Jessica Brown Findlay stars in the new adaptation of "Brave New World." File Photo by Paul Treadway/ UPI | License Photo
LOS ANGELES, July 14 (UPI) -- Aldous Huxley set his 1932 novel Brave New World in the year 2540. Though that still is five centuries away, the stars of the 2020 adaptation -- which premieres Wednesday on the new Peacock streaming service -- feel Huxley's world is less distant now than it seemed when he imagined it.
"I think great works all mine thinking outside the box and questioning things," Jessica Brown Findlay, who portrays New London citizen Lenina, told UPI in a recent Zoom interview. "It's not surprising sometimes when they come into fruition."
Bernard (Harry Lloyd) and Lenina take the drug Soma to stabilize their moods, like all citizens of New London do in Brave New World. Lloyd feels the world of 2020 is not too far from New London, whether people avoid anxiety through medication or technological distraction.
"Any quiet moment that might occur in a 10-second wait for a bus is now instantly filled with something exciting," Lloyd told UPI in a recent Zoom interview. "The fact that [Huxley] foresaw that 100 years ago is pretty sentient."
In other ways, the television adaptation updates Huxley's vision of the future. Findlay said that aside from Lenina, the book had few female roles. The show fills both New London and the SavageLands outside the city with women in equal measure to men.
"So many of the roles where people are in power, they're now played by women because there's no reason why it couldn't be a woman," Findlay told UPI. "It's a show for now."
Bernard and Lenina visit the SavageLands, in which the primitive world of 21st century technology is like a theme park. There, Lenina and Bernard meet John the Savage (Alden Ehrenreich), who has never taken Soma like all of those in the SavageLands do.
When the citizens of SavageLands have an uprising against the visiting New Londoners, John escapes with Bernard and Lenina back to their city. In the show, as in Huxley's book, John does not adapt to New London. He feels they have created a so-called utopia by stripping individuals of any freedom.
"[Huxley] was able to foresee these different things that might emerge in society," Ehrenreich said. "People kind of become so comfortable and life becomes so convenient that they willingly give up certain freedoms that they have."
In contrast, Findlay believes the citizens of SavageLands are happier.
"Freedom is really the only space in which true happiness can happen," Findlay said.
In depicting the SavageLands for a 2020 audience, Brave New World filled them with artifacts from the present day. SavageLands recreates modern-day phenomena like Black Friday doorbusters as nostalgic events. The Savages make do with entertainment that consumers have discarded by 2020, but were unimaginable at the time Huxley wrote.
"[Production designers] have a lot of fun in SavageLands by imagining things that are modern today, like these MP3 players that are now post-apocalyptic joke," Lloyd said. "They don't make music anymore, but the idea of a CD is really interesting."
While New London might look clean and idyllic with white tile hallways and windows that overlook a futuristic sunset, Lloyd said the perfection should look a bit unsettling.
"Imagine this perfect society that might be designed by AI," Lloyd said. "Or, something that might be designed to keep everyone stable and happy, which is also somewhat creepy."
Lloyd added that Huxley's book focuses more on its depiction of the future society. He said the series fleshes out Bernard, Lenina and John as human beings coping with the world Huxley created.
"Everyone gets a few new characteristics," Lloyd said.
Huxley describes John as a romantic, inspired by reading Shakespeare's plays in the SavageLands. As the show progresses, Ehrenreich says it will portray John's romantic side in a different way.
"I thought [series creator] David Weiner did a great job of finding an updated and more modern feeling version of a character who's deeply romantic with a capital R," Ehrenreich said.
Brave New World is Ehrenreich's first project after Solo: A Star Wars Story. Although both are science fiction, Ehrenreich feels Brave New World satirizes modern society. He considers Star Wars a pure fantasy world.
"[Brave New World] is more about reflecting our world back to us than it is about just immersing you in a new one as a kind of escape," Ehrenreich.
Findlay is best known for historical dramas like Downton Abbey, as one of three Crawley daughters in the castle, and Harlots in which she played an 18th century prostitute. She said Brave New World felt like it was a believable depiction of the possible future, just as her historical shows transported her into history.
The sets were connected so that actors could film long scenes going between areas of New London as if it were a functioning city.
"It ends up as about 10 to 15 minutes on camera that's all connected," Findlay said.
Lloyd has appeared in the fantasy realm of Game of Thrones, the parallel worlds of Counterpart, historical dramas like Manhattan and the Marvel superhero world of Legion. He concurred with Findlay that Brave New World felt like a world that really exists. He marveled that it was so expansive, the crew required additional studio space to portray it.
"We ran out of space and moved into another studio a few weeks in," Lloyd said.