Liam Cunningham On The Enigmatic Thomas Wade In 3 Body Problem’


SPOILER ALERT: The following reveals plot points from season one of Netflix’s 3 Body Problem

Who is Thomas Wade? As humanity readies its response to the approaching San-Ti fleet in season one of 3 Body Problem, little is revealed in the Netflix series about the person apparently leading the effort to save humankind.

“This guy, the man who has tried to save humanity is probably the least human of all the characters that are that are in there,” Liam Cunningham, the Irish actor who plays Wade, tells Deadline.

The show’s creators, David Benioff, D.B. Weiss and Alexander Woo, have just revealed 3 Body Problem will run to three seasons, allowing them to finish telling the story they are adapting from Liu Cixin’s Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy of sci-fi novels. Season one spans time and space to show humans making contact with aliens, the San-Ti. Despairing of our race’s failings, some humans side with the San-Ti. A group of brilliant physicists, the Oxford Five, meanwhile, become central to efforts to fight back when it appears the earth-bound aliens aren’t too keen on cooperation, beaming the panic-inducing message ‘You Are Bugs’ onto screens around the world.

Earth’s would-be new inhabitants are on their way here. The silver lining is that they are 400 years away. The man who appears to be coordinating efforts to resist them is Thomas Wade.

Who gave him this power?


We don’t know who Wade reports to, or his background. While he gets some of the best lines in season one, he remains an enigma. Cunningham is as much in the dark as the rest of us – and is just fine with that.

“Who gave him this power, where did he get this power from? This guy from a little island who [in one scene] is saying to the best engineers of the Royal Navy: ‘You’re probably wondering why you’re taking orders from a Dubliner in civvies,”… well, so was I.”

Cunningham says a lot of actors “need to fill in the empty boxes to give them their internal narrative” but he never felt the need to discuss Wade’s backstory with the show’s creators. “Is he military? Is he political? Is he diplomatic? Is he from some shady special forces? I enjoy the not knowing. I’m not going to spill the beans because I don’t know the beans.”

Cunningham was in Ken Loach’s film The Wind That Shakes the Barley and added: “In a funny way, it was a bit like working with Ken Loach. You’re not expected to formulate a life before you arrive. You are the person that is doing it on that day. It’s very in the moment.”

‘Always advance’ is Wade’s mantra and he is relentlessly single-minded, brusque, and generally at least a couple of moves ahead of the other characters – the humans at least. In season one that includes salvaging a communications device hidden on a tanker as it travels down the Panama Canal, and overseeing the Staircase Project, which involves sending a probe towards the San-Ti’s ships that requires the scientists to push the boundaries of science.

“He’s incredibly pragmatic,” Cunningham says. “When people say something can’t be done, he says ‘The San-Ti have done it, we can do it.’ And he says on the show, even if it doesn’t work, it will knock us forward a couple of generations. He employs people who say they’re good at this stuff and he will complain bitterly if they’re not delivering, because that’s what they’re supposed to do. That’s his pragmatism, it’s a bullheaded pragmatism.”

They know me better than I know myself


The glimpses we see of Wade as a person come in some of the interplay between him and Jess Hong’s science genius Jin Cheng, but are visible foremost in the scenes with Clarence ‘Da’ Shi, an intelligence operative who works for him, and is played by Benedict Wong.

Benioff, Weiss, and Woo molded the writing around the actors they wanted for specific roles and these two characters exemplify that approach.

“When I started reading it, I started smiling because they obviously know me better than I know myself,” Cunningham says. “It was the direction it was aimed at, a portion of me. Myself and Benny [Wong] were discussing this, because we’ve both played characters that are as close to ourselves as we’ve ever played, and it’s quite disconcerting. You know, when you’re doing an accent, or playing a particular character, it can be difficult technically, but it’s also a shield. When you’re playing something that’s pretty close to yourself, you feel slightly naked.”

Cunningham also reveals a mischievous side to Benioff, Weiss and Woo’s efforts to secure the talent they want. “It wasn’t until [Wong] accepted the job that they informed him that they just cut and pasted his Wikipedia page and sent it to him as character breakdown,” he says. “They’re naughty boys, but they do it all for the right reasons.”

The Game Of Thrones ride continues

The exact number of episodes, schedule and details of filming the next instalments are under wraps, but Cunningham is enjoying a ride he thought had stopped after his stint playing Davos Seaworth on Game of Thrones. He joined John Bradley, Mark Gatiss, Conleth Hill and Jonathon Pryce as Game of Thrones alums appearing in 3 Body Problem.

“When we finished with Game of Thrones, I just thought that’ll be a beautiful memory,” he says. “And then a couple of years later, the phone rings and it was just like, ‘oh, man, I’ve got to work with these guys again’. And if I ever stop being passionate and appreciating quality of the writing that they are capable of, I’ll pass the torch to somebody else. I love telling good stories, and to be handed words like these… it’s a no-brainer. The mathematics are very simple.”

We now know Benioff, Weiss and Woo have the canvas to finish telling the story, but what next for Wade in the series? In season one, the intelligence chief sets a plan to enter a form of cryogenic suspension and wake up once a year (during which, with customary dryness, he says he’ll take in the tennis at Wimbledon). With his lifespan effectively suspended Wade could theoretically be around for many years to come.

Cunningham doesn’t know how the 3 Body Problem series will treat his character in upcoming seasons, but is sure of one thing: “His attitude won’t change at all. He’s a rhino and he will ‘only advance’.”

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