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3 Body Problem


Game of Thrones creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss on their mind-bending new Netflix hit 3 Body Problem

3 Body Problem on Netflix. Pictured: Objects falling from sky onto people below.

When Chinese engineer-turned-science fiction writer Cixin Liu’s Remembrance of Earth’s Past series made its way into English, his novels were soon endorsed by President Barack Obama, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and Game of Thrones author George R.R. Martin. It would therefore make perfect sense that the Hugo Award-winning book series would find itself in the hands of David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, the creators of the TV version of Martin’s fantasy books. “Dan and I started reading the trilogy around the same time, and finished the books within minutes of each other,” says Benioff. “We just looked at each other and we knew this was going to be our next project.”

3 Body Problem on Netflix. Pictured: Walking through fire.

There may be no dragons in this franchise, but 3 Body Problem presents challenges aplenty. The sweeping story, which could potentially span centuries, starts during the Chinese Cultural Revolution in 1960s China, where young Ye Wenjie (Zine Tseng) witnesses the death of her physicist father. An astrophysicist herself, she ends up being sent to a secret military base, where discoveries she makes about the existence of aliens echo to a group of scientists in the present day. The series takes place all around the globe, in the present, past and a virtual reality that was the creators’ job to manifest. “The scale of it is beyond anything I’ve done,” says Alexander Woo, a True Blood writer and the showrunner of the second season of The Terror, who joined Weiss and Benioff in the ambitious endeavour. “These are things that are out of the imagination of one extraordinary author. All those moments in the books that you read that you can’t get out of your head, those, in particular, were a big challenge that we all confronted and spent many, many, many hours trying to live up to.”

3 Body Problem on Netflix. Pictured: Eiza González stars as Auggie Salazar, a brilliant scientist who finds herself in the midst of a world-shaking mystery.

Shot for the most part in the United Kingdom in the middle of the pandemic, the creators were not only tasked with creating historically accurate locations around the world, but an imaginary universe that looks different in the mind of each reader. Additionally, the trio decided that the events would have a global impact. “This is a show about something that happens to the whole world that has consequences for the whole world,” says Weiss. “Having every principal involved in confronting this problem be from one place didn’t really make as much sense to us.” Without the ability to travel, much fell on the shoulders of a visual effects team that were familiar to Benioff and Weiss from Game of Thrones. “We knew we had this incredible sequence from the book that took place in the Panama Canal, and we wanted to keep it there,” recalls Benioff. “There was talk about putting in a different canal, but for us it was such an iconic scene from the books and we really wanted it to be the Panama Canal. We shot on a stream in England, where the Eton rowing team goes by.”

3 Body Problem on Netflix. Pictured: Recreation of the novel’s otherwordly virtual reality segments. People and animals swirling through the sky.

For the creators, it was not the visuals, however, but the characters that proved to be the draw of the project. “When you start reading it, it doesn’t feel like science fiction,” says Benioff. “It feels like very grounded historical fiction, revolving around this incredibly strong, brilliant woman. That was one of the things that intrigued us about the story.” And, as in their previous work, it is the female characters that really get to shine. Alongside Tseng and Rosalind Chao as Wenjie, past and present, the series features Jin Cheng, a scientist played by newcomer Jess Hong, and nanofibre developer Augustina “Auggie” Salazar, played by Eiza González. The Ambulance actress threw the creators for a loop, in part because her character had initially been written as Brazilian, but also because she was unsure about the years-long commitment. “Somehow Eiza got in there [with] an incredible audition and it was exactly what we were looking for. We were like, let’s rewrite her as Mexican, because this is the woman,” says Benioff. “She had a lot of really smart questions about the show and where it was going and where her character was going, so it became a little bit of a courtship. We couldn’t imagine a better Auggie and we’re lucky that we were able to persuade her.”

3 Body Problem on Netflix. Pictured: Zine Tseng as young Ye Wenjie, whose discovery in the past shapes the future.

Taking a book that includes a lot of philosophical conundrums and translating it to the screen meant doing what the three writers hope they do best. “One thing that Cixin Liu said to us when we did meet him is that his primary interest was in the ideas, ‘but you may have to develop some of the characters a bit more,’” recalls Woo. “For all of us, the ‘secret’ to how we’ve approached all of our shows is that we write through character. Those characters are what you engage in from the very beginning and they take you from episode to episode to season to season. The next thing you know, you’ve known them for 10 years. They feel like friends who have come into your living room for a decade.”

3 Body Problem, streaming on Netflix

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