3 Body Problem: Netflix’s New Sci-Fi Epic, as Explained by the Cast

3 Body Problem: Netflix’s New Sci-Fi Epic, as Explained by the Cast

2024 is a packed year for epic new TV shows, but one you may not be aware of (but definitely should be) is 3 Body Problem. The series has a big budget, massive cast and huge expectations as the first project after Game of Thrones for showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss.

Recently, Lifehacker Australia spoke to some of the cast of the Netflix series who previewed why 3 Body Problem may just be your next obsession.

What is 3 Body Problem about?

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Image: Netflix

3 Body Problem is based on the popular trilogy of sci-fi novels by Chinese author Liu Cixin. It’s a series steeped heavily in science, to the point it’s oft been considered unadaptable. The titular three-body problem itself is a complex and long-standing theoretical scenario in astrophysics, described in Science Direct as the motion between three mass particles under mutual gravitational interactions.

This is packaged into a more palatable format in 3 Body Problem, as the series examines a fictional past, present and future Earth wherein humans encounter a universal otherwordly threat.

It isn’t the first time 3 Body Problem has been adapted, with a Chinese-language series from Tencent Video debuting just last year, but Netflix’s version is perhaps the most international take on the tricky source material.

For the cast, 3 Body Problem’s complex themes were a drawcard rather than a deterrent.

“I read a bunch of different scripts as I was going through the audition process and just went, wow, is this really part of the same show? Because there’s so much variety here. There’s so much colour and depth. I think the world that they’ve built is so rich,” Jess Hong, who stars as Jin Cheng, told Lifehacker Australia during an interview. “The themes are incredible. You know, this existential crisis that we face is something that’s so relevant, I think, to anyone who really thinks about their place in the universe.”

3 Body Problem isn’t afraid to draw a thin veil between its extraterrestrial existential threat and the very real ones society is dealing with today. For Liam Cunningham, one of a handful of Game of Thrones returnees in 3 Body Problem, the series’ special sauce is in the grounded and dramatic way it unpacks the human response to such existential threats.

“The thing is, as with any huge problem, be it climate change, global warming, all that sort of stuff, is that the only way we’re going to solve it is to stop squabbling, get together, decide that we’re going to do something and work as an entire race,” he said. “With this show, we show the divisions and the people who don’t believe and the people who are pushing for the arrival of this existential threat.

“We have an opportunity with this magnificent story to tell these minute human stories,” Cunningham continued. “…the life of a single human being is as important as as the life of the entire human race.”

3 Body Problem is made by the Game of Thrones producers

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Jin (Jess Hong) and Jack (John Bradley) in 3 Body Problem (Image: Netflix)

George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire was once also considered pretty much unfilmable, until David Benioff and D.B. Weiss took it and turned it into Game of Thrones, one of the biggest TV shows of all time. The duo are no strangers to difficult source material, and this time, along with their third showrunner, Alexander Woo, they’re attempting to do it all again with 3 Body Problem.

For some of the cast, just the idea of working with the showrunners was enough to sign on. Cunningham even said yes to playing his character, Thomas Wade, without hearing the pitch.

“Normally, the way I would accept a role [is] I will get the script and see if I’m even capable of doing it… however, with this it was a little different,” Cunningham explained. “I got a call from David and Dan, it was a very short call, they just said, ‘you know the [other] thing you were thinking of doing? You’re not going there, you’re coming with us.’ I didn’t even ask them what it was. I just said ‘okay, fine.’”

“When you’ve had a decade of working with these incredibly talented maestros of storytelling and [their] quality of writing – some of the best work I’ve ever done has been the words that they’ve given me – It was a no brainer to say yes.”

Benioff and Weiss weren’t immune to the pressure or expectations of getting something like 3 Body Problem right; telling The Hollywood Reporter, “It was the first thing we’d come across since Thrones where we were actually scared [of]. We knew this is going to be hard.”

But the showrunners continue to prove they have a knack for excellent character choices, casting a crop of actors (both newcomers and GoT familiars) to tackle a sprawling group of characters of vastly different temperaments.

“When Thomas Wade came through, that’s when I panicked. I thought, can I do this? They obviously know me better than I know myself,” Cunningham reflected.

Hong added that the showrunners were incredibly collaborative throughout the production. The trio was on set every day, observing rehearsals and allowing the actors to collaborate with them on character development and scenes.

“[Jin] wasn’t actually meant to be from New Zealand, originally. After I met them on Zoom, suddenly there was a bit about her living in New Zealand for a while, so they really love to really get to know the performer and then draw little aspects of their life to kind of thread through the character,” she said.

“They’ll be there to answer questions about the scientific things that you maybe didn’t research well enough and want to discuss further. So, they’re always open to different perspectives, which I love.”

Who are the characters?

Benioff, Woo and Weiss once pin 3 Body Problem on an ensemble cast, who are often split into different factions and pairings, not dissimilar to Game of Thrones.

The Oxford Five

3 body problem cast
The Oxford Five (Image: Netflix)

The core cast is dubbed the Oxford Five, a group of friends who studied under one beloved mentor, Vera Ye. They reunite years after graduating, having all gone their own ways, with some finding greater success than others.

