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Black Mirror: The Waldo Moment is on Channel 4 on Monday 25th February at 10pm.
You star in one of the new episodes of Black Mirror – ‘The Waldo Moment.’ Can you outline what the episode is about?
It’s basically about a failed comedian, Jamie, who is now working for a television company, voicing a cartoon character who interviews politicians and celebrities. They think they’re being interviewed for a children’s TV show, but in fact, it’s a satirical political programme, and Jamie is there to rip them apart. It becomes a massive hit, and basically it’s the story of how this affects Jamie’s life and his relationships.
You play Gwendolyn Harris, what’s her story?
She’s a politician, a quite ambitious politician, and she’s got her chance to become an MP. My first scene is basically her being interviewed for the job which she thinks she’s screwed up but she actually gets it. She’s obviously quite ambitious and she wants to make her way up the ladder and she meets this guy Jamie. He engineers meeting her with the intention of interviewing her on the programme, but actually ends up quite liking her, and they have a bit of a thing. But these things never run smoothly.
The episode, is it a satire on politics or on television or popular culture or all of the above?
I think it’s a bit of all of the above, and a bit about the kind of mindless trolling and commenting that happens on YouTube, where people just watch videos and comment pointlessly on them. They can be quite vitriolic in their hatred of things. Jamie reacts to people during interviews by saying the kind of things people would write on YouTube below a video they didn’t like. He uses swearwords and if he thinks someone is being a dick he will just be like ‘you’re being a dick, shut up.’ And people love it. People do like seeing politicians uncomfortable and in those kind of positions so I think it’s sort of a comment on the way we want to - to some extent – humiliate people in power. I think it’s more about our response to things, more and more instant and quite dark I suppose. That’s my take on it.
You play a parliamentary candidate; are you political yourself?
I am not in a way that…well I don’t hold any strong views on, for example, Scottish independence. I mean I do more and more look at the news and get quite angry about certain things, but at the same time you’ve got to be careful because you can wind yourself up so much if you have a response to every single news item you see.
You play the Labour candidate. If you had been playing a Tory candidate, do you think you would have played her differently?
That’s an interesting question. I don’t know because I took the view that I don’t actually think she’s that passionate about Labour policies, I have to say. I think she just wants to make it. She just wants to get to the top and then she’ll work out what she actually thinks. I don’t think she’s actually engaging that much with what she actually believes in her heart about the way the country should be run, which makes her slightly less sympathetic I suppose.
What was it that attracted you to the part?
Well I loved the last series. I thought it was quality television and really interesting. I got the script through and I just thought this would be a great job to do, really rewarding and it’s the kind of television that I’d really, really want to watch. And I really want to be in something that I’d genuinely want to watch. I just really liked the script – it made me laugh out loud when I read it, and it also gets very dark very quickly. I’m also a real fan of Charlie Brooker. I grew up reading the column he had in The Guide and watching Screen Wipes later on and I absolutely love the way he writes and it always made me laugh a lot. His script has that quality of just nailing things - he really gets who a character is very quickly, which I really liked, so I was very happy when I got the job.
You star opposite Daniel Rigby who’s a BAFTA-winning actor, did you enjoy working with him?
It was lovely yes, he’s great and he’s very funny as well which always helps when you can have a bit of a laugh. He’s great, I’ve seen the trailer for this and what I did in ADR doing the sound work, and I know he’s going to be really good. He was really well cast in it.
I think I’m right in saying the Black Mirror episodes were filmed in short quite intensive shoots. Was it hard work?
It was two weeks, so yes, it was quite hard work, just because it’s quite intense. I was in pretty much every day from early morning until late. Sometimes that’s quite good because you get the chance to get really absorbed into it very quickly and then it’s kind of gone and it’s done. It’s good when that happens, particularly in something like this because it’s like a short burst of something really strong minded and then it’s gone. The general atmosphere of Black Mirror is reflected in the way it was shot – very quick and to the point.
Is this the highest profile thing you’ve done?
Yes. The only television I’ve really done before was ‘Doctors’ so this is a very exciting job for me. Generally people think if you do something on TV it can be quite helpful, as lots of people see it very quickly which can be really good. I am very excited about it from that point of view as well. It’s also completely different from anything I’ve ever played before and she’s very different to me. It was a proper acting job because I don’t really relate to her on any levels. So I really had to imagine who this person was, and how it could be me if this had happened and this had happened and I’d gone down this route and I’d not taken that choice. I really had to think about that, so it’s been a real challenge.
