Steven Ogg may not be a household name (yet!), but he is most definitely a recognizable face and voice across multiple media platforms -- television, film, and video games.
Not only does he sport credits on three seasons of AMC's The Walking Dead and two seasons of HBO's Westworld, but he has a huge following in the gaming world as the voice and face of Trevor Philips, one of the protagonists of Grand Theft Auto 5.
Most recently, he has played the role of Pike on the first season of TNT's Snowpiercer. Pike is a Tailie with a dream of a better life and the flair of an opportunist savant, a man who plays the game of survival by exercising great flexibility in his loyalties.
Speaking with TV Fanatic from his home in Los Angeles, Steven shared how the COVID-19 pandemic had derailed his plans to hit the road and return to Canada to see his friends and family.
Those plans got derailed because the Canada-US border has been shut-down since March to non-essential travel, and Canadians traveling in the US are required to quarantine for two weeks upon their return to Canada.
"My family's all in Alberta," he explained, "and I could come back, and I was going to visit friends in Vancouver.
"Now I'm torn because although I would do the fourteen-day isolation obviously, I have California license plates. My mom and everyone is like, 'They don't want anyone with any kind of attachment to America there,' and I was like, 'But I want to come back!'"
It's always heart-warming to discover that no matter how big an actor becomes in Hollywood, they still yearn for home and family. After all, origin stories are important to actors as well as characters.
Now, as to Pike's backstory, Snowpiercer has been pretty cagey about not revealing much.
When asked directly whether we'll get more of his past in Snowpiercer Season 2, Steven is just as ambiguous. "It's always nice to show, don't tell, so I think for some characters, the backstory comes out in what they do, in their actions, which aren't always necessarily right because, again, we don't know what happens seven years prior to this."
"As far as, do we cut away to Pike growing up? No. That being said, you'll learn more about Pike just from what happens. I mean, choices made can always change, right?"
Knowing the kinds of choices Pike has made so far, and the fact that Steven has been made a series regular for Season 2, there is infinite potential for some incredible Pike-driven shenanigans in the future.
The character is such a blank slate that we don't even know if Pike is his real name, a first name, last name, or a nickname.
"Well, he has a pike [defn: long thrusting spear]... So, it's like is 'Pike' just because he has a pike? So, who are you going to be? Or is that [his] real name? I've certainly have gone with that's his nickname. Pike. As opposed to, 'Oh, isn't this a coincidence? What's your name? Fork. What's your name? Spoon.'
"You know, there's some people that go by their last names," he added, "Some people get a nickname, and that's all you ever call them."
Layton: I need everybody united together against a common enemy.
Pike: Layton, why do you gotta always ask me to be a better man?
On whether Pike is capable of becoming the better man Layton seems to think he can be, Steven is very optimistic.
"I think there's always hope," he muses, "He's just at wit's end. It's been seven years where we pick this story up. We don't know what he's tried before. We don't know what he was believing before.
"One can say he vacillates and goes back and forth. He can be a traitor, can be considered all sorts of things. OR he could just be someone that's broken and is just trying everything possible.
"So it might seem like going back and forth, or switching teams, or however you want to define it, but you can really see it. He actually has hope, hope for change. He's changing.
"If that means some people get screwed over, sure. But I think there's hope that 'Yeah, I can change.'"
On Snowpiercer Season 1 Episode 9, Pike strikes a deal with First Class to be their emissary to Layton and the rebel forces in exchange for an upgraded life on the train.
My first question on this huge pivot was whether Pike thought, when he made the deal, that the war was over.
Steven's thoughts on it were straightforward. "I think that that portion was over. Definitely. I don't think you can ever feel fully confident that it's never going to rear its ugly head again.
And did he actually think people like the Folgers in First Class would uphold that agreement once the war was over? That Pike could just settle into a new life of comfort?
"I think he would've given it a go," the actor hypothesizes, "[to see] if it suits him. It's a different energy up in First. It's amazing, even as actors, when you're in The Tail and then, that scene when I'm up there.
"Talk about the environment making so many choices for you. You're sitting there, in a gown, with your legs open, eating cake, and everyone is all posh.
"The energy is different. It would take a while to acclimatize. The Tail is like jail. They've been in this jail for seven years, [eating] bug bars. It would just take a period of adjustment. Could he? Well, I think, as we see, he's willing to try anything."
The concept of Snowpiercer, a thousand and one car long train capable of circumnavigating the world and sustaining the lives of three thousand people, presents in its wake a multitude of potential future technological developments.
Asked what he thought most interesting, Steven zeroes in on the engine that powers it all.
"The concept of the perpetual motion, that what actually keeps it running is the fact that it keeps moving. It's sort of like the chicken or the egg. Well, what came first? I dunno, but as long as you keep moving, you keep living. That idea fascinates me."
Pike is incarcerated in The Drawers as punishment for his role in an uprising in The Tail early in the season.
Steven's only (mostly facetious) regret about Pike's time in The Drawers was that he wasn't able to experience some of the tender care Dr. Klimpt provides for his "Sleepers."
"The only thing I wish I had more time in The Drawers for is if I had Happy Anderson giving me a sponge bath, shaving me. At one point -- because we worked together on The Tick as well, and I just love Happy -- I was like, well, if I'm going to be in The Drawers...," Steven joked.
As an experimental form of life suspension as well as punishment, he recognizes the need for a way to preserve life when humanity has been (allegedly) reduced to the population of the train.
"It's a person. There's only x-amount of people on the train, which is x-amount of people that are the only survivors on the planet. So, if someone has done something and you can sort of freeze them. I mean, look what happened to Strong Boy. He came out speaking Mandarin."
