Hannah John-Kamen Is Still Pinching Herself

Hannah John-Kamen’s onscreen career is a crossroads of fantastical worlds. There’s Vaes Dothrak, the Dothraki city in Game of Thrones where she played an ally of Daenerys Targaryen; there’s the galaxy far, far away of Star Wars, where she appeared as a First Order officer in The Force Awakens; there’s the quantum and earthly realms of San Francisco in Marvel’s Ant-Man and the Wasp, where she clashed with the titular superheroes as the molecularly unstable Ghost/Ava Starr; there’s the interplanetary domain where she bounty-hunted for four seasons of SyFy’s Killjoys; and there’s the virtual reality of Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One, where she played Sixer army leader F’Nale Zandor.

And now, there’s New London, a utopian society centuries in the future where people are born from artificial wombs and conditioned into predetermined social castes, as seen in Peacock’s Brave New World, a shiny, sexy adaptation of Aldous Huxley’s 1932 book. John-Kamen is Wilhelmina “Helm” Watson, a gender-flipped update of the original Helmholtz Watson. She organizes “feelies,” exhibitions where the insensate citizens of New London go to, well, feel. But while Huxley imagined feelies as a set of knobs guests touch to simulate sensations, the feelies arranged by John-Kamen’s Helm are more rave-like orgies—strobe lights, pulsing music, and ridiculous amounts of sex. Sensory overload indeed.

“It’s epic,” John-Kamen says of the big-budget series, whose themes of class conflict, dependence on technology, and drug use are still timely today. “I think it’s just an absolutely amazing moment to just self reflect and have a look at yourself and kind of take a moment—which is what 2020 has been doing to us anyway.”

Dressed in a silver wig and flowing robes, Helm is an eccentric artist type, pressured to outdo herself with each new feely and slightly dependent on the recreational drug soma, which all New London citizens pop like Pez tablets to suppress discomfort. In real life, though, John-Kamen is staying at home in London, going to bed around 9 p.m. and waking early now that she’s the owner of a new puppy. BAZAAR.com caught up with the actress about her new role, working with Steven Spielberg, and her love for Old Hollywood movies.

Brave New World is a huge show; it opens up a whole new universe and fantasy. What was the atmosphere like on set?

It was amazing. Every single time I came on set I was like, wow. You just feel like you’re part of something really special and big. It’s the costumes, the whole look, the whole kind of artistry of it all—I was blown away.

You rock the silver wig, by the way.

I was going to say, I’m going to really actually embrace my gray I think when I start getting older.

Your role was one of the things that was updated for this adaptation. Was there anything that you specifically came to the role wanting to add?

What I love about Helm is, yes, she’s hedonistic. Yes, she’s kind of always at this kind of weird existential crisis of, you know, creating these feelies and yes, she pops a lot of soma, because she’s kind of always on edge. But I think there’s just something about her. That, for me, is a real vulnerability, that I really enjoy playing and I can really relate to. And it’s that kind of pressure that she puts on herself where it’s, “I’ve got to create something bigger and better than the last thing [and] nothing lasts. I’ve put my, my heart, soul blood, sweat tears, and all my creative existence into this feely. And then all of a sudden everyone loves it.”

And then the next thing has to happen. I’ve got to create the next one. They think it’s that kind of depression after such a high that comes so quickly. I think the vulnerability of capturing that was just really, I thought really interesting to kind of find those nuances in the character. And also what I just thought was lovely about Helm is just her relationship with Bernard [a counselor played by Harry Lloyd]. I think it’s just so honest and earnest. They really have just a lovely, quite human, honest relationship with each other. They can really be themselves with each other as well. That was really grounding for, I think, both their characters.

When did you get into performing?

I really can’t remember not ever wanting to do this. When I was three years old, I played with my Barbies and apparently I would come out with the most insane and incredible adventures. When my friends would come over for tea after school, I would charge the parents money for what extravaganzas I’d put on. I’d create plays, I’d write, I mean, absolute nonsense, but I loved it. I had a huge dressing up box. It’s always been something that I’ve just been drawn to all my life and it gives me absolute joy.

What has been the biggest high? The biggest pinch me moment so far?

I think meeting Steven Spielberg, and working with Steven Spielberg, having a letter of recommendation by Steven Spielberg. I still pinch myself to be honest. I don’t believe it. I absolutely don’t believe it, that I’ve worked with him and he’s just such an incredible, inspiring, wonderful man. He’s a genius. He’s a magician, he’s an artist. He’s everything, just creating that magic on camera and on set, as well as off. That was a real wonderful time of my life that I really actually can’t believe happens. I still think it’s a dream.

Are you still in touch?

Yeah. I try to keep in touch as much as possible. You know, I don’t think I can just call up Steven Spielberg and say “Hey! Could we grab a cup of tea?” But it’s a couple of exchanges here and there. So that’s good.

You were on a Netflix show yourself just earlier this year, called The Stranger. Do you know if there are plans for another season?

I don’t believe so, no. It’s one book, it’s a standalone story. I honestly don’t think there will be a second season. I’ve always said, if they ever did one that you could do a spinoff version with all the police officers. I think that’s the only way you could do it. I think it’s a great story where it’s got a beginning, middle, and end and it ties off nicely.

The finale for Brave New World is open-ended and leaves some questions lingering. What did you make of your final scenes?

I mean, I love an open-ended, interpreted end. [Laughs] I just think that the whole of Brave New World is epic, especially the end is just even more epic and you just don’t want to stop doing it.

If you had the opportunity for another season, would you do it?

Absolutely. I had so much fun this last time.

Through your experience from when you were younger to drama school, to now all the roles that you’ve taken on, what has been the best career advice you’ve ever gotten?

I think the best career advice I’ve gotten is from my dad. He just always says, just never forget you were John-Kamen and always, always, always be proud of who you are and always be grounded and always keep your feet on the ground.

Did you ever think that the road of your career would take you to the Marvel universe?

Oh my goodness. I mean, I wanted to. I was like, wow, I’d love to be part of this gang. And then I was! I was in the gang! That was so much fun. I never knew I could be in that world.

Where do you hope to see yourself in like five years?

Definitely with more versatile, different roles under my belt, but at the moment as well, I’m looking into producing. I’d like to start having that creative outlook in my career as well. Producing, maybe start directing, cause I like to learn every avenue of my industry.

What was like the one movie you couldn’t stop watching growing up?

Some Like It Hot. I used to watch that on repeat all the time with my mom. I loved it. Absolutely loved it.

To the point where you could quote it?

I can absolutely quote a lot of it. And I’ve just heard just bits where I just kind of crack up and, you know, with my mom and, I love that last line where he reveals and he goes, “I’m a man.” And when he goes, “Nobody’s perfect.” It always gets me. I love Old Hollywood movies. I’m such a sucker for them. And my first-ever crush was Tony Curtis. … I know!

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Photos courtesy of NBC, Netflix, Disney, and Hannah John-Kamen. Design by Ingrid Frahm.

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