Garfield Wilson is an individual fueled by and overflowing with incredible positivity. Speaking with TV Fanatic by phone, his upbeat and open attitude to life and all its possibilities is both inspiring and invigorating.
His acting credits span the gamut of genres from science fiction procedurals like Almost Human and Continuum to the comedic This Blows and thrilling dramas like The Man in the High Castle and, recently, TNT’s Snowpiercer.
But that is nowhere near the limit of his talents. He is an accomplished singer, having fronted two bands in the past and not shy to grab the mic for a song or two even today.
In 2005, he founded Forward Fitness, a physical training company with a mission to create connections to inspire change. Today, he remains the owner and an active personal trainer when his schedule allows for it.
Wilson has appeared on both seasons of TNT’s Snowpiercer as Jackboot Kaffey, a member of the militia on the “last ark of humanity” who are tasked with being the muscle enforcing Wilford’s Order, the social structure its creator envisioned for society on the train. Will Kaffey board Snowpiercer for Season 3?
“They’re trying to get me into Season 3. That was in the works early on this year, but I landed probably the biggest role of my career early this year in January.
“Unfortunately, I can’t talk about it because I’ve signed an NDA, but I will tell you it is an old tale that’s well-loved by young and old. It’s a very big-budget feature film, and I’m extremely excited.
“I actually am busting at the seams to talk about it because I start[ed] filming in April. I don’t stop filming until the end of June just to give you an idea of the scope of it.
“But Snowpiercer is trying to get me on for Season 3 because it’s this post-apocalyptic Noah’s Ark on a train. If you don’t die, you’re still technically on the train. And I’ve done some things, so they kind of want to get me back in there. Fingers crossed that it will happen.”
The jackboots on Snowpiercer aren’t exactly a group that fills audience members with warm or sympathetic feelings. They are usually seen as a faceless mob, the brutal tool of the villain(s). Was it hard to get into character as Kaffey? It’s not like method acting the role of a thug is ever a good idea, right?
“I didn’t do the method acting, per se. I knew the movie before I landed the role. I stumbled upon it accidentally. Just late at night, and you’re scrolling through movies when you don’t know what to watch. So I saw Chris Evans. I saw John Hurt. And I respect those guys. Especially John Hurt.
“I started watching, and I got totally sucked into the incredible world they created off of the book and did a really, really great job. And I was riveted from beginning to end.
“I was pleased by them creating a television series. I didn’t know where they were going to go with it. They went even deeper, as far as characters development, evolution.
“And the thing that I love about Snowpiercer is that when you think that you have a character figured out — can predict or feel the vibe of where that character’s evolution is going to go — it flips on you, quite dramatically, especially with what’s happened on the train.”
Much of Snowpiercer Season 2 was taken up with exploring the depths of unexpected humanity in characters we’d never expected to connect with.
“Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. Nobody is two-dimensional on Snowpiercer. And I think that the jackboots are no different. They’re indoctrinated to be military soldiers and keep the order, and they’re loyal to that order — loyal to Wilford — because that comes with a certain amount of perks.
“I mean, they’re well taken care of because they need to be. They have status. They have a job. And they have purpose. [It’s] a human need to have purpose and to be contributing to something.
“When there’s a revolution at the end of Season 1, and there’s the discovery that Wilford wasn’t on the train, and now he’s back with Big Alice, those alliances are really tested.
“Because the order of things is destabilized and not certain, everyone is just trying to figure out where they’re aligned to, where that power structure is, and where they want to be.
“I think that Jackboot Kaffey and the rest of us are looking to discuss that new order, to find our place again, and to find it in a way that we have some sort of authority.”
The majority of the jackboots, including their commander, were eliminated on Snowpiercer Season 1 Episode 9 when a section of the train was disconnected and sent into the frozen world without hope for survival. The remaining jackboots kept a very low profile for most of Season 2.
“Yeah, we took a hit. Then [Wilford] reappeared again, and there was the drama. Engineering-wise, it was a crisis. And the only one that could save them was Wilford. That’s when we see the jackboots reappear, but we’re not in uniform. We’re just in a sort of stealth mode.”
That uniform, like that of the militia of many historical regimes, was a symbol of strength when the regime was in power but became a target while the regime was in disgrace. It wasn’t something jackboots could wear with pride or confidence.
“No, no, because the way that we played it, we’ve lost our status, we’ve lost our authority. And we’ve taken severe hits, so let’s fly under the radar. And they stay stealth, figuring out what we’re going to do next.”
As previously mentioned, Wilson comes from a musical background. In fact, he was essentially discovered while performing in a stage production of Jesus Christ Superstar.
Drawing on that talent, Wilson’s next project to air is the musical comedy series, Schmigadoon!, premiering on July 16 on Apple+ TV.
“We finished filming that project in December of last year. I was done in November, and they had more pickup shots to do. But that’s a project I’m incredibly excited about.
“Executive produced by Lorne Michaels, Cinco Paul from Despicable Me, and Cecily Strong, who also stars in it. Just an incredible story.