Aus: What was that? Mandarin?
Klimpt: Does he speak Mandarin?
Aus: No. He. Doesn't. Speak.
Strong Boy (as played by Kurt Ostlund) does indeed emerge changed by his time in The Drawers. Steven shares that Ostlund is, in fact, fluent in Mandarin Chinese, which was a bit of a shock to his castmates, according to Steven.
"We were all like,'Come on!' and he would speak, and we'd go like, 'oh my god, you're one of those guys. Super smart. You're super smart, Curt!' He's full-on. They'd just give him the lines, and he'd translate them."
Turning to Steven's personal pastimes, he freely admits to being one of those actors who doesn't watch a lot of TV. Recently, he's enjoyed Marcella and the Spanish language series, Money Heist, but otherwise, there hasn't been much drawing him in.
It's not for lack of trying, though.
"I keep wanting to but, most of the time, it's not my thing. Not that there's bad shit out there, although there is. It's more just that I never watch during the day, so, at night, I turn it on. I watch for a bit. I read. I fall asleep. What a great, boring quarantine life I've got! Wooo!"
When asked about what he's reading, his enthusiasm for the written word was incredibly apparent. While he had to think long and hard on TV series he'd seen recently, he was able to list the books he was enjoying without a second's thought.
His recently read and on-the-go list, not light-weight by any means, includes Christopher Ryan's Civilized to Death: The Price of Progress, Tara Westover's The Educated, Jean Genet's The Thief's Journal, and Sapolsky's Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst.
Next up will probably be Jim Carrey's recently published semi-autobiographical book, Memoirs and Misinformation: A Novel. "It sounds almost Kaufmann-esque. It comes from reality, but [with a twist], and that's life. That's also perspective. I enjoy that.
"And because it's coming from [Jim Carrey]. When somebody has had the experiences he's had regarding fame, recognition, money, you're going to listen more because he's gone through it, right?"
The ambiguity of reality that Carrey's fictionalized narrative presents really appeals to Steven's sensibilities and drives some of his own creativity.
"I love [that ambiguity]. That's what I do when I'm here cause that's sort of what my Instagram is about. It's become this art installation. People that know me know what's real and what's not but essentially [it's something] to put out to the world.
"Kind of what I do with my posts is I blend -- it's not a real-time thing. It could be something I wrote a month ago, a year ago, that I intersperse with an image or a picture. Of course, it's gotta be a self-indulgent selfie cause that's the whole idea of poking fun at that world.
"That's why I'm very curious about the book because I love to do that myself. Blend fact and fiction and then just present it out there to people and don't really care if they get it or not because that's not the point."
Having played a lot of hard-edged characters on The Walking Dead, Westworld, and now Snowpiercer, I was interested in what he saw as his ideal part. The answer was, honestly, a delightful surprise.
"What I loved was [doing] this film, The Short History of the Long Road, that came out recently with Sabrina Carpenter. Honestly, if I had a choice, it would be three or four people and just being a dad. I don't want to say a 'normal' character, but you know these films where you can be a regular person in, if you will.
"Either that or something like a Captain Fantastic where you go off and survive somewhere for six months. Those kinds of projects I'm a big fan of that are sort of close to the theater."
A beautiful and thorough answer, but then he drops one more addendum to his list. "That or The Life and Death of Marina Abramovich that Willem Defoe did at the Park [Avenue] Armory. But that's theater."
And that exemplifies the incredible dichotomy of Mr. Steven Ogg's life in a nutshell.
"All my dreams tend to lean on probably not the most mainstream things," he admits, "and it's funny that I've been in these enormous mainstream... be it the video game or the TV shows I've been very fortunate to be on [and they] are absolutely nothing that has ever been a part of my world.
"My sensibilities are as far away from the worlds I'm in as they could possibly be, which is rather ironic."
His love of the theater includes a dream of performing in a live venue, but that isn't a door that has opened for him yet. "I've been wanting to do theater for years and years. I went to London to have some meetings a couple of years ago, but nothing really came to fruition."
It's ambitious, avant-garde theater he is looking to experience as a performer. He cites St. Anne's Warehouse and REDCAT Theater as venues in line with his objectives.
"Theaters that are, not interactive or immersive," he qualifies, "but they generally have [something different]. If you're going to see Of Mice and Men, there's going to be rabbits running around."
His Snowpiercer castmate, Timothy V. Murphy (who played the terrifying Commander Grey), was in a production of The Beauty Queen of Leenane in 2000 for South Coast Repertory, and Steven envisions how he'd stage that show with a new perspective.
"We discussed, 'Wouldn't that be great playing brothers in that?' And we'd put that production up but have also video of the backstory of the brothers, or what happens to the dog is shown in some sort of visual, disturbing thing. Just combine these mediums."
Another production that connected with him was REDCAT's 2019 What If They Went To Moscow? based on Chekov's Three Sisters.
"There were two theaters, and it was in Portuguese so subtitles in the theater, which is always interesting. You'd watch the production for two and a half hours in one theater, and they'd be filming because it's all about the three sisters, the celebration, the birthday party, and all of that. And you're watching it as a theatrical event.
"Then you have a twenty-minute break. You go into the other theater and the other group then goes into your theater. And now you watch a real-time movie that they're editing that is being filmed on those cameras that you basically thought were part of the birthday celebration.
"Actually, the actors are filming each other because they're doing a real-time, live-edit movie in the other theater that you watch. It's almost a five-hour experience. But that stuff? Gets me SUPER EXCITED.
"Yeah, these are the things that get me excited... but I just never got into those circles. Just never cracked into them. I would hope that I could still do that. You know, it ain't over yet."
Diana Keng is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on Twitter.