When Aldous Huxley wrote his dystopian novel “Brave New World” in the early Thirties, he couldn’t have imagined where his story would take him: the streaming wars. The book has been adapted for radio, film and the stage, and now it’s been given the miniseries treatment, launching Wednesday with Peacock, NBC’s new streaming platform.
The nine-episode “Brave New World” began development under NBC Universal-owned Syfy, and was picked up for USA Network before getting plucked for Peacock late last year. Star Jessica Brown Findlay nods to the excitement of being part of Peacock’s launch, which follows shortly after that of HBO Max and Disney+ (and the tanking Quibi). But more than that, she’s just happy to be talking about new work during a pandemic and sustained shutdown of production. Also, despite being a futuristic take from the past, the show is still able to connect with the present moment.
“It feels even more relevant now than when we were making it this time last year,” says Findlay (the show began filming last June). “It’s unbelievable to make something that can mirror some of that. There’s literally a moment when John [the Savage; a central ‘outsider’ character] is referred to as a virus that’s infected.”
The series, led by showrunner David Wiener, reimagines Huxley’s vision of a dystopian future world coming 88 years after the book was published. Although much of that vision is dated (or aspects of it have long come to fruition), Findlay points out themes of the work that are so vast that they’re enduring.
“It’s about what is happiness and what is freedom,” she describes. “If you’re told you’re happy, that you experience nothing outside of that and you’re not experiencing anything other than a drugged-out numbed existence, what cost does that come at? And are you free? There’s no one type of person, and yet in this world they’re putting people in unmovable, unquestioning spaces.”
The show also stars Alden Ehrenreich as John the Savage and Harry Lloyd as the upper-class Bernard Marx. The series deviates from Huxley’s book in its point of view; Findlay’s character, in particular, is given a central — and more exciting — character arc on-screen as opposed to her more “flat projection” on the page.
“She’s kind of left behind,” she says of the Huxley-penned Lenina Crowne, adding that in the original work, all of the authority figures were male. (She chalks these elements up to “when it was written,” although a male author imagining a male-dominated world doesn’t feel all too antiquated). Nonetheless, the series length — nine hours — means the show is able to flesh out its characters. “It allows for each character to take what feels like a human amount of time to adjust and change and make choices and adapt to the world around them,” she says. “Everyone’s affected, and no one falls by the wayside.”
The world of “Brave New World” is constrained by societal norms that go against the conventional grain of those in the real world, particularly in regards to intimacy and relationships: monogamy is antisocial and promiscuity is expected. Those rules are reflected on-screen (although not in the HBO-sense), but the conventional rules of the real world were the same and came into play. The 30-year-old British actress credits the presence of the show’s intimacy coordinator as integral in establishing a sense of security throughout production, and not just to help navigate overtly “intimate” scenes through need language. “If you’re telling certain stories with certain actors, you need to feel comfortable all the time and not just at those little points,” says Findlay.
Although she starred on historical brothel drama “Harlots” (which was female produced, written and directed), “Brave New World” was her first time working onset with an intimacy coordinator.
“It’s all about trust and how you’re feeling in your bodies; we’re human beings, so we change all the time. That was always thought about, and you could change [your consent to] anything,” says Findlay. “And merely by being given that power, especially as a woman, I felt freer than I ever had before.”
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