3 Body Problem star hails 'brave' depiction of Chinese Cultural Revolution

Watch: Zine Tseng and Jess Hong discuss 3 Body Problem

3 Body Problem "honoured" Cixin Liu's iconic sci-fi novel with its depiction of the Chinese Cultural Revolution, actor Zine Tseng tells Yahoo UK.

Tseng portrays Ye Wenjie in her youth, a key player in the series and novel who holds humanity's fate in her hands. The Netflix series opens with her watching as her astrophysicist father is beaten to death for teaching people about the Big Bang Theory, and follows the character as she is arrested, sent to a labour camp and prison before being recruited for a secret government programme.

Read more: What is Netflix's 3 Body Problem about?

The actor reflected on the shocking opening scenes of the series, saying: "Derek [Tsang, who directed the first two episodes] really, really honoured it.

Yu Guming as Yang Weining, Zine Tseng as Young Ye Wenjie in 3 Body Problem (Netflix)
Yu Guming as Yang Weining, Zine Tseng as Young Ye Wenjie in 3 Body Problem, Tseng said the show 'honoured' the truth of the Chinese Cultural Revolution. (Netflix)

"He said 'we are so brave to do this and it's very precious because not many people can do that'. And he really honoured the truth, he tried his best and I thought he did great."

Tseng also shared what it was also like to film the opening scene on a cold day in London, remarking that it is her "most memorable experience" from making the series. She explains: "I was working with 500 background artists and they were watching me, watching me with side eyes.

"Of course, I got very insecure about everything [but] they told me 'we teared up, everybody else [was] sobbing behind the scenes, they thought [it] was so good'."

Zine Tseng as Young Ye Wenjie in 3 Body Problem. (Netflix)
Zine Tseng's character Ye Wenjie witnesses her father be beaten to death, then is arrested and sent to a labour camp and prison before being recruited for a secret government programme. (Netflix)

Ye Wenjie's actions as a result of the Chinese Cultural Revolution lead to aliens discovering Earth and starting a 400-year journey to our solar system to make the planet their new home. 3 Body Problem then follows a group of scientists, and long-time friends, in the modern day who find themselves at the heart of the crisis, and they try to make sense of strange supernatural phenomena to find a way to face them.

There's Jin (Jess Hong), our plucky protagnist, Saul (Jovan Adepo), the lost cause, Auggie (Eiza González), whose work in nanotech is booming, Jack (John Bradley), who swapped science for a snack brand, and Will (Alex Sharp), a scientist whose lack of faith in his ability led him to becoming a teacher.

They are joined in their mission to save humanity by detective Da Shi (Benedict Wong) and covert operations leader Thomas Wade (Liam Cunningham).

Strong and driven women

Jess Hong as Jin Cheng in 3 Body Problem. (Netflix)
Jess Hong as Jin Cheng in 3 Body Problem, who recalled how deeply moved she was by Ye Wenjie and felt their characters represent 'strong driven women' not often seen on TV. (Netflix)

Hong reflects on Jin and Ye Wenjie's importance to the story, saying: "I didn't know about the books before getting it, and as soon as I read the source material the character I was compelled by was Ye Wenjie.

"I was just so, so drawn in, and so there were moments in the book where I had to put it down just be like 'Ohh my gosh. What's happening?' because I was just so on her side, and some crazy stuff happens. She does some crazy stuff, but because you're already on her side, you empathise.

"Similarly for Jin, she's someone that's very flawed —all the characters are very flawed and complex— and she loves her friends, very empathetic, but also ambitious to the point of obsession, and will forget about everyone else when she has a problem that she wants to solve.

"So I think these two are very strong and driven women who drive ahead, and keep moving forward, and that's something that is both incredibly admirable and is something that is maybe not normally seen for female leads. Not the soft mother or the demure damsel, I think that's really exciting."

Eiza Gonzalez as Auggie Salazar, Jess Hong as Jin Cheng in 3 Body Problem (Netflix)
Eiza González felt similarly about her character Auggie Salazar, and said while it was challenging she felt it was important to 'trust the showrunners with the path that they have envisioned for her'. (Netflix)

Another character who is portrayed similarly is Auggie, whose actions over the course of the series are morally questionable but lead to her being plagued with guilt and remorse. González admits it was "challenging" to play, but it was an opportunity she relished: "I think that there's a lot of things that come into play when you're playing someone with such a complex situation.

"It's like the ambition is there and the heart, and the soul, but there's a morality that is not allowing her to do stuff. But then she kind of betrays her own morality, and then my own personal morality steps in and then I have to remind myself, 'you've got to abandon yourself and go into whatever', but you are playing with your own personal feelings.

"We're pulling all these strings so you have to make sure that you're pulling the string without bringing personal baggage into it, so it was a lot of trusting what the showrunners wanted, trusting them with the path that they have envisioned for her."

The source material

3 Body Problem (Netflix)
Benedict Wong, who plays Da Shi, spoke of approaching a series like this, saying that while he read some of Cixin Liu's books he felt 'it's not there to compare, we are making [a show] inspired by the books'. (Netflix)

3 Body Problem adapts the first book in Cixin Liu's Remembrance of Earth's Past trilogy, and while some of the cast members had read it they felt it was important to focus mainly on what co-creators David Benioff, D.B. Weiss and Alexander Woo wanted to create rather than the intricacies of the novel.

Reflecting on this, Wong says: "I read the first two and it was a dense weight, and the science was hurting my head, but [it was] just to glean the essence of Da Shi and move straight into the scripts because, as Liam will tell you, you'll just spend all day comparing. It's not there to compare, we are making [a show] inspired by the books."

Cunningham concurs, saying he learned from Game of Thrones that it was best to try and focus on the scripts more than the source material: "I'd started to read the Game of Thrones and I stopped because it was weird, because you get two voices. You get the book voice in one ear and the script in the other, and for me, I don't want that confusion. My job. I'm hired to do [is] the scripts."

3 Body Problem (Netflix)
Liam Cunningham, who plays Thomas Wade, added that 'you get the book voice in one ear and the script in the other' so its key to focus on the scripts instead. (Netflix)

The actors make an unexpectedly amusing double act as Da Shi and Wade thanks to their mutually grumpy attitude and determination to save humanity. Wong jokes: "It's lovely to roll out of bed and just be me, effortless. It's a fantastic character, I'm really thrilled.

"Obviously the author, Cixin Liu, gave the guys the blessing to make this version really, and I just love our duo, the most unlikely [duo]. This Irish midfield general, and this kind of Colombo Liam Gallagher."

Cunningham adds: "They're an unlikely couple, aren't they? It's mental, you would never put these two characters together, but they just work. We've had great reaction where people said they were just looking forward to seeing the two of them in a room having a chat."

Wong adds: "They strategise, they execute and they get results, and these are the two that you want in your corner."

3 Body Problem is out now on Netflix.

Watch the trailer for 3 Body Problem: