If one were to create a parody of a prestige TV show, it would probably share a lot of the same hallmarks of Brave New World, the flagship sci-fi series of NBCUniversal’s new streaming service, Peacock. Like Westworld, the series poses probing questions about human nature and free will, but sometimes gets a little too “dorm-room philosophy seminar” for its own good. Like some episodes of Black Mirror, the series presents a technologically advanced society that seems like a utopia, but is revealed to be more like a dystopia with sheen packaging. And like [checks notes] seemingly half of the dramas airing on prestige networks or via streaming companies, there are orgies. Lots of them. Although, the orgies in Brave New World are actually more reminiscent of the giant Zion ragers in the Matrix sequels—for better or worse.
While somewhat derivative of other dystopian shows—a seemingly perfect society crumbles from within because of humanity’s imperfections—Brave New World finds itself in an awkward middle ground. Sure, it might seem like Brave New World takes a few pages from the likes of Westworld and Black Mirror, but those series were themselves inspired by Aldous Huxley’s 1932 novel of the same name: a seminal work of science-fiction favorably compared to George Orwell’s 1984. Like time, content is a flat circle. Not quite original yet based on one of the grandfathers of dystopian fiction that everyone strives to imitate, Brave New World is difficult to parse. How fitting, then, that you could say the same about one of the show’s stars.
By most measures, Alden Ehrenreich is a movie star. Just a couple years ago, he was not only the lead of a stand-alone Star Wars film, but tasked with portraying one of the most iconic characters of all time: Han Solo. Headlining Solo: A Star Wars Story is the kind of role that is ridiculously competitive—thousands of actors reportedly auditioned to play the Corellian smuggler—and can catapult someone’s career. Think Chris Pratt after starring in the first Guardians of the Galaxy.
But what makes Ehrenreich such a fascinating actor is how un-Solo-like the rest of his career had been to that point. If he was a household name prior to Solo, it was in a household with an entire bookcase dedicated to Criterion Collection DVDs. The closest thing Ehrenreich had to stardom before Solo was a hilarious supporting turn in the Coen brothers’ 2016 black comedy Hail, Caesar!, playing a doofy actor who memorably strained through the line “Would that it were so simple.” Before that, Ehrenreich didn’t break out so much as he happened to collaborate with a murderer’s row of acclaimed filmmakers: Francis Ford Coppola (twice!), Warren Beatty, Park Chan-wook, the disgraced Woody Allen—and later with Solo, Ron Howard. Even his entry into Hollywood sounds like a fable: He was discovered by none other than Steven Spielberg. Ehrenreich has already lived through the classic cycle of a rising star, from bit parts to a scene-stealing supporting role to the lead in one of Hollywood’s biggest franchises. But it only took two years to go from the flash in Hail, Caesar! to the insurmountable burden of inhabiting an iconic character in one of Hollywood’s biggest franchises. What comes after that?
“My time with these people has informed me of so much of my thinking and my belief and my character,” Ehrenreich says, explaining how working with so many great directors has, above all, taught him the importance of authenticity. “The boldness or the insistence on doing things their own way has been very inspiring, and you can feel their best work infused with that independent spirit.” For Ehrenreich, the opportunity to star in Solo was an extension of those ideals: He cared more about the project itself than what being Han Solo could represent for himself and the future. “Very early on when I was auditioning for the role, I went on a trip by myself to Death Valley to kind of sit with myself and say, ‘OK, no matter what happens, this is going to be a lot,’” he says. “‘Do I really want to do this movie and this story? Do I really care about this story and this role and not what it would do for my career? Not how everyone thinks about it or talks about it, but do I really like this film?’ And I really did.” (Ehrenreich has been candid about preferring to work with talented filmmakers for less money, though the Disney check probably didn’t hurt in Solo’s case, either.)
