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Meet the Oxford 5: “3 Body Problem” stars talk “Game of Thrones” fans, aliens, and more

EW spent two days with "3 Body Problem" stars Jess Hong, Jovan Adepo, Eiza González, John Bradley, and Alex Sharp across Austin for SXSW.

<p>Mary Kang/Netflix</p> (L to R) Jess Jong, John Bradley, Eiza Gonzalez, Alex Sharp, and Jovan Adepo of

Mary Kang/Netflix

(L to R) Jess Jong, John Bradley, Eiza Gonzalez, Alex Sharp, and Jovan Adepo of '3 Body Problem'

“Truth or dare! Truth or dare! Truth or dare!”

Eiza González leads the chants from a Pedal Pub in Austin with her 3 Body Problem costars. It’s the afternoon following the Friday night SXSW premiere, which saw basketball star Blake Griffin make a surprise appearance at the Eberly tavern bar afterparty and Marvel's Benedict Wong assume his nightclub alter ego "Obi-Wong" to DJ a few sets. The cast of the Netflix sci-fi series have now recovered and re-gathered to shoot segments for social media at various city landmarks, via this bike pedal-powered mobile bar.

The drinks — González's Casa Azul tequila chased with La Croix, a few stray cans of Modelo, and one Liquid Death (i.e. water) for Game of Thrones alum John Bradley — are flowing as the game begins. “I might not be the right person to do this,” the actress from Baby Driver and Ambulance admits. “I have dark thoughts.” Rosalind Chao (Sweet Tooth, Joy Luck Club) is quick to sip from her drink instead of ranking her favorite costars, but newcomer Zine Tseng appears eager when she’s dared to knock on the windows of cars sitting in traffic, while Wong runs to take selfies with two random fans on the street.

“Benioff, Weiss, Alex. F---, marry, kill!” González directs at Alex Sharp (One Life, Trial of the Chicago 7), referring to their showrunners, David Benioff, D.B. Weiss, and Alex Woo. (Woo himself joked on stage at the previous night’s engagement that the three of them could make for a fun game of FMK.) “No, no, no, no, no, no!” the actors’ squadron of publicists shout from one of the two other Pedal Pubs riding alongside. "Aren't you glad you came with us today?" Jovan Adepo (Babylon, The Leftovers) playfully remarks as we head to the next location.

González did warn she might not be the best person to lead this game. Chalk it up to her excitement over being in Austin, the first place she lived when she moved to the U.S.

<p>Mary Kang/Netflix</p> The '3 Body Problem' cast hitch a ride on a Pedal Pub at SXSW

Mary Kang/Netflix

The '3 Body Problem' cast hitch a ride on a Pedal Pub at SXSW

“I have a very deep, profound love for SXSW,” the Mexico-born actress tells EW prior to the Pedal Pub shenanigans over lunch with her fellow “Oxford 5” costars, those playing members of the core group of scientists stalked by aliens in 3 Body Problem. “The most pivotal moments in my career happened here. A lot of the festivals are great, but this one is just people who are obsessed with good filmmaking, good creators. So it's always a warm room.”

Spirits were indeed high at the world premiere. A packed Paramount Theater applauded for the stars of the night, Benioff and Weiss, who came out with Woo to present their first major TV series since finishing Game of Thrones. Based on the international hit book trilogy, The Remembrance of Earth’s Past by Liu Cixin, the premiere episode of 3 Body Problem bounces back and forth between the Chinese Cultural Revolution of 1960 and present-day London. Years after a young astrophysics prodigy, Ye Wenjie (played by both Tseng and Chao across the dueling timelines), works for a secret sect of the government trying to make contact with alien life, those same aliens are now targeting some of Earth’s most brilliant minds.

New Zealand actress Jess Hong (making her stateside debut) and her four other costars headline the series as five scientists from Oxford (a.k.a. the Oxford 5) who all become entangled in extra-terrestrial dealings. Theoretical physicist Jin (Hong) and snack entrepreneur Jack (Bradley) become consumed with a strange, otherworldly VR game; Saul (Adepo), a research assistant with less of a drive than his peers, bears witness to unexplainable events from a particle accelerator; Auggie (González), a nanotech trailblazer, is haunted by visions of a clock counting down to... something; and Will (Sharp), a sixth-form physics teacher, receives life-changing news that makes his rethink his place in the universe.

There are clearly a lot of eyeballs on the hard sci-fi drama. If you were online in 2019, you know why; viewers and critics alike had a lot to say about the final season of Game of Thrones, which had been wildly picked apart by nearly every corner of the internet.

"This is a new experience for them," Bradley says of Benioff and Weiss, "because, although they've done a big show before, when they started Game as Thrones, there was no expectation on them because nobody knew who they were. You think the more you do and the more you prove yourself [in] your career, the easier it becomes, but the expectation is what pushes you."

