Alden Ehrenreich, even if he weren't the guy who literally took over the role of Han Solo from Harrison Ford, is the kind of actor that just looks and feels like a leading man. The swagger that helps define screen heroes like Han, Indiana Jones, Butch and Sundance, and other like them seems to come easy to some people, and Ehrenreich is in that mix, for sure. That's maybe why it's so impressive to see how vulnerable he often has to be in Brave New World, the new series from Peacock based on Aldous Huxley's dystopian novel of the same name.
As John the Savage, Ehrenreich is initially presented more or less as his verison of Han was -- as an aloof, handsome badass from the wrong side of the tracks, existing in a larger-than-lie world that would give him a lot of fun stuff to do. Quickly, his station changes, and Ehrenreich says that one of the best parts about the show is the way that he has to flex his own creative muscles -- and the way the story impacts his character's mindset.
This is one of those parts where you quickly had to do a lot of emotional stretching. At this point are you just used to doing that in these big-ass epics, or is that still hard?
When asked whether these larger-than-life scenarios gave him more creative legroom, or whether he had to get up at 4 in the morning to start slapping himself in the face and preparing, Ehrenreich told us, "Both. I feel like the last few jobs I've done, it's felt like that. But I think the reason is because I'm drawn to big swings. I'm drawn to parts where there's a lot going on, and there's a lot to do, and it's a challenge. There's other kinds of roles that I've come across that seem like, 'oh, this is a cool thing,' in a cool movie or a cool story, but it's not attractive. It's almost like I think of it in an athletic sense: you want to push yourself. You want to feel at the end of your capabilities -- sometimes past it."
That's more or less how John feels throughout much of the story.
"I read the first four episodes before I got involved, so there is this this flashy bro in some ways, but then what I found is these really robust scenes that feel almost like scenes out of a play, and so I saw that it's not a 2-dimensional thing," Ehrenreich told ComicBook.com. As to the Han Solo comparison, he added, "This character would like to believe he's that, more than that he is that."
The universe constructed in Brave New World can turn on a dime, with scenes of oppression or crushing violence juxtaposed with scenes of wonder and joy. Ehrenreich said that's part of what drew him to the story, and that the indomitable spirit that he sees in John is part of what drew him to the part.
"What's cool about the show is the real confluence of tones that they balance really well," Ehrenreich said. "You get a little bit of everything; there's some real humor that has a satirical bent to it -- and that's in Huxley's voice, I guess. There's a real deeply felt, intelligent love story at the center of it, and then there's this broad spectacle thing. My character's so baffled and turned around during so much of his introduction into that world that it lends itself to that."
We joked a bit about the idea that delivering a dystopian story in 2020 is a daunting task, but it's really that kernel of hope and strength that's at the center of Brave New World that resonates with Ehrenreich, more than the big, broad, sometimes deeply divided world of the show.
"I think it is easier for me to relate to that," Ehrenreich explained. "Without being self-aggrandizing, I do feel more like that kind of person, who finds some way forward no matter what's going on, and braces for what's happening. As an audience member who's also performing in it, I also am moved by those characters, and believe in their incredible value, especially during dark times. Resignation seems to be the most evil position in certain ways. So I'm more turned on by that. When you're inspired by it, it's kind of easier to play."
He also noted that in a world where everything seems like it's all under control, and everyone is in sync, that playing one of the people out of step with the mainstream is easy because everything becomes intensely personal, and every conflict is visceral. He said another factor that makes performing like that easier is his co-stars, whom he said was the most passionate and prepared cast he has ever worked with.
"They're such dedicated actors," Ehrenreich said of his co-stars. "The thing about this show is, the level of investment, and emotional investment, and preparedness of this ensemble was of a different order than I'm used to. It was great; it was inspiring to be a part of it."
And he was able to use that experience to color his interpretation of the role, since he was not especially familiar with Brave New World before taking the job. He said that he read the book after having been sent the scripts, and his experience with Huxley is mostly through essays, and Doors of Perception, not so much his novels. Asked whether he had another Huxley property he'd want to take a swing at, he said not yet.
"One of my closest friends is reading Island," Ehrenreich said. "There's a talk by Alan Watts, who describes himself as kind of a philosopher/entertainer, and he has a talk about Huxley where he talks about Brave New World as this satire that's saying 'look at all of the things that are wrong,' and Island is what Huxley puts forth as what would be a bona fide utopia, or that this is what he would believe in. So that's on the shelf. I'm reading that next."
Brave New World is currently streaming on Peacock.
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