. I definitely don’t read enough. I need to read more, but it’s nice having a book on the go. It’s kind of an antidote, isn’t it, to the kind of constant scrolling culture we’re so into.
“The feel of the page and the smell of it and stuff. It kind of slows everything down a bit and makes you sit there.
“Oh, and [Netflix’s] House of Cards as well, I’ve been doing that as well. I always get into a series as well when I’m on one of these things, so I’m watching House of Cards ’cause I’ve never actually watched it.”
With Snowpiercer being the major role of his career so far, Otto sees a lot of possibilities for future projects in his future. What’s the dream at the moment?
“Oooh, that’s a very difficult question. I think it would be amazing to play a musician of some sort. I don’t know what kind of context that would be, but basically, I love the idea of either exploring something I have as one of my skills outside of acting, whether that be music or something else, but also learning a new skill.
“I’ve been watching ‘Sound of Metal,’ Riz Ahmed’s Oscar-nominated performance. That’s a real inspiration to have a part where you get to learn a new skill within a kind of similar context to something that you already have. That would be an absolute dream.
“I haven’t got a specific idea of what that is because I love the idea of playing a part that hasn’t been written yet because then you can kind of take ownership of it.”
And that’s really the dream for Otto.
“[I want] to connect with, to collaborate with a writer or director to create something brand new and exciting.
“So I haven’t really got a kind of definite thing, but I love the idea of a biopic or something, or just to learn a new skill and to be able to perform something that’s really unique. That’d be amazing.”
While we can be sure that Snowpiercer Season 3 will hold many new developments for Osweiller and the rest of the two trains, it will be many months before we pull into that station.
In the meantime, according to Benjamin Johns Films, Otto has a sizzling hot TV movie, Relationships, which has been completed and is being looked at by the major streaming services, AND you can always watch Snowpiercer online.
Diana Keng is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on Twitter.