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Charlie Brooker and Hayley Atwell discuss 'Black Mirror'

Grief, online personas and Boris Johnson shitting on the floor


What can you tell us about ‘Black Mirror: Be Right Back’?

Hayley Atwell ‘It’s set a bit in the future, with this isolated, odd experience this woman goes through where she loses her fiancé early on. Because he was a ‘heavy user’ – this fantastic term for someone addicted to the internet – there’s this app where you can download tweets, Facebook status, emails, and so on to create a personality, and the computer writes back as if it was this person. She has a go and this odd relationship develops. The first series was really inventive and wanted to be a part of it. It was all played completely straight, which was really important. The script was very chilling and very smart, but also quite a moving story about grief.’

Charlie Brooker ‘Several years ago, someone I knew died, and a few months later I was going through my phone, making some space by deleting numbers. It felt weirdly disresepctful to delete this person’s name. Then last year after we had a baby I spent a lot of time up late and on Twitter, thinking: what if these people were dead and it was software emulating their thoughts? And if you’re grieving, if you’ve got something you know isn’t the person, but evokes enough memories to remind you of them, is that enough?’

HA ‘In China, some mothers who had lost their babies were given these hi-tech dummies of babies as a grieving tool: making money from the grieving process. How far will we go to be comforted?’

If your personalities were created from your online identities, how accurate would they be?

HA ‘Interesting. I think there’s so much control of it that it doesn’t give people a fair chance to get a true opinion of you.’

CB ‘People are their own press officer. You choose what represents you. The speed and frequency of Twitterstorms amazes me: are you really that outraged? I suppose it bears a relation to who you are, but doesn’t define you.’

The idea behind ‘Be Right Back’ sounds plausible.

CB ‘The writer Jon Ronson had an argument with “himself” recently, because someone had created a Jon Ronson feed that tweeted like Jon Ronson. It wasn’t very good, but he got into an argument with it.’

The ‘Black Mirror’ series is quite ambivalent towards technology. Is there a tipping point where new technology will do more harm than good?

CB ‘I don’t know – technology gives as much as it takes away. Things we do now would have seemed miraculous five years ago. But it’s damaged our attention spans and knackered our high streets.’

HA ‘It’s creating connections that aren’t genuine. You’re sacrificing the risk of what is truly an authentic conversation with someone. I feel more isolated because it.’

Are you both ‘heavy users’?

HA ‘Yes!’

CB ‘I ration how much I use Twitter. It was making me unhappy. It reminds me of the game “Rock Band”, where you hit buttons on plastic guitars when the coloured blobs come towards you. That felt like what was happening on Twitter, but with opinions: topics would come up and you’d have to have some fucking little thought about all of them.’

What about the rest of the series – ‘White Bear’, for example?

CB ‘“White Bear” is an apocalypitc thriller. When we were shooting [2008 E4 horror comedy] “Dead Set”, Riz Ahmed was being chased down the street by a zombie and some kids stopped to film it on their camera phones. Weirdly, that felt more scary than a scene of someone being killed – the fact that they were filming it. And you see it all the time now on the news: people were crowding round Gaddafi’s corpse, filming, in Libya, and over here you’d have one person smashing a window and a crowd of people filming it during the riots over tuition fees.’

And ‘The Waldo Moment’?

CB ‘It’s based on an idea Chris Morris and I had while we were making [2005 C4 satire] “Nathan Barley”, where we thought someone would come up with a politician like the band Gorillaz. Boris Johnson was very present in my thoughts as I wrote this – he’s basically a “character” from a comedy panel show. He can dangle off a cable – he could shit on the floor – and people would still love him. So you have the disconnect between people and politicians, and questions about what satirists stand for.’

‘Black Mirror: Be Right Back’ airs Monday February 11, 10pm, C4; ‘White Bear’, Monday February 18, 10pm, C4; ‘The Waldo Moment’, Monday February 25, 10pm, C4.
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