Alden Ehrenreich likes to keep a low profile. An Instagram handle bearing the actor’s name has no blue check, no posts and no followers. In fact, he doesn’t even own an iPhone, an impressive feat in a landscape that demands full, unbridled access to Hollywood and its stars. In other words, he’d rather his work speak for itself.
After supporting roles in Francis Ford Coppola’s Tetro and Twixt, he starred in the Coen brothers’ 2016 film Hail, Caesar!, establishing himself as a bonafide talent, before being cast in the role of a lifetime as Han Solo in 2018’s Solo. After starring in one of the most expensive films ever made, the 30-year-old Los Angeles native is back in his first television series regular role in David Weiner’s Brave New World, a modern reinterpretation of Aldous Huxley’s dystopian classic, which premiered last Sunday on Showcase.
Here, he tells SHARP about his relationship to fame, social media and feeling a kinship with his character.
You have quite the origin story: Steven Spielberg discovered you when you were 13. How did that happen?
When I was in eighth grade, a friend of mine and I made a video for a friend of ours’ Bat Mitzvah. It played there on a loop and he saw it and thought I was funny in it, and then I got a phone call to come in and have a meeting at DreamWorks and that’s how my career began and how I got an agent.
But you escaped the child star trap since you didn’t start acting until you were older.
Yeah, I mean, even doing publicity and stuff when I was 18, to have to think about yourself in those terms and kind of perform your own personality at that age… and also just not have the psychological tools to understand what of this is real and what of this is bullshit, [which is] hard to navigate as an adult, much less a kid. So, what happens when you’re told, “Oh my god, you’re amazing” when you’re nine, and then you can’t get a job a year later – you don’t have an identity apart from that.
You played Han Solo in 2018’s Solo and now star in Brave New World as John the Savage. Do you ever feel any pressure to represent these iconic film and literary characters?
Yeah, I think you feel it when you take on the role, but the way you can best serve those jobs is by personalizing it, by being the most you that you can. Otherwise, it’s just not gonna work. Anytime I see something where you have a really vivid idea of the reference or [if] it’s based on something, very shortly into the film or the television show, it’s like if it’s working, then you kind of forget all about that. It all goes away pretty quickly.
We all read Brave New World in high school. What drew you to the show initially?
It was just unlike anything I’ve ever read. I actually didn’t read the book in high school, and I own two copies of it! I just thought it was a really unique mixture of tones and had this wild, eccentric intelligence to it. A lot of things right now feel like they’re trying to create worlds, and in this I just thought it was so interesting that it was really all focused on how the people in these worlds feel, and how these worlds make them feel.
What did the character bring out in you?
I think that I’ve played a lot of characters who are idealists and dream[ers], and I liked that John is somebody who has a lot of those feelings and yearnings, but also has a well-earned cynicism, a chip on his shoulder; bitterness, disgruntlement. I just thought it was kind of a slightly more worn-in version of that kind of character that I end up playing, for whatever reason. It just felt like a great challenge, which is one of the qualities in a piece of material that I’m drawn to.
The book is a classic but also feels eerily prescient. Your character is the ultimate outsider after being rejected by both the “savage” and the “civilized” worlds, and contemporary society is facing a similar kind of conflict with increasing polarization. Are there any real-life John the Savages that come to mind?
It’s such an interesting time we’re living through, and a heartbreaking time in so many ways. But it’s also a time where so many conventions that we’ve taken for granted as the way things are are being questioned. Obviously in terms of race in the United States and the world, in terms of gender, in terms of marriage, [these] are all being called into account and questioned. Are these various institutions that we live by, that we hold as almost sacred, are they actually working for the benefit of the fulfillment of the people within the society?
I think John’s a lot more reckless in a way, but like Greta Thunberg comes to mind as someone who is clearly standing up for something that she really believes in in a way that’s totally captured the hearts and minds of a lot of people in such an amazing way.
The show touches on the perils of technology, and in real life, you’re not on social media. Why is that?
I don’t have any social media and I don’t spend a ton of time online. It just destroys the quality of my attention and inflames my ego, because so much If what you’re doing online is kind of, in one way or another, saying “this is who I am”. I just find it distracting – I don’t even have an iPhone. I hope we develop a lot more thoughtfulness about how much we want to be using [social media] and awareness that it’s designed to keep us addicted to it.
What can we expect from the show?
I think what you can expect is a show that’s highly intelligent in terms of the ideas that it’s presenting – and some of that is Aldous Huxley, who’s so brilliant – [and] reflecting our world back to us, in these really mind-expanding and thought-provoking ways. It’s really a show about what it means to be a human being, which is really what [the book] is about. It’s really about what it means to be a person and to feel things and to not know what to do with them. The show, the premise, the genre and the sci fi of it all is a vehicle to underline those human questions – and it also has really good sense of humour.
Brave New World airs on Sundays at 9pm ET on Showcase.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.