Based on Aldous Huxley’s iconic 1932 novel, upcoming series Brave New World, which stars Alden Ehrenreich (Solo: A Star Wars Story), Demi Moore (Ghost), Joseph Morgan (The Vampire Diaries, The Originals), Australia’s Sen Mitsuji (Altered Carbon) and more, “imagines a utopian society that has achieved peace and stability through the prohibition of monogamy, privacy, money, family, and history itself.”
Ahead of the nine-part sci-fi drama series’ premiere on Stan this Friday, 16 October, Joseph Morgan, a.k.a. CJack60 in the series, offered more insight into the bold new project.
Had you read the Aldous Huxley book before signing on for the series?
You know, it wasn’t on the curriculum for me; I had never read it. I was familiar with 1984, which it is often compared to, but no, I hadn’t read it at all. The first thing I read was the script, and then in getting the role, I went back and part of my research and process was of course to read the book. And the book doesn’t really follow the Epsilon (lowest class worker) CJack60 point of view, so for me, it was just educational, more in a broader sense of the world. And kind of pinning down a little general information about the Epsilons, but more about the society itself as a whole.
How does this version of ‘Brave New World’ differ from the book?
I think it is very different from the book. I think that the world that has been created is very similar, it follows the same rules. There’s New London; there’s the Savage Lands; there’s the status that you are given at birth, from Alpha all the way down to Epsilon. And then, there’s this idea of John coming in and mixing everything up and changing everything. And there are aspects of the plot that it takes from the book. But I think it’s done on a broader scale because the story is stretched out for nine episodes; it’s not a two-hour film, which would be the book maybe. And then also, I am a huge fan of [writer] Grant Morrison, I feel like the pilot really makes it accessible. I thought the book was terrific and it presents a really interesting view of a futuristic society, but I feel like what Grant and what David Wiener [showrunner] did made it accessible for us today by creating a channel in which we could view this world. And so, for me, at the risk of sounding a little controversial, I enjoyed the scripts more than I enjoyed the book. I felt more connected to them and they were more accessible to me.
What do you think the Epsilon represents on the show? What are their real-world counterparts as it were?
The Epsilons are the menial workers of the real world. They stay there and they are caretakers and cleaners, and the people who do all of the jobs that perhaps the rest of society turns their nose up at. They are the oppressed people of society who don’t even realise their oppression and just accept their roles, not questioning why they are being controlled in such a rigorous manner, except CJack60, who experiences a tragedy at the beginning of the series and does start to question his reality and more than that, starts to take action to change it.
When John the Savage (Alden Ehrenreich) shows up in New London, what is it about this character that is so interesting for CJack60?
You know, CJack60 experiences this tragedy in the first episode, and that death jolts him into feeling these emotions. Before John even arrives, he’s already in transition. He’s already starting to question his reality and his place in this world. He’s starting to feel all these things he never felt before, and he doesn’t have the vocabulary to process these emotions, but they are bubbling up inside of him. When John arrives and affirms for Cjack60 that, hey, you don’t have to live like this, and why are you guys, the Epsilons, doing all of the worst jobs while the Alphas are up there living it large and basically living off your blood, sweat and tears? That for Cjack60 is very revolutionary because it spurs the action in him. He’s already feeling all of these things and when John arrives, he realizes I can do something about this.
Why do you think it’s a good time to reintroduce people to the story now?
Well, we didn’t know when we were filming this, because we finished shooting at Christmas, but the world has significantly changed this year for the worst; certainly, nobody can say that it’s gotten better. I am a huge fan of dystopian drama or post-apocalyptic drama, anything that reimagines society and causes you to think about how would I exist in this imaginary society? It causes you to question your morals, I think.
Say I was to live in New London, would I like the idea of the control that was being forced upon me, even though it meant that I could live this lavish lifestyle of excess? There’s no real depth to it, so could I live with myself? I feel like a reimagining of society that forces us to look inward and question how much we would take off that shallow lifestyle in order to just get by, or would we be the ones to take action? Would we be the ones to question it and to say we need change, because this isn’t good enough? There are people here being oppressed in this society and people who are falling by the wayside, and should we do something about that? I think that is something that we can question now.
It does feel very prescient.
Yeah, I mean, there certainly is more weight to it than I realised back then. There’s a whole new kind of perspective that I’ve got on the show given the current circumstances. My dream would be that people would watch it and feel and start to question their own reality and go, who are the Epsilons in this society, who are the people who are oppressed and who are being by-passed or getting the raw end of the deal? And what can we do about this to even the odds in what we are dealing with? And who are we being controlled by? And we are so medicated in our society in general now with not only pharmaceuticals but also television and social media and reality television. And I think that if we can start to question that as well and seek more depth and more truth in our life, then that would be a good thing.
