Warning: Spoilers ahead for Brave New World season 1.
“For Helm it’s always about the orgy at the end,” star Hannah John-Kamen joked to Refinery29 about her Brave New World character, Soma-loving “chaotic and lovely artist” Helm, a few days before the premiere of her Peacock series. (Peacock, as a reminder, is NBC Universal's plunge into the streaming wars.)
You may have previously seen John-Kamen as the antagonist of Ant-Man and the Wasp or Netflix’s Brit thriller The Stranger. But as you dig deeper into Brave New World — which will lead the launch of Peacock on Wednesday, July 15, as a total update of Aldous Huxley’s dystopian 1932 novel of the same name — it is impossible to ignore John-Kamen's Helm, a professional hedonist whose parties always crescendo into polyamorous group sex. Some of Helm's orgies are so powerful they can send an outsider into a panic attack (see: fourth episode “Swallow”) while others are planned down to the stitch of every garment (ask fifth episode “Firefall”).
It would be easy for Brave to hinge Helm’s entire character on the shock and horny awe of a woman who can turn any dance party into a writhing bacchanal. However, the trick of Helm, John-Kamen explained, is finding the stifled humanity of Brave New World’s proverbial Wizard behind the sex curtain.
“I was discovering that beautiful vulnerability of Helm. That self-doubt and pressure to create the new best thing so quickly after giving her life and her soul to the last thing,” John-Kamen said, pondering her journey of creating Helm and her “pleasure bomb” parties over Brave’s nine episodes. By “Firefall,” Helm has churned out 139 of her storytelling events. All of the soirees include some vague semblance of a theme, which only serve as a bridge to “an orgy at the end,” as she tells Brave New World hero John (Alden Ehrenreich) with an indulgent smile.
Each of Helm’s events are a success, so you would assume she would be delighted to witness yet another “feelies” triumph. Yet, when John approaches Helm — who observes the party from her office’s Olympus-like glass observatory — she seems profoundly lonely. “It’s like she’s God. It’s like she is The Creator,” John-Kamen said.
“It’s all about timing and giving that pleasure and experience to everyone else for Helm. And that’s the sad thing: She’ll never experience it.” John-Kamen continued.
Since Helm — full name Wilhelmina Watson, a gender swapped version of the original book’s Helmholtz Watson — is physically removed from the action, so was her portrayer. John-Kamen’s lofty position on set allowed her to witness Brave New World’s dazzling orgy sequences in all their grandeur. “It was so fun standing up there on my own and looking down. Because I remember in between takes seeing how everyone interacted with each other,” John-Kamen recalled. “Who’s talking to whom. Who’s dancing.”
As John-Kamen looked back on the experience on set, it was clear she is still struck by the “gorgeous” scene. It’s likely production was so positive because Brave New World hired an intimacy coordinator to educate the cast. A series like Brave, filled with dozens upon dozens of nude actors simulating sex, certainly benefits from such instruction.
“It was so great to be able to actually have communication and feel like you’re having that wonderful acceptance from the other actor coming into your personal space,” John-Kamen said of working with Brave’s intimacy expert. This work helped John-Kamen prepare for her own sex scene in “Firefall,” which pairs Helm and Ehrenreich’s John. “It really does get rid of any awkwardness or embarrassment that you might be feeling,” she added, explaining that intimacy coaching exercises helped talent rehearse exactly what would happen on the day of filming — “so there’s no surprises.”
While John-Kamen learned a lot from preparing for Helm and and John’s sex scene, Helm herself grows the most from its aftermath. In Brave’s eighth episode, Helm experiences John’s emotions as a “savage” — or a naturally born human without the influence of supercomputer Indra or the mollifying pharmaceutical pill Soma. Before this chapter, Helm is “a real Soma popper,” as her portrayer called her, desperate to stave off the “existential crisis” of her never-ending work with mood-controlling pills. Helm is immediately overcome by the “universe” of John’s natural feelings. In Helm’s most powerful moment, she licks her fresh tears and removes her trendy gray wig, revealing the natural brown locks underneath.
“Hair is such a big thing,” John-Kamen, who is biracial, said. “The fact that Helm is the only person in Brave New World who is wearing a wig — it’s testament to the whole idea of being on Soma all the time. Of being in this false sense of security and self.”
John’s memories shatter all of that carefully crafted faux-safety for Helm. “When that moment happens, when she is stripped down to her natural state — it is the most powerful, strengthening, heroic, vulnerable moment,” John-Kamen said. “I think with vulnerability is power. I think showing that is when you’re at your strongest. It’s courageous.”