'We want you to feel wretched': Charlie Brooker talks Miley Cyrus and Black Mirror

Andrew Scott

The new series of Black Mirror will feature Miley Cyrus and Irish actor Andrew Scott, writes Gemma Dunn.

When Netflix dropped three individual episode trailers for Black Mirror recently, fans rejoiced.

The sci-fi anthology series, the brainchild of co-creators Charlie Brooker and Annabel Jones, teased its fifth season via the streaming giant by revealing three new episodes, each littered with a star-studded cast.

First there’s the Street Fighter-esque Striking Vipers, featuring Avengers star Anthony Mackie; then Smithereens, which recruits Irish actor Andrew Scott as a “cab driver with an agenda”; and finally Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too, which casts Miley Cyrus as a pop star-turned robot doll.

All brilliant. All shrouded in distinct Black Mirror mystery. All a continuation of the creator duo’s genius when it comes to exploring society’s collective unease with the modern world.

But its arrival hasn’t come as a secret. Followers of the dystopian hit had learnt of its homecoming last year, but were told it would be a late release due to Brooker and Jones’ gargantuan undertaking in Bandersnatch.

The first choose-your-own-adventure interactive episode, Bandersnatch invited viewers to play along, with the option of multiple endings.

It was a feat for the longtime collaborators, whose vision originally premiered on Channel 4 in 2011; and has since gone on to garner international acclaim with countless awards and nominations, including six Emmy Awards wins and two Baftas. 

It’s a level of success neither had anticipated.

“It’s partly because I find it hard to conceive of any kind of future filled with luck!” quips Brooker, 48, when presented with the facts and figures.

“We’re only aware of the show, people really watching it, when we come to (media) events like this,” he maintains.

“Most of the time we’re busy making it, which is pretty unglamorous and involves us bickering and squabbling and sitting in West London going, ‘Oh no, what am I going to do now?’

“So, it’s quite startling, every so often, to stick our heads out of the window and have people go, ‘Oh I’ve actually seen that show that you did, and it wasn’t totally awful!’

“For so long people say to you, ‘So what show are you making now?’ And you go, ‘Oh I did this thing called Black Mirror’, and they go, ‘Oh’,” concurs executive producer, Jones.

“And then suddenly it’s, ‘Oh you have heard of it? OK’,” she adds. “So that’s probably the small indication I have that the show is doing all right.”

“But still most people, these days, haven’t seen most shows!” Brooker chimes, the much-loved format having moved to Netflix in 2015.

“Even something like Game Of Thrones, which is the most popular show in the world, most people haven’t seen!”

Those who are new to Black Mirror needn’t fret, however. Each episode is unrelated in its techno-paranoia.

“It’s one of the refreshing things about it — we actively want each one to feel idiosyncratic and it has to be able to stand alone,” reasons Brooker.

“So in a way it means that we are free to experiment. In this season, some of the episodes have got a very different tone to ones we’ve seen before.

“We did Bandersnatch, which was an interactive standalone; and we’ve done things like Metalhead, which was black and white, almost dialogue-free.

Black Mirror duo Annabel Jones and Charlie Brooker are on to their fifth series. Picture: Jeff Spicer/Getty
Black Mirror duo Annabel Jones and Charlie Brooker are on to their fifth series. Picture: Jeff Spicer/Getty

“It means it doesn’t get boring for us. It can be very hard work, but it never gets boring. And hopefully that means if we find it continually interesting, the viewer might be tricked into withstanding it.

Jones enthuses: “Across season five we have a range of genres, a range of tones, and also maybe unique to this series, a totally different world. 

"Looking at the music industry and following an international pop star isn’t something we would naturally follow, but you do it, again, in a very small way. There’s lots of new things this season.”

Do they think the element of interactive entertainment, as seen in Bandersnatch, is the future?

“In a way, interactive movies have been around for a long time,” muses Brooker.

“It’s just that now what you’re getting is that Netflix is not a gaming platform, so that’s unique about Bandersnatch. Or was.

“We will see more of that sort of stuff, but it’s never going to replace linear-ed storytelling,” he insists.

“It’s just its own genre, just as musicals are. Or westerns. Or cookery shows. It’s just its own beast. And some narratives just don’t suit that form and others do.”

“I like the fact that in Bandersnatch the interactivity added to the experience, rather than divorced you or detached you,” Jones says.

“The fact that you were making decisions for the protagonist and the protagonist was aware that he was being controlled, made you feel even more complicit and even more wretched... in that world. And so, it’s baked into the piece.”

A scene from the Striking Vipers episode of the forthcoming Black Mirror series.
A scene from the Striking Vipers episode of the forthcoming Black Mirror series.

“That’s what we want: we want you to feel wretched!” barks Brooker, with a laugh.

One thing is for sure, however. Penning a series that taps into a near-future, where humanity’s greatest innovations and darkest instincts collide, has done little to minimise showrunner Brooker’s anxiety levels.

“I don’t think it would be possible to heighten my anxiety — it’s scarcely possible to lower it!” he screeches.

The appearance of Cyrus in an episode was quite a coup for the show. She plays a pop star who speaks to her fans through a robot-type device.

“She read the script and, as you can imagine, there were quite a few things in the script she identified with, and she’s got a very sarcastic sense of humour,” says Jones.

“She’s very acerbic, she’s very funny and she delights in subverting things; her whole career has been about the Disney pop star who tries to carve out her own identity and, as a result, has faced a lot of opposition from her label and her fans in some respect, so she’s been on that journey.

“She found it hilarious. She was like, ‘oh my God I’m going to have so much fun with this.’”

Brooker added: “I seem to remember she said, ‘oh, it’ll piss people off and pissing people off is kind of my thing’.”

Jones said that Cyrus had a lot of input with the script, and talked a lot about her own experiences.

She said a lot of the details of Cyrus’ life have been engineered into the script.

“She had lots of thoughts on the music and the performance of the music and the look, and the relationship between the idol and the fan, which is a very interesting and powerful relationship in today’s world.”

Black Mirror returns to Netflix on Wednesday, June 5

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