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A new take on the sci-fi classic Brave New World landed for streaming on Peacock recently. And today, as part of Comic-Con@Home, the showrunner and cast gathered for a brave new panel to take fans behind the scenes of this sleek adaptation of Aldous Huxley's masterpiece.
Creator and showrunner David Wiener was joined by cast members Alden Ehrenreich (Solo: A Star Wars Story), Jessica Brown Findlay (Downton Abbey), Harry Lloyd (Game of Thrones), Hannah John-Kamen (Killjoys), Nina Sosanya (Killing Eve, Good Omens), Kylie Bunbury (When They See Us), and Joseph Morgan (The Originals) for a panel moderated by frequent SYFY WIRE contributor (and host of the official podcast, Brave New Pod) Angélique Roché.
Like the novel, the series envisions a utopian city known as New London that has managed to find peace by way of getting rid of monogamy, privacy, money, family, and history. But what happens when a man from outside the city hits the scene?
Though the novel was written in 1932, it is likely more timely now than ever. Huxley was prescient in many ways, and as Weiner said, "He was concerned about how humans would use technology to prevent themselves from being uncomfortable." People aren't existing "in the now," and they don't consider history either, according to the showrunner; they're all just comfortably numb, and not really living at all.
Many of the castmembers knew of the book previous to working on the series, but many hadn't read it. Ehrenreich was the first to admit that he hadn't read it. Morgan took it even further and said that he preferred the series' scripts, which he read first. It may have something to do with the fact that Morgan's character, CJack60, is not in the book. Though he maintained, "That's not why!"
Bunbury's character, Frannie, doesn't appear in the book either, but such is the nature of adaptation.
"The real danger is being too devoted or too loyal to the book. The feelings you can show through literature, you can't just show those events and expect those same feelings," said Ehrenreich.
A new take can also see things in a new light. For example, John-Kamen's character has been gender-flipped for the series, and she spoke about the importance of going into adaptations with a fresh perspective.
Sosanya's character, Mustafa Mond, has been gender-flipped as well. But she's still been able to lean on the "absolute arrogance" of being a World Controller. The switch in gender wasn't a big deal for her either — she remarked: "It's how it goes these days, as it should."
How did Bunbury and Findlay go about developing the friendship between Frannie and Lenina, and are they actually friends? "Yes they're friends," Bunbury said. Findlay added that there were definitely moments during filming when she would think, "Oh my god, I'm the worst friend ever," because she could be "harmful and destructive" to Frannie.
"You choose to put yourself in certain situations... but to then do that to someone you care about, obviously omitting truth is a form of lying, and if you have a friendship that's not what you do," Findlay continued. "And yet, there is so much love in trying to protect someone. Even if it means pushing someone away."
"She's trying to make Frannie see the truth... and Frannie just resists that," Bunbury said.
To elaborate, Weiner said that friendship connections such as these are paramount to the drama of the series, with all of the various characters and pairings experiencing it. It no doubt helped that genuine friendships behind the camera began to resonate in front of it.
John the Savage (Ehrenreich) and Bernard (Lloyd) are an example of this — are they really friends, or not friends? They didn't answer, but it was clear that Ehrenreich and Lloyd are fond of each other in real life. The description "web of friendships" was apt for Lloyd.
Lloyd's Bernard has a web of friendship with John-Kamen's Helm, also. "This wonderful hedonistic, chaotic artist, who is escaping at the same time as getting inspiration..." as John-Kamen described her, is "...always in the midst of what she creates, and that's sort of the tragedy of it."
Ehrenreich then noted that his job was easier than some of the other actors, as John the Savage grew up without conditioning, and more or less comes from a world similar to our own. "John, for all the deprivation of the savage lands, he, like many people there, has developed emotional intelligence and street smarts...," he said.
And when John hits New London? "It's weird, and it's creepy, and that feels real."
In general, the cast continually marvels at how poignant this story from 1932 still feels. As Ehrenreich said early on, "It's 1932, how much of it still stands is pretty remarkable."
Remarkable, but also weird, creepy, and boy oh boy oh man, does it feel real.
All episodes of Brave New World are streaming right now on Peacock.
Click here for SYFY WIRE's full coverage of Comic-Con@Home 2020.