Of the many new characters introduced on Snowpiercer Season 2, Wilford’s right-hand advisor is the most enigmatic and subtly terrifying advisor, known only as Sykes.
Portrayed by veteran actress Chelsea Harris, Sykes is an unknown quantity, efficiently executing Wilford’s plans without ever giving anything away.
And while we haven’t seen her in a fight (yet!), there is no doubt in our mind that Sykes has the skills to execute more than just plans.
Thankfully, Harris is as warm and friendly in real life as Sykes is cool and intimidating on screen.
Speaking with TV Fanatic by phone, Harris had only just touched down in Vancouver, BC, Canada, to begin filming Snowpiercer Season 3 and was still looking at a week and a half of quarantine before she could start on set.
It’s a complicated transition from Los Angeles due to COVID-19 protocols nowadays, but Harris was positive about how smoothly it went.
“Luckily, travel is really streamlined right now. There’s not a lot of people on flights. It was really easy.
“I was in a hotel [at first]. It was supposed to be a three-day thing, but [our test results] came back within 24 hours, so now I am in my own little apartment.”
Vancouver weather can be extremely changeable, as Harris found out when she woke up that morning.
“I was walking outside with just a sweater on yesterday, and then I woke up to snow, and I’m like ‘Whoa!”
She agreed that it might be a good way to get back into the Snowpiercer mindset.
Discovered as a teen in a talent search, Harris boarded Snowpiercer with an impressive set of credits, from a recurring role she landed soon after arriving in LA on Nickelodeon’s Just Jordan to a strong supporting role in this summer’s highly anticipated blockbuster sequel, Top Gun: Maverick.
(Regular readers will understand why my favorite credit — with Sykes as a close second — is her role as Dr. Naáshala Kunamadéstifee on Star Trek: Picard Season 1 Episode 2.)
Harris’s introduction to Snowpiercer was unusual in many ways.
Due to the long post-production drama which delayed Snowpiercer Season 1 from airing, Harris never got the chance to see her show before becoming a part of Season 2.
“I got booked on the second season before the first season even aired. So, when I did come up here to first shoot it, it was very much a new world to me.
“Thankfully, we have an amazing team who was able to break it all down and fill us in. And also, walking around on this set, it really does inform a lot of the world, if that makes sense.
“There are lots of times we sit in Wilford’s quarters, and if you’ve seen the show, his quarters are beautiful, heads above the rest of the train.
“I spent so much time in there, and the claustrophobia starts to set in. But also, something I think a lot of people don’t know, the train cars are actually on rollers, and so, as you’re filming, they’re also rocking the train, so you get sea legs, train legs.
“It’s a really wild physical experience.
“That’s why the creative team is so good. A lot of folks would be like, ‘Just move your body. You’re an actor.’ (laughs)
“This is where I love this team. They really help you be in this experience.”
“I didn’t realize until I got up here and saw a set like this. The first time, I mean, I was like ‘whoa.’ Granted, I’ve been on sci-fi sets before, Star Trek: Picard, and the production design, the amount of time and effort, attention to detail that goes into that is extreme.
“But, to get to see it on Snowpiercer in detail for the many months of working on the show, I had even more appreciation for it.”
We meet Sykes for the first time on Snowpiercer Season 2 Episode 1 when Melanie boards Big Alice.
In contrast to Kevin (Tom Lipinski), whom she greets by name, Melanie takes a long look at Sykes and comments, “You’re new.”
Since Melanie knew everything about and everyone involved in Snowpiercer in its preparatory stages, it’s significant that Sykes is a stranger to her.
“I feel like that’s a detail that, unless you’re really paying attention, not a lot of people caught. What I can tell you is that, [regarding] Sykes’ back story, you’re going to get to know her so much more in season 3.
“You’re going to get to find out who she is, how she got on the train, and why she has this really tight-knit relationship with Wilford.
“You’re going to get a sense of just how badass she is as we delve into the finale episode [of this season].”
Pressed on whether she and Layton face off in a physical confrontation before the credits roll on Season 2, she was tantalizingly cagey.
“I can neither confirm nor deny, but I can tell you that you are in for something really, really epic that happens. It’s going to be so exciting; I don’t want to ruin that surprise for you.”
On Snowpiercer Season 2 Episode 7, we saw an interesting dynamic spring up between Sykes and Rowan Blanchard’s Alexandra Cavill as Alex finds herself shut out of Wilford’s plans while Sykes remains in his inner circle.
“That’s the difference in the relationship that Sykes has with Wilford [versus] what Alex has.
“You know, Alex, being Melanie’s daughter, being the young engineer on Big Alice, they kind of have this father/daughter relationship, while Sykes with Wilford, it’s truly professional. They are trusted confidantes in a way that Alex is not, necessarily.
