Netflix’s 3 Body Problem Cast Give Us a First Look at “the Oxford Five”

Exclusive: The cast of 3 Body Problem, the new Netflix sci-fi series from the creators of Game of Thrones, shed light on what to expect from this long-awaited Liu Cixin adaptation.

Jin Cheng and John Bradley in 3 Body Problem
Photo: Netflix

This article appears in the SXSW 2024 issue of Den of Geek magazine. Check out all of our SXSW coverage here.

Taking place between China’s revolutionary 1960s and present day, where science appears to be “broken,” Netflix’s 3 Body Problem is a bracing new kind of sci-fi story from the creators of Game of Thrones, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss. We talked to three of the show’s central “Oxford Five” characters about bringing Liu Cixin’s award-winning book series to life. 

Credit: Chris Baker/Netflix

Alex Sharp as Will Downing

What did you know about this role when you auditioned?

I didn’t have any context, really. I’d heard of the books, but I had not read them. I just knew it was like a sci-fi thing from the guys from Game of Thrones

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What can you tell us about Will Downing?

I got a sense from the [audition] scenes of who he was. He seemed very British, actually. Quite stoic during a personally troubling time in his life. I got the part, and I subjected [producers] to many long Zoom calls where I asked them a ton of questions. What Will’s going through is one of the largest things a human being can face. It terrified me but I was really moved by his perspective. I wanted to try and capture that. He’s very brave in a sincerely humble way. I instantly fell in love with him.

What is the Oxford Five?

They’re sort of like the Power Rangers of physics. Maybe I’m the pink one. Hopefully, I am. They all have specialties. They’re all astoundingly brilliant, but they’re all radically different people. 

Credit: Netflix

Jess Hong as Jin Cheng 

What can you tell us about Jin Cheng?

She’s one of the Oxford Five—the group of exceptional scientists who were brought together from across the globe. She was plucked from New Zealand and she eventually grows into her own and has a successful career. Jin is super driven and ambitious, sometimes to the detriment of her personal life. She’ll charge ahead to solve a problem, and until she finds some answers, she doesn’t stop. 

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What expertise does she bring to the Oxford Five?

I think they all have their own things to offer. It’s more about how they interact with each other. With Jack, [Jin is] more assertive, with Will, she’s more soft and gentle. With Auggie, she’s a lot more like, “Yeah, let’s do this.” She is the most forward-thinking and tunnel-visioned of the group. 

What did you learn from the Three-Body Problem books?

The books were incredibly helpful because the world-building is incredible. You can feel yourself getting drawn into this world, which is basically our own, with some slight differences.

What was it like shooting the scenes set in virtual reality?

My second day of shooting was when we shot something with the VR helmet. I was talking to the director Derek [Tsang] about it and was like, “How big is the reaction here?” And he went, “I don’t know, but I’ll know it when I see it.” It was a lot of trial and error.

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Credit: Netflix

John Bradley as Jack Rooney

How did you get this role?

In many ways it was the easiest part I’ve ever played because David and Dan were very explicit that this character was based on myself. It’s very strange when you hear that because you feel, “I’m gonna find out exactly what they think of me or exactly how they see me.” 

What can you tell us about Jack Rooney?

His mind is split between the academic and the practical. I’ve often said that Jack in 3 Body Problem is a bit like Ringo in The Beatles: no matter how weird it gets, as long as Jack’s there, you’ve got a man on the inside who can make light of it. 

Did the Three-Body Problem books help you prepare?

I did read the book before I read the scripts. I think reading the book was essential in terms of understanding the sheer scope of it—the finer points of the scientific terminology and the scientific problem we’re asking the audience to understand. 

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What was it like working with D.B. Weiss and David Benioff again after Game of Thrones?

They’re the reason we want this to be a success. Some of the criticism that’s been leveled at them, some of the unfair things that have been said—I know how hard they work. I find them very inspiring. 

3 Body Problem hits Netflix on March 21. It will first screen during SXSW 2024’s opening night on March 8 at the Paramount Theater.