Hong’s character, Jin Cheng, could be considered the heart of 3 Body Problem. A character pulled from later in Liu’s trilogy, Jin often connects the disparate characters to one another, whether through personal friendships, romantic entanglements, or her active investigation of a strange VR game that leads her down the rabbit hole.

“Jin is definitely one of the people that make up the emotional core of the show,” Hong said. “She’s such a busy body and she wears her heart on a sleeve. I love that even though she’s so intellectual, a genius of her generation, she still is driven by her heart and gut. She moves through life instinctually and that’s why she can be so honest and upfront, and that’s how she moves forward with optimism. At the end of the day, she really does believe in a better future.”

Filling out the rest of the group is John Bradley’s Jack Rooney, a character who could not be further from Bradley’s previous role as the nervous Samwell Tarly in Game of Thrones. Rooney is often rude and outspoken, having used his smarts to develop a multi-million-dollar snack company. Eiza González’s Auggie is another member of the group to have risen to success, a strong visionary who has blazed a trail in nanotech development.

Rounding out the group are Saul and Will, two of the Oxford Five who are still struggling to find their place. Saul (Jovan Adepo) is incredibly gifted but has never gone beyond being a research assistant, easily distracted and happy to stay in his comfort zone.

Will (Alex Sharp) is a high school physics teacher, an affable friend who, more often than not, is relegated to wallflower status, particularly when it comes to Jin (and her new boyfriend Raj). Hong said her scenes with Sharp were some of her favourites.

“Whenever Jin interacts with Will, it’s a moment for her to actually breathe and kind of relax. I feel like he provides that safe space for her.”

The Power Players

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Thomas Wade (Liam Cunningham) and Clarence Shi (Benedict Wong) (Image: Netflix)

Along with the Oxford Five are a number of interesting power figures. One of these is Benedict Wong’s well-meaning Clarence, a detective who has run himself through multiple investigative teams, only to land under the thumb of Cunningham’s demanding intelligence operative, Thomas Wade.

“[Wade] is very shadowy and very enigmatic,” Cunningham described. “…You don’t know why he wants something and he never gives anybody the whole story. Because, basically, he works on a need to know basis. He wants things done.”

“He has great confidence in the capabilities of humans and dispenses very quickly with people who will get in the way of that.”

Wade and Clarence are two of the operatives representing the human side of the existential threat, who are doing everything in their power to preserve our species.

On the flip side, there are always those who will welcome change, even if it means at the dispense of others. Jonathan Pryce’s Matthew Evans is the main figurehead on the rival side, a billionaire oil tycoon who puts his resources towards aiding his specific wants. There’s also Ye Wenjie, an astrophysics prodigy who suffers great losses during the Chinese Cultural Revolution, and makes a choice in the 1960s that could change everything.

Then, of course, there are the characters representing the side of the extraterrestrial threat, but to say more about their roles would spoil the fun.

3 Body Problem trailer

Primed with all that information, it’s easy to see how 3 Body Problem could be considered too challenging for primetime adaptation. Can all those dense theoretical concepts be visually interesting off of the page? The trailer proves that the Netflix series has plenty of entertainment to offer.

3 Body Problem reviews: Is it worth your time?

Following its premiere at SXSW earlier in the month, reviews have dropped for 3 Body Problem. They’re quite mixed, but leaning positive, with the series standing at 74 per cent with critics on Rotten Tomatoes.

In Lifehacker Australia’s review, we said that “3 Body Problem succeeds in becoming a new epic event sci-fi saga that is a worthy successor to Game of Thrones.

So is it worth buying in? Here’s a testimonial from someone on the inside:

“As far as I’m concerned, the best stuff I’ve ever watched has been occasionally a little difficult to watch,” Cunningham said. “You need to examine yourself and look inwards, to enjoy the drama as it comes…”

“It’s a hell of a trip this show,” he added.

3 Body Problem release date: When is the show streaming in Australia?

If you now find yourself sold on all things 3 Body Problem, you don’t have to wait long to judge it for yourself.

All eight episodes will drop on Netflix on Thursday, March 21. New series typically drop around 6:00 pm AEDT in Australia, so consider your evening viewing sorted.

Will there be more seasons of 3 Body Problem?

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3 Body Problem cast, release date Netflix. Image: Netflix

It wouldn’t be much of a spoiler to say that 3 Body Problem’s final episode leaves room for more. The first season pretty much covers all the events in the first of Liu’s books, leaving two more novels that are ripe for continuation.

That seems to be the plan for the EPs, with Benioff telling Collider in an interview, “I think we’d need at least three, maybe four seasons to tell the whole story.”

Thankfully, the showrunners also confirmed they have much of Season 2 mapped out already. Provided Netflix gives the green light for more, it will be another anxious wait for answers.

The cast appears to be equally as excited, with Cunningham telling us he had purposely stayed away from reading the books so that he could be surprised. Hong, meanwhile, is keen to get to a specific point with Jin.

“Later on, there’s like a time jump, or multiple time jumps. I would love Jin to get to at least one of those time jumps. Because I think seeing that planet Earth would be amazing,” she teased.

3 Body Problem is available to stream on Netflix starting March 21.

Lead Image Credit: Netflix

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