Alden Ehrenreich knows all about pressure, especially when it comes to taking on iconic characters. He showed off plenty of swagger as the younger Han Solo, and now, he’s taking on one of the lead roles in a TV adaptation of Aldous Huxley’s groundbreaking 1932 novel, Brave New World, for NBCUniversal’s streaming service, Peacock. The series should please genre fans who like their sci-fi hyperkinetic, sleek, and pulp-soaked. Alden portrays John the Savage, an outsider from the gritty Savage Land who’s not buying what the polished exterior of New London is selling.
Brave New World maneuvers in an interesting direction, given that it tackles many still-relevant social themes while also not taking itself seriously. One the great pleasures of this series to watch Alden go head-to-head with Harry Lloyd’s Bernard Marx as the wheels begin to come off a supposed utopia’s track. Both actors disarm the audience in their roles as their worlds crossover in intriguing ways. Alden was cool enough to hop on the phone with us to discuss this project while also fielding a Baby Yoda question and gracefully correcting me on the very important matter of citrus fruit.
You started your film career with Francis Ford Coppola (in Tetro), and he called you “a total sponge.” That’s quite a compliment.
That meant the world to me. He has always been one of if not my favorite filmmaker, and I have always loved his work, and so getting the opportunity, especially in my first movie, was such an enormous gift, and it was one of the best times I’ve had. We filmed in Argentina, and he and I developed a really wonderful relationship. And he’s been a real mentor to me ever since and extended an enormous amount of generosity.
Yeah, I am kind-of a The Godfather nerd, so I am itching to know if there’s an intentional reference in this show about death and oranges.
Oh, well… I hate to ruin this for you, but I think it’s some grapefruit here.
Oh no. I needed those to be oranges. We could have even talked about Breaking Bad‘s oranges. It could have been great. Interview ruined!
Well, who’s to say what’s an orange and what’s a grapefruit? We don’t really know.
That’s very kind of you to say.
You know what? You’re dead on.
Well, I’m grabbing onto this segue. People in New London are not afraid of death, but John the Savage obviously feels differently.
Yeah, I think the whole dramatic tension of the story is seeing a human being like us (and a human being like us that has a lot of complicated emotions and character traits) enter into this very bizarre, controlling world with all these structured rules and starts upturning all of them, which I guess you haven’t quite gotten to in the series [with the screeners released to the press so far], but that’s where you’re about to be.
Do you think that people are going to draw comparisons to Westworld in addition to the actual source material?
Maybe. I’m sure that maybe cosmetically there’s a similarity, like the aesthetic of it? But I don’t know Westworld, actually, so I don’t know how similar they are.
You’re saving yourself a whole lot of confusion, but there’s the theme park and the futuristic aspects both at work in both shows.
Oh right, yeah!
Very clearly, John the Savage is not buying what they’re selling in New London. The book was written in the 1930s, so it’s crazy how relevant it still is today.
What’s really incredible about the whole story is how much insight and foresight Huxley had into what the world might become. And you see this world that’s selling itself as a utopia, and telling everyone that they have everything they want, and that things are perfect, and there’s this version of happiness that’s possible for all of them and they’re all supposed to aspire to. Yet the reality of the lives of the citizens that live there is very different, and I thought there was a lot of resonance and relevance to our world where so many things are so convenient, and our lives are so intertwined with people who are trying to get us to buy things by convincing us that happiness looks like this or means buying this thing or what have you. I think that’s only of many different facets of the show that continue to develop over the course of the series that I think have resonance to the world we’re living in.
Huxley’s happy pills, Soma, felt prophetic in how people seek to self-medicate these days.
Yeah, I think the idea there is that the thing that’s illegal in New London is bad feelings. They outlaw monogamy and family and love because those things can stir up a lot of strong emotions, and they’ve decided that they’re not going to have any bad feelings. So the show becomes a kind-of treatise on “are the things that we think of as bad feelings really bad, and what do we lose when we try to cut ourselves off from them?” Also, what is their value, and can we be whole without them?
And John’s got those feelings. How did you get into the outsider mindset?
To an extent, I think part of getting into it is was that I was one of two or three Americans on the whole set, so that did some of that job for me. I always kind-of drift on my own when I work for the most part anyway. This ensemble and this cast, we got very close, and they are one of the best ensembles of actors that I’ve ever worked with. And the most dedicated, the most prepared, the most “in it,” so it was a wonderful environment to work in.
Well, the interactions between you and Harry Lloyd were fantastic. You really gave him a death stare.
[Laughs.] I think what the character’s going through in that moment is a kind-of… John is kind-of a militant romantic, and to be in this world where everything’s sanitized and two-dimensional and all this stuff. It rubs him the wrong way and pisses him off.
And Demi Moore plays your mother. I didn’t recognize her at first, that’s how good she is here. What was it like to work alongside her?
It was great. It’s great to see her in this role. She’s such an intelligent person and has had such an interesting life experience, and is so smart that it was really wonderful spending time with her, getting to know her, and talking to her.
So, we can’t ignore the Star Wars stuff here. You were under a lot of pressure from the fandom ahead of Solo. Is there a different kind of pressure to bring a classic novel to life?
It’s pretty different. The thing to me that is different is that Brave New World is really about the world we live in now, whereas Star Wars is about letting you escape into a fantastical world. And you know, the pressure thing is certainly heightened on certain jobs, it’s more intense, but it’s always the same pressure, which is dealing with “how are people going to react, what are people going to say?” That’s the same pressure you have even on the smallest job that you have to manage, so while the intensity changes, the way of dealing with it stays the same, which is that you focus on the job you have to do, the task at hand, and you do your best, and you let the rest slide.
Did you lose your relative anonymity after that project?
No, I didn’t. I think part of that is that I look kind-of different in that movie, and so I definitely get recognized more. Yet it was not necessarily — it was not something that took over my whole life.
Are you keeping up with Baby Yoda and the rest of that universe now?
[Laughs] No, not really. I’ve been focusing on other things.
Other things, like how to occupy your quarantine time?
Luckily, I have projects that I’m working on and developing, a medium-length film that I wrote, and I’m gonna direct, so there’s various stuff to do. For all the challenges of this, it’s also an opportunity to check-in and work on things. Multiple things being true about this, I’m enormously lucky to not be facing some of the challenges that a lot of people are, who have to go back to work this second.
If you could ever insert John the Savage into another film or TV series, where would you want him to go?
Oh, that’s an interesting question. I think where he’d wanna be is something really romantic. I think at the end of the day, for all his edge and anger, that he’s really a romantic at heart, so some kind of love story.
But nothing Nicholas Sparks wrote, right?
Nooo, I don’t think so. Something a little cooler and edgier than that, probably.
‘Brave New World’ is now streaming on Peacock.