But the jump from the Coen brothers to a massive blockbuster brings its own challenges—some of which were entirely out of Ehrenreich’s control. Solo’s original directors, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, were replaced by Howard after “creative differences” with Lucasfilm head Kathleen Kennedy. Rumors of an acting coach being hired to help with Ehrenreich’s performance didn’t inspire confidence, either—especially considering that much of the Star Wars audience was probably unfamiliar with his body of work. In the end, Solo was a mixed bag. The stand-alone film was the rare flop for Lucasfilm, grossing under $400 million at the box office. (Only a Star Wars movie can make hundreds of millions and still be deemed a dud.) But the movie itself wasn’t the disaster that some fans had feared: It was a fine, if unspectacular experience—and maybe the fact that it was so unspectacular was Solo’s cardinal sin. Even the worst Star Wars entries, like Attack of the Clones and The Rise of Skywalker, are interesting in a watching-a-slow-motion-car-wreck sort of way. But of the issues with Solo, none of them fell squarely on Ehrenreich, who did a capable job playing Han Solo without, thankfully, trying to do a Harrison Ford impression.
As Ehrenreich sees it, people are still figuring out Solo: He feels the movie will have more admirers once the cloud of hype and massive expectations dissipates. Maybe Solo isn’t Rogue One or The Last Jedi, but it’s breezy, fun, and provides answers to both things we never needed to know (the origin of Han Solo’s name) and others we’d never thought of asking (yes, Donald Glover flirting with a sassy robot voiced by Phoebe Waller-Bridge is weirdly hot). “I think when they were starting Brand New World, there was kind of a second wave of appreciation for [Solo],” he says. “There was so much expectation on it when it was being released, and there was kind of this second wave of actually seeing the movie as what it was. And meeting kids who care about it feels so gratifying. So it’s been an incredible adventure.”
As for Ehrenreich’s next adventure, well, Brave New World is a different sci-fi beast. There are no furry alien companions, but it’s still a surreal experience: In the futuristic and utopic New London, humans are genetically engineered and thrown into caste systems to serve a crucial function in society. “Alphas” are the ruling class, “Epsilons” are the manual workforce, and so on. There are three overarching rules in New London: There is no family, no monogamy, and no privacy. Orgies are highly encouraged, but citizens will be reprimanded if they have sex with the same person a lot over a small period of time. (Big brother is always watching.) Everyone pops pills called Soma, which regulate moods and dispel negative thoughts, and seem to subsist on a diet not unlike the menu at Juice Press. Naturally, everyone is conventionally attractive—and quite horny, as the orgies can attest.
The crux of Brave New World’s plot centers on an outside force disrupting New London’s status quo. You see, what we consider normal—family, monogamy, religion, etc.—still exists in this future in a place called the “Savage Lands,” which is located in America and treated as a vacation spot by New Londoners because of its macabre intrigue. It’s here that we meet John, played by Ehrenreich, an everyman who soon finds out that his mother, Linda (Demi Moore), was a New Londoner cast out by the society. Since John is technically “one of them,” he goes from the Savage Lands to New London—experiencing this seeming utopia with bewilderment and skepticism.
An everyman thrust into a fantastical world with hokey beliefs? Ehrenreich notices some similarities too. “The function that John serves in this show is not unlike the function that Han Solo serves in the original Star Wars, which is kind of the guy who thinks all this shit is weird and then gets kind of dragged into it,” he says. “In a way, John is us. John has the emotional inscape that we have and has the feelings that we have, and is seeing this world the way we might.”
That doesn’t mean that John isn’t beguiled by New London, though. Once he becomes more acclimated to their society, John becomes the center of attention: New Londoners want to hear anecdotes from the “Savage,” and that interest is often reciprocated in the form of huge orgies and sex. (I can’t stress this enough: Brave New World is probably the most orgy-loving show I’ve ever seen.) It is an overwhelming experience that Ehrenreich likens to modern celebrity. “If you go to a certain event or if you go to a certain kind of work function or whatever, sometimes that’s who you are in the room,” he says. “Sometimes it means being around a lot of gross people you don’t really want to be around. I remember when I worked for Warren”—Ehrenreich is on a first-name basis with Warren Beatty—“he quoted Jodie Foster, who said that the only real value of fame is access ... It opens doors. It gives you opportunities.”
Ehrenreich describes the Hollywood experience with the ennui of someone decades his senior, but that doesn’t mean he’s become hardened by it all. Heading into his first post-Solo project—which is also his first time leading a television series—Ehrenreich insists that his mind-set hasn’t changed. His career might have a winding, somewhat unpredictable arc, but it’s always been driven by the same idea. “I never know what the next thing is going to look like,” Ehrenreich says, with a purposeful aimlessness that would make Han Solo proud. “It could be big. It could be small. But if there’s someone behind it you feel cares about this in a genuine way and has an interesting vision, I’m in.”