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‘3 Body Problem’ Cast And Character Guide: Meet The Actors

The Netflix series “3 Body Problem,” based on the popular “Remembrance of Earth’s Past” sci-fi book series by Chinese author Liu Cixin, grapples with some of the most fundamental questions about the nature of the universe. With Cixin’s blessing, creators and executive producers David Benioff and D. B. Weiss (“Game of Thrones”) and Alexander Woo (“True Blood,” “The Terror”) expanded the wildly ambitious story from China to an international cast of actors from Australia, London, Mexico and the U.S.

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In the present day timeline of “3 Body Problem,” the world’s top physicists are not only befuddled but driven mad by inexplicable scientific phenomena, kicking off an investigation that leads to one woman’s decision made in the wake of the Chinese Cultural Revolution in the 1960s.

The characters range from nanofiber experts to counterterrorist specialists, and to help make sense of them all, the actors spoke with Variety about who they’re playing and the show they’re inhabiting.

Jack Rooney (John Bradley)

Jack Rooney (John Bradley)
Jack Rooney (John Bradley)


Past Work: “Game of Thrones,” “Marry Me”

Speciality: Physicist, one of the Oxford Five.

How would you describe your character?

Of all the characters I’ve played, I think he’s the character that most plows his own furrow. He’s completely an independent man, a completely independent thinker, won’t go along with whatever he’s told, won’t try to toe the party line. I think that comes from the idea that he comes — a little bit like myself — from a working class background, and found himself in an environment and mixing with a group of people that you wouldn’t normally expect somebody from that background to mix with. He’s over-achieved in life. And as a result of that, he’s determined to look everybody in the eye and not bow down to people, and not do what he’s told.

What was it like filming the scenes that place in the virtual reality world?

It was really strange to film, because some days, it was complete 360 green-screen, the floor was real, but it was green screen all around. And so it was just a lot of imagination. You can do that stuff so easy when you’re a kid. But as you get older, you just become a bit more self-conscious, and you get embarrassed a bit easily and that side of your brain gets shut off in a way because you’re forced to deal with just the real world all the time. So it’s not about you learning to perform with green screen. You have to unlearn a lot of those barriers that you’ve put in place and contact a slightly childlike side of your imagination, and just get rid of all your psychological blocks and your self-consciousness and just give yourself over to it. But once you’ve done that, it’s a joy to do it, because you’re not really bound by anything.

You’re playing someone that has been presented to you as very much like yourself. How did you differentiate between you and Jack?

It was very freeing actually, because I think that Jack is the side of myself that I’d like to be all the time. Jack is the side of myself that when I’m in the right mood and in the right company, if I’m in company that I’m comfortable with, in a situation that I’m comfortable with, that’s the side of me that comes out — the side of me that doesn’t mind putting his opinions across, and will have frank discussions with people.

How would you describe the show?

It’s a very difficult show to dislike, in a way, because there’s so much in it. And it’s so varied. There’s so many different points in time and so many different character strands to it and plot strands to it that I think there will be something in there that everybody will respond to. If you like deep, dense, science based sci-fi fantasy, there’s that element to it. But there’s also a romantic element to it, there’s a historical element to it as well.

Jin Cheng (Jess Hong)

Jin Cheng (Jess Hong)
Jin Cheng (Jess Hong)


Past work: “The Brokenwood Mysteries”

Character specialty: Physics, one of the Oxford Five.

How would you describe this show in 15 words or less?

Modern-day, philosophical sci-fi drama, wrenching hearts and bending minds.

How would you describe your character?

I play Jin Cheng, who’s one of the Oxford Five — one of five brilliant physicists. Although she has particularly excelled in her field, because she is incredibly ambitious, she’s super driven. She won’t stop once she finds a problem that she wants to solve. And she’ll keep doing it, even at the loss of her own sleep, and eating and social life. She will just relentlessly drive forward in her mission.

But what I love about Jin is her duality, between that fierce drive, and that hard work ethic — and the fact that she just wears her heart on her sleeve. She’s a very empathetic person, and hopefully someone that the audience can really connect to her through this journey.

Were you familiar with the books before you signed up?

