Wilford is the main antagonist of the 2013 film Snowpiercer, written and directed by Bong Joon-ho.
He is portrayed by Academy Award nominee Ed Harris, who is also known for his roles as Christoff in The Truman Show, Carl Fogarty in A History of Violence, General Hummel in The Rock and The Man in Black in the HBO series Westworld.
As a child, Wilford was always fascinated by trains, wanting to construct his own. Later in life, he developed the Snowpiercer, a train with a perpetual-motion engine which was meant to be a globe-spanning luxury liner that would sufficiently travel in any conditions.
After a global warming counteracting experiment failed, causing a second ice age and killing most life on Earth, the Snowpiercer became the only sanctuary for humanity, the wealthy residing in the original luxury cars while the poorer were sent to live in the train's tail, where they endure grueling and disgusting conditions of living and are treated extremely poorly by the guards running the back end of the train.
To control the population within the train and prevent overbreeding, Wilford incited riots within the oppressed tail passengers to fight for better lifestyles, effectively killing off tail passenger, soldiers, and first-class passengers.
As well, a vital part to Wilford's perpetual motion engine had worn out, but he did not have the resources to replace it. He solves this problem by taking children (around the age of five, as per their size) from the tail and placing them within the train's engine to have them function as the missing part. He also sets up schools within the train, featuring lessons and songs to inspire the people inside to not leave the train, despite the signs of the Earth becoming gradually more habitable. With his construction of the train and its status as a coincidental safe-haven, many people on the train laud Wilford as a god.
During the events of the film, a man by the name of Curtis receives messages in protein blocks (the tail residents' daily food rations) from an elderly tail resident: Gilliam. These messages, constructed by Wilford and delivered through Gilliam, are encouraging Curtis to lead the tail to the front of the Snowpiercer. Leading the residents of the tail to revolt and fight their way to the front, many people die in the process, including guards, tail residents, and many first-class passengers. Because of the staggering number of casualties to the first class, Wilford has Gilliam executed and orders a mass killing of most of the tail passengers to compensate for the lives lost among the first-class.
After realizing Wilford's intent (as well as finding several children of his comrades working the engine), Curtis and Namgoong, a prisoner who programmed the train's security system, manage to detonate a bomb made from an explosive drug, killing Wilford and themselves and damaging the train's engine. The resulting explosion causes an avalanche that throws most of the train's cars off a cliff and derails the engine and several other cars, effectively destroying the Snowpiercer for good.
- Joon-ho Bong couldn't find the perfect actor for Wilford, until Producer Chan-wook Park recommended Ed Harris.