Alden Ehrenreich Talks Fighting For Emotions in Peacock's 'Brave New World'

NBCUniversal's new streaming service, Peacock, has premiered its first original series, Brave New World. Actor Alden Ehrenreich spoke to Newsweek about playing John the Savage in the new dystopian drama.

Based on Aldous Huxley's sci-fi novel, Brave New World introduces viewers to New London, where emotions are suppressed by the powerful drug, Soma. Though they have become numb to their feelings, Bernard Marx (Harry Lloyd) and Lenina Crowne (Jessica Brown Findlay) are eager to discover what else lies beyond their utopia.

Outside of New London, John has survived living on scraps in the Savage Lands. His mother, Linda (Demi Moore), claims she belongs to the top social class in New London. Unfortunately, John doesn't even believe she is a Beta. The drug-induced utopia is about to collapse when a full-blown rebellion erupts from the Savage Lands.

Four years ago, Ehrenreich became the breakout star of Hail, Caesar! In the Coen Brothers movie, he played the good-natured cowboy/actor Hobie Doyle. Two years later, Ehrenreich stepped into the Millennium Falcon and played the iconic scoundrel in Solo: A Star Wars Story. With Brave New World now streaming on Peacock, Ehrenreich and the rest of the cast take viewers from a hi-tech city to a trash heaped wasteland.

Newsweek subscription offers >

During our one-on-one interview, Ehrenreich opened up about how John lives in a world where emotions are outlawed, the lessons learned from playing a younger version of Han Solo, and his thoughts on the pandemic.

Tell me about being part of the launch for Peacock. There's this new audience for the streaming service. There's also this audience that loves the classic novel.

Well, it's exciting in this media landscape where everything is so like the Wild West, to be a part of a launch of a new streaming thing. I think the book has so many brilliant ideas and great characters in it. I think that [showrunner] David Weiner and the other writers did a really great job of refitting the book to a series and bringing it to the screen, and keeping the essence of its ideas, and the emotions of its characters.

Brave New World
BRAVE NEW WORLD -- "Pilot" Episode 101 -- Pictured: Alden Ehrenreich as John the Savage Steve Schofield/Peacock

Newsweek subscription offers >

Your character, John, is down on his luck. He's a bit of a momma's boy. And yet, he is also a reluctant hero. What interested you the most about the role?

Well, I liked this whole juxtaposition of seeing a human being who had a lot of baggage and a lot of complicated feelings thrust into this "new world," where feelings are kind of outlawed and illegal. And this show becomes this really interesting question: Are bad feelings bad? The world in this show has outlawed anything, like fear or anger or anxiety. You have this character coming in, who's bringing all these things and kind of saying, "Well, without those things you can't have feelings like joy or love," and fighting for it. So I thought that was really compelling.

Brave New World
BRAVE NEW WORLD -- "Pilot" Episode 101 -- Pictured: Demi Moore as Linda Steve Schofield/Peacock

Tell me about working with Demi Moore. When we first meet them, John is mostly taking care of his mother, Linda. When he needs her the most, the relationship switches. She becomes stronger and takes on more of a leadership role.

Yeah, totally! I mean, Linda's been ridiculed her whole life because she always says she's a Beta from New London and everyone thinks she's not. So during the series, Linda gets to show who she really is. And this new personality comes out of her.

And Demi Moore was really great to work with! She's really intelligent and really wonderful in the role. Working on those scenes with her was a real treat.

Brave New World
BRAVE NEW WORLD -- "Want And Consequence" Episode 102 -- Pictured: Jessica Brown Findlay as Lenina Crowne -- (Photo by: Steve Schofield/Peacock) Steve Schofield/Peacock

Tell me about finding the chemistry with Jessica Brown Findlay. John and Lenina have trust issues when they first meet each other. There's always this constant tension between them.

Yeah! I think that really becomes the heart of the series. There is this love triangle between him, Lenina, and Bernard. And working with Jessica was easy! She's such an incredibly gifted actress and brings so much to it! She brings so much heart and feeling! Those scenes were just so wonderful to shoot. And she's such a powerhouse actress.

Tell me about working with Lara Peake, who plays Madysun. Also living in the Savage Lands, Madysun is involved with the rebellion. There are times when Madysun is using John. You give these expressions when John realizes he's being used too. I thought that was an interesting dynamic between the two.

Yeah, totally! That's cool that you're picking up on that. I think there's a really interesting dynamic between them. She's kind of the cool girl at school almost. She's letting him have this secret romance with her. And so, they have this interesting dynamic.

And Lara was really great in the role and really funny. We did some improvisation about some backstory and stuff. It was really nice.

Brave New World
"Pilot" Episode 101 -- Pictured: (l-r) Alden Ehrenreich as John the Savage, Lara Peake as Madysun Steve Schofield/Peacock

Brave New World has these amazing sets and the backgrounds seem like CGI. When you worked on Solo, did being in a Star Wars movie teach you how to react better to these moments where there is nothing in front of you?

Yeah, in a way. I mean, what's funny, on both of these jobs, is how much actually is there. We've moved into this new era of filming science fiction stuff where they build out most of the set and they project on screens a lot of what you would actually be seeing. So most of the things in this that we are looking at, we really are looking at. And a surprising amount of that in Star Wars was like that as well.

I recently saw Hail, Caesar! on Netflix. I really enjoyed your performance in it.

Oh, thanks so much!

What are the challenges between working on a movie and a TV show?

Well, I think that with a series you have a lot more scenes typically. For me, there's a lot more material, which is really nice. You get to act more. On a film, there's one director who's overseeing the whole film and that person's really your boss. So you work for them.

And on a series, you work for a showrunner who isn't, in this case, directing the episodes. So who's kind of the king is, it feels a little different. And it's just a different thing.

And also the structure of it is different. In a movie, it's more contained. You know how it's going to end, et cetera. And a series has a lot more different kind of scenes in it.

What are you working on next?

I wrote and am going to direct a kind of medium-length, kind of shortish film whenever this is done. So we're in pre-production on that. I'm putting the team together. And then, I'm reading scripts, figuring out what's next. We're all kind of figuring out what the next phase of storytelling looks like.

Has the pandemic changed your outlook about choosing a role for a movie or a TV show?

That's a good question! I think for me, it's a feeling I've had for the last few years. But it's one that's felt even clearer during this time, which is that life's short and I really only want to do projects that I really love and work with people that I'm excited to work with. And that has been the great joy of it, of my career so far and what I could hope to be able to continue to do.

Brave New World
BRAVE NEW WORLD -- Season:1 -- Pictured: Alden Ehrenreich as John the Savage Steve Schofield/Peacock
Alden Ehrenreich Talks Fighting For Emotions in Peacock's 'Brave New World' | Culture