Not before, but definitely as soon as you find out, you go to the source material and try to research as much as possible. And then it started popping up everywhere — I realized that a bunch of my friends, they were fanatics about it. So then I realized what a following it had already, and I was like, “Wow!”

What scientific concepts did you learn from the show?

I think it’s all been ejected from my mind. One that wasn’t even part of the the story arc of the show, but I got really attached to, is the theory of the multiverse. I just love the idea that there are impossibly infinite number of universes out there, and that we could exist in a parallel world, just in a different form. So we’re living out of all of our infinite possibilities in some way or another.

Auggie Salazar (Eiza González)

Auggie Salazar (Eiza González)
Auggie Salazar (Eiza González)


Past work: “Baby Driver,” “Ambulance”

Character specialty: Physics, a member of the Oxford Five.

How would you describe the show in 15 words or less?

Genre-bending political drama, thriller, sci-fi, spectacle, human menace, bugs, thrilling, mind-bending, daunting show.

How would you describe your character?

She’s just the perfect version of a 21st century woman. She’s complex, she is an ambitious, smart pioneer in the science field, a woman with vision, with integrity, with ethical balance.

And the way that they adapted the book to the show is a great approach, because we have everything that our incredible original writer did in ‘The Three-Body Problem,’ but the way that they have adapted by expanding the cast into different cultures and different nationalities. It’s not only, obviously, this a world crisis that is unraveling in front of our eyes, but it’s also a culture shock that’s happening.

I really love that my personal background as a Latin woman was brought in in a non-stereotypical way — and brought the positive things that have made me the woman that I am.

What scientific concepts did you learn?

English is not my first language, so the way that a lot of things are phrased are not natural to me. So I did have to do extra homework. I was lucky, because I really like quantum physics, and I have a familiar experience with quantum physics. But a lot of the things that I speak about in the show, per se, are so different to quantum physics, so it was more of a mathematician’s take on physics — and so I had to work a lot. They still make fun of the fact of how I say “nanofibers,” because I say it in a way that is not necessarily correct, because it’s where my accent shows.

Do you think humans will make contact with extraterrestrial life?

I don’t even know if the political agendas want us to, you know. As this show addresses, there are so many things that we don’t know, and things that are discussed behind closed doors that we don’t really know. And God knows if it hasn’t happened already. Like, there’s so many questions that come out of a project like this, and a story like this.

Da Shi (Benedict Wong)

Da Shi (Benedict Wong)
Da Shi (Benedict Wong)


Past work: “Doctor Strange,” “Marco Polo”

Character speciality: Counterterrorism

How would you describe the show in 15 words or less?

Unorthodox detective teams with a group of brilliant scientists for the greatest threat humanity has faced.

How would you describe your character?

Counterterrorist operative unorthodox in every way. He’s great at this job. He actually is his job, to the detriment of his family life. That’s the sacrifice. The one simple line is “I like helping people.”

We [Liam Cunningham’s Thomas Wade and Da Shi] are the most unlikely duo paired together, but for the greatest admiration, they’re aligned for the greater good.

Were you familiar with the books before you signed up?

Books 1 and 2 — it was great to dive into that, and just grab the essence of that character.

Do you think humans will come in contact with intelligent extraterrestrial life?

I always just think about the Pale Blue Dot. And that’s it for me, that really makes me just think about how things are just so much bigger than us. And the insignificance of it all. I don’t know how bold the massive capital “H” on humanities is needed, especially in this time.

What did you learn from the show?

I just dug deep where my character lay — he’s a counterterrorism operative. So I found one, and discussed, “If something was like this, what would you label this as?” Also, my stakeouts, the type of cars that were used — what’s inside the cars. You’re not leaving your mark. If you have to urinate, you urinate in the car. Everything is charged.

How does one go about finding a counterterrorism expert?

It was very lucky for me. I won’t really say how. But yeah, sometimes things fall on your lap.

Younger Ye Wenjie (Zine Tseng)

Younger Ye Wenjie (Zine Tseng)
Younger Ye Wenjie (Zine Tseng)


Past work: “Learning English”

Character speciality: Astrophysics

How would you describe this show in 15 words or less?

We see humanity facing the greatest threat ever, and how their choices were made.

