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Jovan Adepo Is Never Coming Back Down to Earth

3 body problem jovan adepo
Jovan Adepo Is Never Coming Back Down to EarthPIP/NETFLIX

This story contains spoilers for Netflix's 3 Body Problem.

Jovan Adepo showed up to his 3 Body Problem audition without a voice. The 35-year-old actor, who previously starred in Watchmen and The Leftovers, was in San Diego for a buddy's birthday when his audition date was pushed up a week—giving him just one weekend to prepare. "I went to karaoke the night before," Adepo tells me over Zoom. "My voice was destroyed because we were partying. I thought: These guys aren't going to hire me because I sound crazy." Well, that's what happens after you spend a night belting Blackstreet's "No Diggity."

Turns out, showing up slightly hungover may have clinched Adepo the part. He plays 3 Body Problem's Saul Durand, a physics research assistant by day—and a partier by night. (Until he's roped into a galactic conflict, at least. Not much time for karaoke when you're battling aliens.) The new Netflix series—which is based on Chinese author Liu Cixin's Remembrance of Earth's Past novels—follows a group of scientists as they prepare for an alien race (called the San-Ti) to invade Earth in roughly 400 years. Even though Saul's colleagues refer to him as the brightest of the bunch, he doesn't find the drive to apply himself until the San-Ti come knocking. "[The casting agents] were probably like, 'He's got something!'" Adepo jokes, calling his audition, where his hangover probably gave him Saul-esque affect, a "happy accident."

Still, Adepo couldn't be further from Saul in real life. It takes a season finale twist for the man to use his formidable brain for good. Thankfully, Adepo doesn't need the threat of little green men to get his shit together. "I'm incredibly ambitious when it comes to the work that I do," he says. "I've never been the type that I had imposter syndrome to the extent that I just don't try or I don't give a fuck. If I feel insecure about my work, I'm going to overprepare."

Luckily for Adepo, Saul's meandering ways are over. If Netflix renews 3 Body Problem for a second season, we'll surely see much more of the physicist. "I'm just really excited to see Saul's potential," Adepo teases. "In the first season, it's alluded that he's the brightest of the bunch because his colleagues always tease him, 'Oh, OK, brain boy. OK, boy genius.' I would really love the audience to get the chance to see how bright this man really is—and to see why the San-Ti see him as such a threat."

Below, Adepo discusses his hopes for season 2, his own relationship with physics, and his thoughts on whether or not there's life out there.

a man in a green jacket
Let’s get one thing clear: Adepo is very much not a physics guy. "I don’t even think I made it to physics, man. Science was something that was interesting to me. But once you start bringing in more mathematical aspects to it, that’s when I bailed out."Juankr

ESQUIRE: Say that an alien invasion of Earth is imminent—what are you doing?

JOVAN ADEPO: In the books, the idea is that it would be foolish of us to think that we are the only beings in the entire universe. It's quiet because aliens have intentionally been kept quiet to protect themselves. Reaching out to them? Now other beings know that you exist and that puts everybody in danger. So, that idea is scary to the point where I don't know if I would want to communicate with any other being out there. It'd be wishful thinking to assume that we would find a way to connect. It's risky, and I've seen a lot of other alien films where it's like Mars Attacks. I have no desire to be invaded and kidnapped and probed. That's just not my jam.

Have you spoken with the showrunners about a potential second season?

Of course. I'm really excited to get into their adaptation of The Dark Forest and what it would look like visually compared to the books. They're very excited about it. Obviously, we have to wait and hope for a green light, but just the prospect of it [is exciting]. They've said it in interviews before—DAD, who we call [3 Body Problem showrunners] David Benioff, Alexander Woo, and David Weiss—that they enjoyed The Dark Forest more than the first novel. So, knowing how much they love the first one, I would love to see what the scripts look like for one that they're really pumped about.

Much of 3 Body Problem involves complex physics problems. How well did you do in physics class when you were in school?

I don't even think I made it to physics, man. Science was something that was interesting to me. But once you start bringing in more mathematical aspects to it, that's when I bailed out. Once I started transitioning into chemistry and talking about centrifugal figures and all that type of shit... and then going into physics? I was like, Yeah, I'm tapping out. I had no interest in mathematics, so physics wasn't for me.

Don't tell my grade school teachers, but I pretty much cheated my whole way through physics.

If you were my classmate, you could have helped me because I was struggling, man.

What was it like to work through all of 3 Body Problem's theoretical physics concepts in the script?

When I read it on first glance, I thought, OK, this is very heavy theory. The dialogue is incredibly dense and very science-heavy, but it was something that was interesting to me because I enjoy a challenge. All actors want to be challenged in the roles that they take on. So, it was something that I wanted to do my best to understand at base level, but hopefully would get more clarification if I was to earn the part. I wasn't too worried about all the science jargon, because I felt like they were going to take care of me.

You're no stranger to post-apocalyptic shows. Why are we still so fascinated with stories about the end of the world?