“I was thrilled to be part of that. Keegan-Michael Key, Alan Cumming, Dove Cameron, just all these Broadway stars, and it’s just something that is completely different from what is out there right now.
“Schmigadoon! The name of the town that all these colorful characters live. And it’s a magical place. That’s the only thing I can actually say without spoiling it. It’s a magical place.
“It is a musical comedy. So there’s lots of song and dance, and I know that audiences are going to be surprised when they see it — the kaleidoscope of colors and song and the brilliant writing and performances.
“When you’re doing any kind of show, and you’re on camera, there are certain bits where you’re acting with your scene partners, and you’re in the moment. But sometimes the camera’s not on you. It’s not your coverage.
“On this particular show, just being in the scene with Keegan-Michael Key, Cecily Strong, and Alan Cummings and Dove Cameron, and all the rest of the amazing cast members, there are times when the camera wasn’t pointed on me, and it’s a good thing because I was just trying not to laugh.
“I was dumbfounded by how brilliant these people were in what they were doing. They’re just amazing. And what they do, honestly, I can’t say enough about this all-star cast and what they brought to the table.
“It was the first production that I’ve ever been on where once you do show wrap, the directors say, ‘Okay, that’s a show wrap on…’ whoever, and they clap you out. They say goodbye. It’s a wonderful experience.
“It’s a nice send-off when you’ve done your last scene, and then the first AD goes, ‘Okay, everybody. That’s a show wrap on Garfield Wilson,’ and everybody claps.
“It’s just a really great feeling, [to] get hugs and all that stuff. Well, with COVID, you don’t get hugs anymore. But on this particular show… I’ve never been on a show where they bring up flowers, and people are crying. It’s a massive love-in. I can’t wait for this show to come out.”
Another director who is known to celebrate his actors’ show-wraps is Star Trek alumnus Jonathan Frakes. Although he is not involved with Schmigadoon, Wilson worked with him on the Nickelodeon series, The Astronauts.
“Let me tell you, that was kind of surreal because I was never a massive Trek fan, but I fell in love with Star Trek: The Next Generation. The characters and the moral dilemmas that the crew went through taught all sorts of life lessons.
“That show really spoke to humanity in the world of science fiction. And I loved everybody that was on that show and working with Jonathan Frakes.
“He is a brilliant director. He has this amazing way with actors. He’s just wonderful, wonderful to work with. He kept it really light. He knows exactly what he wants and how to get those performances in such a poignant way. He was a lot of fun. He’s extremely funny.
“[The Astronauts] was filmed in Canada. That was just outside of Vancouver on a sound stage. Wonderful, wonderful set. Imagine Entertainment built a brilliant set.
“I played a character named Niles Taylor, who is a widower and the father of two of the children, Martin and Doria, that end up being two of the five kids that get shot into space by the A.I., Matilda.
“I’m the lead engineer that is working for this company called Helios that has maintained Matilda. And you know, the funny thing is, because they are shot into space, and we’re down on earth, we never worked with the kids directly.
“We never saw the kids unless it was a table read. We would do a table read, and they went off, and then we went off. All the days that I worked on set, we were completely opposite from the children. Yeah, quite bizarre.”
Fans of The CW’s Batwoman will remember Wilson from Batwoman Season 1 Episode 7, where he played the taciturn but deadly assassin known as The Rifle.
“That was a lot of fun. That was so much fun. Yeah, they treated me so well.
“Such a great cast and crew. Super nice. And working with the wires and the stunt coordinators was a dream … and the fight sequences!
“You know, I’m a superhero geek as well. I mean, I grew up drawing Spider-Man and Superman and Batman and having piles and piles of comics.
“Just to be on [Batwoman] was incredible. The wardrobe was awesome. Just to come home and tell my kids, ‘Yeah, I’m on Batwoman. Whatever.’ You know, it’s a lot of fun in that.”
With everything that has happened on Batwoman Season 2 with regards to Safiyah and Coryana, it may have escaped fans’ notice that Wilson, as the Rifle, was, in fact, the very first minion of Coryana to appear in Batwoman’s Gotham.
“It’s been a great journey in terms of that character developing. And it was cool to be part of that. I mean, it’s trivia now. I’m a trivia question.”
With the wide variety of roles Wilson has played, does he have a character he dreams of taking on? There was no hesitation in answering.
“Yeah, [I’d] drop everything to be a part of the Black Panther franchise.
“I think it was an absolute slam dunk for Hollywood and media to acknowledge that there is an audience for rich characters and a rich world where there’s black actors, male and female, strong female characters that are leads, and it doesn’t have to be stereotypical to be creating new storyline.
“And it’s such a beautiful story. That movie was a cultural event. There was such a need for that type of movie, and it just happened to be in the superhero Marvel genre.
“The list goes on and on and on of stories where you have rich characters, and I’ve said this before, where this world is beautifully diverse, and life happens to people of color and to people of the LGBTQ community.
“The world is in dire need and [has] the thirst for having compelling stories told with people that just happened to be people of color or in the LGBTQ community. It doesn’t have to be a story that focuses on that, you know?