How would you describe your character?

Survivor. Perfectionism. Determined. Resilient. She is a Gemini born in 1947, grew up in a family spoiled with science and physics. And she studied astrophysics in Ching Hua University before the saddest event hit her.

Did you read the books before you signed up?

Yes, even before I knew that Netflix was going to make them a series. The whole story, the massive scale of time and space, struck me. And I am so driven by Ye Wenjie’s story at the first place, and I’m so lucky that I can play her afterwards.

What scientific topics stuck with you?

I connected to — actually, it’s in the third book — how to send a human brain to the universe by pushing the rockets after other rockets. It’s like lighting up all the nuclear bombs to push the Earth away. Yeah, that stayed with me.

Older Ye Wenjie (Rosalind Chao)

Older Ye Wenjie (Rosalind Chao)
Older Ye Wenjie (Rosalind Chao)


Past work: “The Joy Luck Club”

Character speciality: Astrophysics

How would you describe this show in 15 words or less?

What happens when the actions of one young woman — her fateful decision — changes the course of humanity.

How would you describe your character?

So I would say that Ye is a survivor of extreme trauma, and she’s lost everything. As a result, she’s learned a sort of adaptability, and she also has a bit of survivor’s guilt. She’s a mother. And at the same time, she believes that she has the power to effect change, and I think she goes about it in the best way that she feels possible.

Inside her, she’s still partly the young Ye, because she was a prodigy, and that still exists in her. And that belief in herself, that her decisions are the right decisions, and she can effect change. Even if all goes to crap, she can effect change.

Did you read the books before you signed up?

I’m here [in the U.S.], and have that American tunnel vision. So, I’m a philistine and had not heard of a ‘Three-Body Problem’ until Benny Wong — we were both in London, working on different projects, and he told me he was working on this. And I was like, “What’s that?” But then I did read the book. I had a Chinese coach who insisted I read the book before I start filming this, and he was very strict.

But once I read it, I got so many copies for other people, because I really do feel it’s accessible. And they’ve made it even more accessible. I was really drawn in, and love the books, even though I’m not, you know — I’m a nerd, but I’m not a sci-fi fan at all.

And as far as what I took away from it, it’s that time is elastic.

Do you believe that humanity will come in contact with intelligent extraterrestrial life?

I believe anything’s possible. You know, definitely before this, somebody would say something about extraterrestrials, and inside I’d be rolling my eyes and like, “Oh, yeah, it could happen.” But now I’m a little more open to “anything’s possible.” We don’t know what’s out there. Just what we see, feel, hear and touch is not necessarily what’s real. There’s a lot more out there that we’re not aware of.

How did you work with Zine Tseng to create the character?

Zine had filmed her section first. Her last day was my first day, so I received all her footage prior to starting. I basically lived Zine before I even met her. So when I met her, it was like meeting a celebrity — or meeting another side of me. Honestly, she built the structure, she laid the foundation.

Will Downing (Alex Sharp)

Will Downing (Alex Sharp)
Will Downing (Alex Sharp)


Past work: “The Trial of the Chicago 7,” “To the Bone”

Character specialty: Physics, one of the Oxford Five.

How would you describe this show in 15 words or less?

One woman makes a singular decision that fundamentally alters humanity’s safety and future.

How would you describe your character?

He’s very intriguing. I was very interested in the psychological place that he’s in because of his circumstances. He’s living through the greatest challenge that we all face inevitably, each individual person. I was really moved and really intrigued by how he reacted to what he was going through. I just thought it was really richly written, the dialogue was beautiful. And I was surprised the way his psychological state shifted towards the end, and I just thought, “We’re kind of in the era of heroes.”

I thought he was an unusual hero — quietly heroic. And I was also very daunted by trying to get myself to the psychological state that he’s in. It made me feel a bit sick at the idea of trying to get there, I was like, “I’m not sure how I would do that.” But it was a very interesting process for sure.

Did you realize your character was from the third book and not the first?

I was slightly confused, but then at the beginning of the process, I kind of forced David, Alex and Dan into many very long Zooms where we would just go deep on talking — you know, getting into the weeds of the character. So in one of those, I discovered that he was a character from the third book, but I was quite a way through the first book. I was like, “Where is this guy?!”