I know that you had the title role in the feature film Shell which saw you nominated as ‘Best British Newcomer’ at the London Film Festival. Can we expect to see that in cinemas at any stage?
Yes it’s coming out in March. I think it’s going to be the Curzon Renoir and the Odeon Leicester Square and a couple of other venues.
Is it weird for you reading reviews of your work?
Yes. It can be quite destructive as well, even if they’re positive. With film not so much because it’s done and dusted and you won’t read a review until it’s all in the can so you can’t really change anything. I don’t mind reading reviews for things that are on screen but for stage I think it could be quite dangerous because you then have to keep going and doing it every night and even if somebody says something good about a certain part of the play that you’re in you might start doing it differently or playing it up. It can be quite dangerous to read reviews. I was lucky in Shell just because a lot of people read things for me and were like – oh no, it’s all really positive stuff about you and you should read it because it will make you feel good! So I did read some of the Shell ones and that was really nice because people said quite positive things about my work.
You were also described as a gamine-feral!
I know, I know! That was hilarious I thought “That’s my tag line now that’s my little casting box.” She’s quite strange a creature, Shell. But it has been nice to get a good response on that job because that means a massive amount to me. It’s such a massive part of my career. Shell is so important to me so it’s great to get a good response.
I imagine that shooting Black Mirror just outside London was a rather different experience from shooting in the remote Highlands
Completely yes! On Black Mirror I was being driven to work every day, from South East London to High Wycombe every morning, which took an hour and a half on a good day. It was much more work each day, as well – television is generally much more because everything has to be done more quickly. Filming Shell was a completely different thing, where I went up and lived in house with the man who was playing my father, Joseph Mawle, for two weeks before we started and then I spent six weeks in total in the wilderness. I was then able to get into it and it was completely organic process whereas Black Mirror, by its nature, it’s not like that. It’s a two week job and it is just as involving and takes over your life but it’s just it’s a very, very different way of doing it - so yes it was a bit of a contrast.
I know that you’ve done lots of theatre as well as film and TV. Do you have a preferred medium or would you want to keep on doing all three?
I want to keep on doing all three really. There’s something about theatre, theatre’s the reason I wanted to be an actress in the first place. I was going to the RSC when I was little and seeing plays in Edinburgh and just thinking “I want to do that!” That’s what I fell in love with. I have to say I feel like my screen work has become more of a fixture in my life at the moment and I’m happy with that as well, but I do crave, I really do want to do a play at some point soon. There’s something about theatre, where you can do it every night and you get to change things, and you’ve got the whole rehearsal process. On screen you get one shot, well a few shots, one day on a certain scene then that’s done and you have to move on and I like that as well but it’s just very different. I’d love to be able to play around with all three of them really, but that’s kind of a dream I suppose.
In this fledgling stage of your career, what are the best and worst things about being an actress?
The worst thing I think is probably the instability and the money. I still waitress, that’s what I do in-between jobs. You come off something like Black Mirror and you’re like “Ok I’m fine for a little bit but I can’t just live off all this money until I’m skint again.” Unless you’re lucky and you’ve got some funds behind you, you’ve got to keep working away in a pub or a restaurant and you can’t commit to jobs too much. Somebody will say ‘oh you can get a job in this place and I will pay you this much’ but you can’t commit to it because you have to run out for an audition. That can be really difficult because you’re coordinating that and people just don’t understand that. Even people in the industry just don’t comprehend just how tough that can be to run double lives, basically. I think that is probably the most difficult thing. The sense of instability can be quite damaging in other areas of your life if you just don’t know what’s happening and you have to be at peace with that, you learn that. When I left drama school I was just terrified. I think over the years I’ve just built up the stability in my mind about it and am at peace with it.
And what about the best thing?
Getting to do this job. The thing is, when you are working it’s just the best job in the world and I love getting to pretend for a living, it’s just ridiculous. And the people that you meet when you work with wonderful people who just approach things the same way that you do it’s just it’s really wonderful to be able to do that job. Yes I think the best thing is getting to pretend to be other people and being paid for it.
Lastly, are you excited about Black Mirror going out and where will you watch it and with whom?
I don’t know. I am very excited about seeing it. I think the first time that I see it will be at a cast and crew screening. Watching yourself can be really hard sometimes but I imagine I’ll be in my flat maybe with my boyfriend hiding behind the sofa. And I’m quite nervous about this one just because I felt like I was playing something very far away from myself. I might not watch it when it actually airs but wait to hear what people say, and then I’ll maybe watch it. It’s good to learn, so even if I’m not so happy with it I should watch it anyway.