How would you describe this supposed utopia of New London?
On the surface, New London appears like a paradise utopia, but if you start to peel back the layers, it is actually a prison. It is an intricate method of controlling everyone, all the way up to the Alphas, even though they feel like they free. They are in no way free; there’s no depth and truths to their life. I think the question is are you prepared to live in a society where there’s no depth or truth, but you have this kind of shallow pleasurable existence or do you seek something more real? Be happy or be free: that’s the question that’s being asked, and I take freedom every time. And I hope it will cause other people to question that.
Much of your performance of CJack60 is to see him observe and know that there are things bubbling under the surface. Was that difficult to play?
It was really challenging in the beginning because, as an Epsilon who doesn’t experience feelings and doesn’t really look to his future or his past or question his role in society, it was very interesting that that’s the baseline. And CJack60 has a huge journey, a huge arc through the series. When we first meet him, he’s just experienced this tragic turning point which causes him to start having these emotions which he’s never experienced before. For me, I just try to stay very present and to experience everything in the moment. Even feelings that he would get from this outside stimulation to try and process that feeling. Things like, “What is this I am feeling and why am I feeling like this anger or why is this making me upset?” It’s very meditative, so you try and stay very present.
I think it’s around episode five where he starts to realise that he could take action against what’s going on, and he could actually do something, something unthinkable, for him to create change in his world. And then in episode six, no spoilers, but there’s an opportunity for me to break out of that and to definitely play with a larger range of emotions and a different kind of aspect of character altogether. CJack’s part just grows from there until the finale. He is in it all the way through, and it’s suddenly a full journey. The first five episodes are like he’s climbing the hill on the roller coaster, and then in [episode] five, he gets to the top. In [episode] six, he is starting to look down, and then it goes towards [episode] nine, which is the loop-de-loop. (laughs)
The look of the show is great. What was it like to be on set for a show this grand?
It does look really good, doesn’t it? I was blown away by it. I started to get an idea of the massive scope of it when I flew in for the prep and I saw the concept art. And then the first day we filmed CJack60’s first scene, which is in what they call the walkie-talkie building in London; it has a sky garden with a massive view of London that, with CGI, created New London.
Then for me, because the Epsilon sects are split at birth, so there’s a 100 identical Epsilons, the job was quite different again because I would film a scene and then everybody would wrap the scene and go away. And I would come back the next day with a tiny crew and sit in different positions that the background artists render and then they take my face and put it on other people. You get an idea of the visual effects scale from all of that. But it was thoroughly enjoyable. Also, I am English and I live in Los Angeles and I haven’t worked in the UK for over ten years, so to come back and do a job like that was awesome; it was fantastic.
What do you think Aldous Huxley would have said if he got to watch this show?
I don’t know; I hope he would have approved of it. (laughs) I think it’s understandable if someone is precious about the original manuscript, but I hope that what we did was took that and kind of ran with it and mostly made it accessible. I think if people start to ask those questions of themselves and their reality and of their society, I think he would have been happy because I feel like that’s what was intended, for you to start to question things.
You’ve worked on projects that have either a science fiction or supernatural backdrop, ‘The Originals’, ‘The Vampire Diaries’. What have you learned from working on these shows?
I’m a massive fan of genre, so I feel like I just gravitate towards that. I’ve loved vampires since I was five and read all of the vampire fiction that I could get my hands on and watched all of the films. When Interview with the Vampire came out, I watched the trailer 20 times at fourteen years old. Then, I read Isaac Asimov as a kid. My dad had a lot of the books, and I was just fascinated by genre, by these different worlds that you could escape into, either through literature or through television and film. For me, I have just been lucky enough to be part of projects that I am a fan of, that I would watch regardless, that I am interested in.
I would say the main thing I’ve learned from being in projects like this is just because the world is heightened and big and huge, the characters still need to be grounded and rooted in reality. So, whether you are playing a thousand-year-old vampire or an Epsilon with 96 identical people, you have to ground that in something real and human so that people will connect with it. Nobody will connect to a character if they can’t relate to their emotional state. That is so important, especially when you are dealing with a world where the concept is as huge as the world you are evoking.
Does this series lend itself to having a season two?
Yes, they don’t really follow the book from start to finish, certainly not the last episode. It doesn’t end the way the book ends, at least in terms of specifics, so there can definitely be a season two and I think the creators want to do a season two. They have no shortage of ideas. We will just see, I guess. I’m just excited for everyone to see it because it’s been in my head since last May really, which is when we started. But certainly, there is potential there.