Do you think humans will come in contact with intelligent extraterrestrial life?

Depends on if we destroy ourselves before they get here or not. I think it’s possible. But I think we have absolutely no idea what that could look like. Because with the physics from where they might come could alter concepts of their formation and operating systems that we can’t even begin to wrap our heads around, probably.

Saul Durand (Jovan Adepo)

Saul Durand (Jovan Adepo)
Saul Durand (Jovan Adepo)


Past work: “Fences,” “Babylon,” “Overlord”

Character speciality: Physics, one of the Oxford Five.

How would you describe the show in 15 words or less?

Genre-bending show about people trying to save themselves from aliens.

How would you describe your character?

Saul Durand: he’s someone that I recognize in my own life, but I don’t relate to him at all. He’s somebody that has all of the tools to be incredibly successful — the natural talent, the ability, he just lacks the drive. And it’s a heartbreaking thing to see, because you know that that person has potential, and I feel like the people around him want him to do well — if he would just believe in himself. But he is a character that I’m very proud to play, because he is an underdog. And I hope that audiences root for him.

Did you read the books once you got the part?

For me, it was a tough first go. Second time around, I got through it, but with the accompaniment of audiobook, so I can listen to it and keep up with the chapters while I was driving because the material is so dense. It was hard for me to grasp the material. But what really did help was getting a chance to meet with David, Dan and Alex before the audition process for me, and I think that just helped you understand the world they were trying to build in a depth from the books, and how it was going to differ.

Will humanity make contact with intelligence extraterrestrials?

I think we’re capable, like we have the intelligence to do so. But I’m not sure we’re prepared. Are we mature enough for it?

Did you really shoot at the United Nations?

We were actually in the United Nations, in the assembly. They were doing tours. So there were people that were actually there to see the structure itself. But then they had to be quiet, because we’re filming at the bottom.

How do you put yourself in this headspace of having somebody suddenly become one of the most famous people in the world overnight?

Being in that space does that. If you’re able to actually film in the United Nations, it’s going to help you feel the the heaviness of the moment for him. Of course, with the background artists who were all playing the different leaders of the countries and having the lights come up, and then when they called his name and he gets up and walk to the front. They had us sitting in the back, and I had to make that long walk up to the front of the stage. The fact that David, Alex and Dan did everything they could to help us, give us the tools that we needed to put ourselves in their shoes — I think it it helped us as performers, especially in that scene.

Thomas Wade (Liam Cunningham)

Thomas Wade (Liam Cunningham)
Thomas Wade (Liam Cunningham)


Past work: “Game of Thrones,” “The Last Voyage of the Demeter”

Character specialty: Intelligence expert

How would you describe the show in 15 words or less?

A multi-layered examination of the human race if there was an existential threat.

How would you describe your character?

Thomas Wade is an enigmatic, shadowy intelligence chief who we know virtually nothing about until he shows up and bursts his way into these people’s lives. Demands their help to deal with this existential threat and with the assistance of [Benedict Wong’s Da Shi].

Were you familiar with the books before you signed up?

I always avoid them. I get distracted easily, and if I’m on the books while I’m doing the scripts — which is what I’m hired to do — I don’t want any, not even opposing, but just even varied information about the character and plan going in. So I’m gonna keep that particular pleasure for when we finish the story, and then and then I’ll sit down and open these things. Because I do like science, engineering, astronomy — all that sort of stuff.

Do you think humans will make contact with intelligent extraterrestrial life?

The stats would indicate that. From our vantage point on Earth, when we look at the visible part of the universe, we can see there’s an approximately estimated 2,000,000,000,000 — 2,000 billion — galaxies that we’re looking at. Statistically, it’s highly unlikely we’re alone. So I tend to believe — believe, because we’d have the proof here — but the maths would indicate that it’s very unlikely there isn’t.

What scientific concepts did you learn?

Well, the whole quantum entanglement thing is extraordinary — Einstein called it “spooky.” And the idea that you can split a proton, and do to one side of it, and exactly the same thing happens as fast if not faster than the speed of light. They have no idea why that happens; it shouldn’t happen. It goes against all the laws of physics.

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