<p>Mary Kang/Netflix</p> Alex Sharp and John Bradley play foosball at Austin's Punch Bowl Social

Mary Kang/Netflix

Alex Sharp and John Bradley play foosball at Austin's Punch Bowl Social
<p>Mary Kang/Netflix</p> Eiza Gonzalez and Jess Hong face Alex Sharp and John Bradley in a game of foosball

Mary Kang/Netflix

Eiza Gonzalez and Jess Hong face Alex Sharp and John Bradley in a game of foosball

Well, not everyone felt quite like that coming in. Hong was working a traveling show around New Zealand to promote reading for underprivileged kids (a "real rough and tumble" gig, she says) when the actress delivered an audition that would land her the lead in her first internationally distributed TV show. "We were in between Airbnbs, so we had to drive to a town at 6 a.m. and then I had the call at 7 a.m.," Hong remembers. "I quickly ran into the school, it was raining, and I was like, 'Can I use your wifi?' I sat down on a tiny table and was like, 'Hi! Nice to meet you, Alex.' And then the scene started."

Naturally, there was some anxiety when she arrived in the U.K. for filming. "I was feeling extremely nervous, but John really reassured and took me underneath his wing," she says of her costar, who took a calming stroll with her through Hyde Park in London.

Bradley is one of multiple Game of Thrones alums returning for 3 Body Problem, including Liam Cunningham (Ser Davos), Jonathan Pryce (the High Sparrow), Conleth Hill (Varys), and another smaller Thrones cameo that may end up being a bit of an Easter egg for eagle-eyed fans who know about the Iron Bank of Braavos. Referring to Benioff and Weiss, Bradley says, "One thing that made me very happy having worked with them for 10 years was seeing a whole new cast develop that rapport with them."

"I would say I felt less pressure about working on [Dan and David's] first post Game of Thrones show...and more pressure just working with them in general," Adepo says later over email. "That coming from my own expectations of maintaining a standard in performance — I care very much what my showrunners think of my work and can be very obsessive about getting it right (perhaps they’d agree). What I feel my colleagues have said is correct: David, Dan, and Alex created a space for me to release expectations and it ultimately allowed me to connect deeper with the folks at this table. I’m grateful for it, dude. I would say yes to this gig infinitely."

"We've probably all been on sets where the people at the top don't create a good atmosphere. It makes so much difference when the people at the top are so respected and loved by the people," González adds.

The actors appear to be particularly protective of Benioff and Weiss, as well as Woo. They refer to their production as a family, which has become quite the cliche turn of phrase among interviews like this. And yet, Sharp shares a recent instance when he "lost the closest person in the world to me," and both Benioff and Weiss immediately spent an hour on video chat with him to work through the situation. "They don't have to do that," Sharp says. So when it comes to the subject of how fans have historically treated them for the final season of Game of Thrones, they have strong opinions.

“Honestly, they deserve the world and they deserve much more love than I think people give them,” González says. “I think they get bullied. It’s like you give them everything, everything, everything, everything. And then you said something not nice to them and they're like, 'You are a horrible boyfriend!' You're like, 'What? I've been with you for 10 years. I'm supporting you through everything. I make you laugh, hold your arm when hard moment.' But I think we live in this insatiable era, and we are easy to judge and critique.”

"We're living in the era of monologues," Bradley adds. "It's just all about what I have to say."

<p>Mary Kang/Netflix</p> Jovan Adepo of '3 Body Problem'

Mary Kang/Netflix

Jovan Adepo of '3 Body Problem'
<p>Mary Kang/Netflix</p> Jess Hong and Alex Sharp of '3 Body Problem'

Mary Kang/Netflix

Jess Hong and Alex Sharp of '3 Body Problem'

Sharp thinks of the culture permeating social media as a McDonald's cheeseburger: "It's scientifically engineered to tap into the biological urges... the right amount of salt, the right amount of fat. It's a similar recipe. It's very nice, but then you feel s--- lazy, and unless you know that it was because of the ingredients of that burger, you wouldn't connect the two."

The intense reaction Benioff and Weiss received for Game of Thrones is on the cast's minds for various reasons. González knows the feeling well, having been bullied by random social media accounts online when she first became an actress. "I am a true believer of, if you've got nothing nice to say, don't say anything at all," she says. "It's just unnecessary. You can like stuff or not, and you can disagree, but kindness is very needed."

It also, in a way, plays into what the show itself is dealing with. "It's conversations we've all had across the board while filming — humanity, how destructive we are, how selfish we can be — because the concept of being attacked by other life becomes an analytical stance on what we are as individuals, as a race," she continues. "It really gave us insight to create humanity for these characters."

"I reread The Crucible recently," Sharp says. "I was like, 'Damn! Arthur [Miller] knew what was going on.' It speaks to the psychology of, when you are in fear of being isolated, it heightens the chance that you'll join the mob against someone."

Even as they continue to muse about the solipsism permeating the internet age, all five of the leads seem unfazed themselves by the level of expectations placed on the show. Perhaps it's because, after a hyped reception at SXSW, we're now gearing to go drink on a Pedal Pub.

"This is a recurring question for all of us: Are you nervous because of this and the gamble? Is there pressure?" Sharp says. "Then we all sort of feel obligated to answer yes because they ask us so much. But the truth of the matter is it wasn't. There was an environment created around us. It was safe from the top down."

3 Body Problem premieres Thursday, March 21, on Netflix.

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