Oscar-winning actress Jennifer Connelly is back with two of the most anticipated projects of 2020: The long-awaited TNT adaptation of Snowpiercer, which premieres this Sunday, and the now-delayed Top Gun: Maverick, the sequel to Tom Cruise’s 1986 smash hit Top Gun.
Originally set for a June release, the latter has been pushed back to December, when theaters are expected to be open again after the coronavirus outbreak forced them to close their doors around the country. “It seemed like the right choice to me,” Connelly tells ET’s Kevin Frazier about the delay, which has only increased anticipation for Cruise’s return to the cockpit.
Picking up over 30 years after the events of the original film, Maverick sees Cruise reprising the titular role as one of the Navy’s top aviators training a new class of graduates for a specialized mission. In the sequel, Connelly plays Penny Benjamin, a single mother and Maverick’s new love interest, which means riding on the back of Maverick’s motorcycle and witnessing the aerial stunts from the ground.
When it comes to what happens in the air, fans have already gotten a brief tease in the first full-length trailer, but Connelly reveals those scenes are even better than what’s been released. “Having seen some of the footage of the flying sequences, it’s unreal,” she says, applauding her co-stars. “They were all really presented with quite a challenge and it’s pretty extraordinary what they did.”
Of course, if anyone is up for the challenge, it’s Cruise, who has a reputation for outdoing himself with each of his action films. “He sets the bar really high,” she continues. “What I observed was that he’s someone who is really passionate about just doing the best that he can possibly do and making the best thing he can possibly make in every moment. He doesn’t let any opportunity go by.”
While fans will have to wait until the winter to see Cruise fly again, TNT is bringing the cold to viewers with Snowpiercer, producer Graeme Manson’s adaptation of Bong Joon-ho’s 2013 cult classic and the 1982 French graphic novel Le Transperceneige about the remains of humanity living aboard a continuously moving, expansive train that circles the globe once a year after an ice age has wiped out the rest of the population.
Although the original story has always been seen as a stark warning, the series’ premiere amid the ongoing pandemic makes it feel more relevant than ever. “The themes of the show were always relevant, you know, but now [there’s] this added wrinkle really none of us anticipated,” Connelly says, comparing the new normal that people find themselves in across the U.S. as they shelter in place or quarantine with life confined to a train.
“Everyone in Snowpiercer has been separated from their communities and from people that they love and the lives that they lived and I think we’re all experiencing a version of that right now,” she adds.
One of those people is Connelly's Melanie Cavill, the train’s formidable Head of Hospitality who must help keep the order among the cars’ new class system. “I thought my character was very interesting,” she says of first reading about her character -- but not wanting to give too much else away.
But she’s one of the 1001 cars’ many inhabitants, who are brought to life by an ensemble cast including Hamilton’s Daveed Diggs, singer Lena Hall, The Americans breakout star Alison Wright and Argo actress Sheila Vand. “It's a big cast; there are a lot of different characters in a lot of situations,” Connelly says of the many overlapping storylines and intertwined lives on the train.
“There's a lot of diversity in the cast and in terms of their histories and backstories, where they’re from and what they want and what they gave up to be there,” she continues. “They're all stuck together, searching for meaning and trying to figure out how to survive and how to make sense of it all.”
While rooted in sci-fi, this stylish saga balances the genre with human stories that viewers will be able to relate to. “We’re able to, through that lens, explore some kinds of deeper themes,” Connelly says.
Snowpiercer, which has already been renewed for a second season, premieres Sunday, May 17 at 9 p.m. ET/PT on TNT.