As far as storytelling goes, it just opens up so much room to play. When you're dealing with sci-fi, horror, and fantasy, the world-building is just so vast. If you have a huge spectacle of a film or television show, you can bring in elements of comedy, drama, suspense, and romance. They all live together in this melting pot that is the sci-fi scope. That's why we're seeing a big growth and interest of that genre, because there's just so much you can do with it.

Was it a nice change of pace to be the guy who just wants to smoke a J while all his friends go crazy?

Yeah, it caused me to go inward more. Part of my preparation of any job I do is to start with what separates me from the character I'm playing. So I really wanted to understand what it felt like to have a lack of drive. It could be lazy to say that Saul didn't care about anything. That's the easy way to put it. Nobody gets to get a full ride to Oxford to study physics—and to get his PhD in theoretical physics—if he didn't care. Perhaps he has imposter syndrome, where instead of failing, he'd rather do the bare minimum. To put myself in the position of someone who is surrounded by his friends and colleagues who are also equally talented, but have all applied their gifts and put it into their career—it was quite the exercise to try to understand why he's skating by.

a man with a mustache
"I can’t spend too much time thinking about it—but you’re going to see something eventually," says Adepo of the peanut gallery on social media. "We’re just fortunate that a lot of the reception has been extremely positive."Juankr

Why do you think Saul finally joined the fight? Or was it just that he was indirectly forced into action?

Absolutely. He's just still battling that reality. The final scene with the three of us—he's heard just enough to get up and keep walking. The least you can do is get the fuck up and walk with us, man, and we'll figure it out along the way. But if he's actively like, Yeah, we're going [to win] the fight... I don't know if Saul's gotten there yet. When you're dealing with people who are incredibly talented but lack ambition, there's nobody on the planet that can really pull them out of the hole that they're in. They have to decide to take that step forward. He was thrown on the fucking diving board and he's just like, If I don't move, they're going to push me off anyway, so fuck it.

I want to talk about the scene where Saul's on the beach with Jin, and he says that he has a theory as to why he was chosen. But he keeps it to himself and says, "Nah, that's stupid." Do you have a theory as to what he was thinking?

I've talked to Benioff and Weiss about it, and I think that ties into Saul entertaining the idea of what the job of a wall-facer is. And to protect himself—he's already been attacked twice. So, he's definitely thinking, I don't want anything else to happen to me because I'm talking too fucking much. Whether he's accepted the task or the job or not fully, he knows the bolts are cranking like, Until I'm sure, how about I just pocket this and keep it to myself? But it's a fun thing to think about—what he could possibly be thinking and what he could reveal if the story should continue.

Are you someone who will look on social media for reactions to the show?

I usually do. As of late, my reps have always kind of pushed me not to—just because criticism can be such a black hole. The best thing for me to be able to be proud of my work is to know that I worked my hardest, let it go, and let the audience just have it. I can't spend too much time thinking about it—but you're going to see something eventually. We're just fortunate that a lot of the reception has been extremely positive.

Is there someone in your life who always tells you like it is?

Yeah, pretty much all of my family members, my parents, my sisters. But I would say that my childhood friends, although they love movies and TV and stuff like that, that's not their everyday life. So they always love to remind me that—Hollywood star or not—I'm still the same Jovan from the hometown. They give me a lot of shit about it, but it's fun. I prefer it that way. It keeps me grounded.

a man in a black robe
"Gladiator was probably the one that made me appreciate filmmaking the most," Adepo says of his early inspirations, "just because that was the first film that I can recall that gave me an emotional effect while watching the villain perform."Juankr

When did you discover that you wanted to go into acting?

Extremely late. I'd love to say that I had some grand story of always wanting to be in the pictures and spending hours and hours on the planks of the theater. But I was more excited about sports. I grew up playing soccer and football in college, and acting was something that I had done as a theater class because it was an elective. I thought it was going to be something easy. I did a couple plays in the church, but it was nothing that I was taking seriously. But I can say that I've always been a fan of movies. I get that from my father because he's a cinephile. I always had that connection with him, and my mother loved the stage.

What were some of your favorite films that you watched with your dad?

Gladiator was probably the one that made me appreciate filmmaking the most, just because that was the first film that I can recall that gave me an emotional effect while watching the villain perform. When you're growing up, you always play good guys versus bad guys. It was really interesting to me, even at that age, that I was incredibly compelled by watching the villainous character or actor do his work. Seeing Joaquin Phoenix in Gladiator for the first time, I thought, Holy shit. Why am I feeling this way? I'm supposed to hate this guy, so why am I so enthralled with him?

You're starring in something even scarier than aliens after 3 Body Problem: The It prequel series, Welcome to Derry. Why are you trying to scare me so much?

I just enjoy it, man. What did Heath Ledger say in The Dark Knight? Some people just want to see the world burn? That's one of my favorite quotes. A lot of my friends, family members who love to support and watch my stuff, they're like, 'What are you working on next?' I told them I'm working in the It franchise, and they're like, 'Nah. I love you, but fuck that, bro. I will appreciate it from afar.' It's fun. I've just been really fortunate to get to work with some really talented people over the last few years of my young career. I've been really fortunate.

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