“I’m a proud black man. But that’s not the sum of my being. I’m more than that. I can offer so much more. And things happen to me in my life.
“I walk into a room, and I offer something special, I offer something unique, but I just happen to be black. It’s not because I am black that these things are happening. And that’s what I think is needed.
“I’m really encouraged by the small incremental steps that are happening, and I would love it to move faster in Hollywood.
“[For example,] the new Batman starring Robert Pattinson having Commissioner Gordon being Jeffrey Wright — [I’m a] huge fan of his work, he’s such a brilliant actor — and Catwoman being Zoe Kravitz.
“That Gotham that they’ve created represents what the world is. These strong, rich, multi-layered characters that are so complex that are representing what the world is, which is diverse.”
While Wilson was born in the United Kingdom, he grew up in Edmonton, Alberta, a city on the Canadian Prairies, which could be described as similar to the American Midwest in terms of population demographics.
With his passion for seeing diversity represented in the world today, did Wilson feel diversity was valued in his community when he was growing up?
“No, no, I don’t. Not in the least bit. No. I had bullying and really racist comments and action taken upon me from the entire spectrum.
“From teachers, from authority figures to friends, to people that I thought were in my corner and understood me. They would just all of a sudden say something that was hurtful that they’d passed off as a joke.
“My brother, my sister, and I, and a few friends, we were always the only black person in class, a handful of black kids that were in school, and we felt it. We felt other.
“I had wonderful, wonderful friendships growing up. I had childhood chums that are still dear friends to me today, and they never made me feel like the other, and their parents never did either.
“But the journey of my youth growing up in the Prairies was not an easy one. And all the trauma… You know, if I can think of the most traumatic moments of my life growing up as a kid, it was because of the color of my skin. Full stop.”
Recent events have made a huge impact on Wilson, motivating him to raise his voice in support of the Black Lives Matter movement as well as stepping up as an ally for the LGBTQ+ community.
“Honestly, I went through so much self-discovery in the last year. I was gutted in 2020 with everything leading up to the George Floyd killing and after that.
“And then [I was] thinking about all the tough times where you are in a situation where somebody or someone or a group says something that is discriminatory or racially biased, and you’re supposed to laugh it off.
“You acquiesce those comments and those actions and all those things that you know that condone that.
“Just recently, I’m teaching my kids that it’s not okay. We need to be uncomfortable. We need to be comfortable being uncomfortable in those situations, making people uncomfortable and calling to attention that it is not okay.
“My blood boils. America has so much work to do. So much work to do. Oh my god. We can go on for hours.”
Wilson’s perseverance, positivity, and polish on-screen make him a sought-after performer. There is a predictable downside to that popularity, however. There’s only one Garfield Wilson, and that means, sometimes, there are hard decisions to be made when projects conflict, time-wise.
Case in point: NBC’s forthcoming series, One of Us is Lying.
“I was extremely happy to land a major role in that pilot because it’s a wonderful, wonderful story by a brilliant writer, and they did a great job in the pilot. It was a wonderful role to play.
“The unfortunate truth is I thought production was either going to be in the US or in Canada. I was hoping it’s going to be in Canada because we found out last August that NBC had greenlit eight episodes.
“But they took production to New Zealand, and I’m, as I said, I’m locked into this very big production until the end of June, and One of Us is Lying starts filming in April.
“Unfortunately, they’ll have to recast my role because, by the time I’m able to go to New Zealand, they’re going to be three-quarters of the way [done] filming, and that just won’t work out.
“I wish them the best. I said my sad goodbyes to the castmates that I was in contact with. It’s going to be an amazing show. They’re so so so talented. And those kids that are playing those roles are going to be huge stars because of it. It’s gonna be an amazing thing.
“I’m sad not to be part of it. But that’s the balance. And I’m incredibly excited to be doing what I’m doing. This is going to be an amazing, epic event.”
Actor. Musician. Fitness trainer. Activist. Wilson brings his energy and joy to all aspects of his life, but his grounded center has always been his family. COVID and all the events of 2020 and onwards have only made that more apparent.
“My daughter, Tru, [just turned] 18. She’s graduating high school. My son, Jude, is also an actor. He’s actually guest-starred in an episode of Riverdale [recently]. He just turned 16. And my daughter, Jasmine. She [turned] 13 in April. Yeah, I’ve got a crew.
“I’m super happy that we’re able to get them back in school because, last year, we were homeschooled. And that was extremely challenging.
“I’ve always had huge respect for teachers, but — oh my god — are they ever an invaluable resource! They should get paid way more than they do for what they provide for our children because I can’t do it. At least, not as well.
“I spend most of my [down]time with my kids and my fiance. Because of COVID, we keep it in a tight bubble. You know, working on guitar and singing, trying to stay in shape.”
It goes without saying, big things are in the offing for Garfield Wilson.
It seems that the old saying about getting back the energy you put out into the world is holding true for this powerhouse of positivity.
Look for him on Apple+ TV’s Schmigadoon! in July, TNT’s Snowpiercer Season 3, and, eventually, on the big screen in his TOP SECRET (for now!) film production.
Diana Keng is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on Twitter.