“And Sykes and Alex, it’s a bit beyond a big sister relationship because there isn’t that warmth and love between them. They’re a little bit competitive [towards] each other, for his attention.”
As Sykes, most of Harris’s scenes involve Wilford, and that has given her ample opportunity to analyze just what it is that makes him so dangerously enticing.
“He creates that loyalty. On the show, Wilford, Sean Bean, does such a beautiful job at this.
“He knows how to draw you in, make you feel special, make you feel seen, and make you feel unique. And then, he also knows how to find your weakness and turn it around, and [use it] against you.
“However, he won’t necessarily be the one to punish you. He’ll be the one to — as you saw maybe with his scenes of Kevin in the bathtub — he’ll be the one to hand you the razor and make you harm yourself.
“It’s reeeeallly manipulative. And, honestly, Sean does an exceptional job of playing that fine line between warmth and evil.”
Having Sean Bean as a scene partner was yet another surprise waiting for her when she arrived for Season 2, a stay that was meant to be much shorter than what we’ve been treated to.
“I didn’t even know it was going to be him when I first booked it. This show was so shrouded in secrecy when I first got it.
“Funny story about getting it. It was originally supposed to be a two-episode guest star when I first auditioned for it.
“I don’t know whether Sykes was supposed to die quickly or what. But, the team behind the show, the producers and writers, decided, ‘You know what? Let’s actually keep her around. As a matter of fact, let’s use her to do all of his dirty work.'”
With the many shows and characters she’s already experienced in her career, does Harris still have a dream role in mind?
“I absolutely do. I love the sci-fi author Octavia E. Butler, and it’s my dream to not necessarily bring one of her books to life, but to do a film about her. Her life. She was one of the first black sci-fi authors that a lot of people don’t know about, although they do know her books.
“I want to bring her life to the screen because, in interviews that I’ve read, she wrote the books really about her[self], as the protagonist.”
It’s a fascinating project to consider, blending Butler’s real-life with her powerful internal landscape that inspired a huge body of influential works.
Harris has long been a passionate supporter of mentorship for young women and was nominated by Shonda Rimes and Dove in 2018 to be a Dove Self Esteem Ambassador.
“Yeah, so with Dove, I’ve actually been doing my own workshops since then. They provide all of this incredible education for the mentorship of young women, helping them find their voice and their worth, their value. I do small workshops on my own. I mentor individual young women.
“And then I have an accountability group of young women where we meet once a week for an hour, an hour and a half, you know, lift up each other, support each other, and provide that mentorship.”
In an ironic twist, COVID hasn’t impeded connecting with her mentoring groups.
“No, actually, it’s made it easier! Everything is virtual! It’s actually been one of the few blessings of COVID.”
Harris loves the medium she works (primarily) in and was happy to share her Top Three TV Must Watch Shows.
“Top three! Okay. The Flight Attendant. So good! So anxiety-producing. Holy cow.
“Number 2: Lovecraft Country. One of my favorites.
“Okay, and three. I can sometimes be a reality buff, and I admit I loved the Bachelor. I do. Just putting that out there.”
Without even mild exaggeration, Harris is an extremely busy actress. Having wrapped on Top Gun: Maverick, she has several other projects in post-production as well.
“There are a few things that might not be on IMDB yet. I just shot a movie, Ambulance, with Michael Bay, Eiza González, and Jake Gyllenhaal,
“I loved working with [Michael Bay]. He knows how to get what he wants, let me tell you.
“And then I just did Colin in Black and White, with Ava DuVernay. It’s been a busy time. I feel very blessed!”
Returning to our discussion about Snowpiercer, Harris sang the praises of a team that made her, as a newcomer, feel at home right away.
“This cast has been so warm, so welcoming. Yeah, they’ve really gone out of their way to make new members feel like, ‘Hey, you know what? You’re welcomed here. We want you here.’
“Because the truth is — when you go on to a set where the cast has already been together a long time — oftentimes people aren’t really thinking about that. So I feel very grateful to these folks.”
It helps that Vancouver’s not a hard place to hang out either.
“I love this place! I’ve been so excited to come back. Vancouver is like kind of the vibe of L.A., but just better. (laughs) No! No! That’s how I feel, just how I feel, I’m just saying. (laughs) I’m thrilled that I get to be here for so long this year.”
Shortly after this interview, the news broke that Harris had been made a series regular for Snowpiercer Season 3! Woo-Hoo! Congratulations!
Snowpiercer airs Monday nights 9/8c on TNT, and you can watch Snowpiercer online to catch up.
Diana Keng is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on Twitter.