Tuppence Middleton interview for Black Mirror
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You’re in the new series of Black Mirror and you’re in an episode called ‘White Bear’ which is shrouded in secrecy. What can you reveal about it?
It mainly focuses on a young woman who wakes and she doesn’t remember who she is, in a world that she doesn’t recognise anymore. Everyone she meets is either incredibly hostile towards her, or they just film her. My character bumps into her helps her. I’ve been living in this world and I’m very used to it, and I become her guide.
Your character is called Jem. What’s her story, what do you know about her?
In the story you know that she’s become hardened by this world and she knows the ins and outs of. She is very independent and initially would rather travel on her own, but she just happens to come by Victoria and is forced to take her under her wing. Her main goal is to stay alive. When we were talking about the character we almost wanted her to come across as a bit like a computer game character, like a bit of a Tank Girl - she’s very tough.
Presumably there’s not an awful lot of back story or detail about her. Does that make it difficult to play a role like that? Or does it give you a blank canvas which is quite fun to fill out?
Yeah I liked the fact she was quite mysterious, she doesn’t give away too much. She gives away enough about the world for Victoria to understand but she doesn’t give away too much about herself and I think she’s quite a guarded and lone figure. I think the more mysterious she is to Victoria the better.
Lenora Crichlow [who plays Victoria] said the shoot was pretty intense in terms of it being very long days and not quite knowing what was going to be around the next corner. Did you find that as well?
Yes I mean it was kind of tough in a great way. I don’t think I’ve ever run so much in my life. I was doing ADR [voiceover work] for it today and it was, I’d say, 90% doing breaths for running. We were very active and it’s kind of fun doing things like that because I’m not like that at all – I hate even going to the gym, so being an active action girl is quite fun for me. I mean it was tough, it was long days and we were filming mostly outside for two weeks and almost every day it would pour down with rain. We were usually quite cold and wet and running for hours but it was quite fun.
Presumably with the plot being what it is, it quite added to the atmosphere it being rainy and dark?
Yes it really helped. I’ve just watched a little bit of it back and there’s that really weird sky when it’s like winter and it’s raining and it’s so cold, it’s almost like a completely white-grey sky. It really looks like the end of the world has come.
What was it that attracted you to the part?
A million things. I am a huge fan of Charlie Brooker and I thought the last series of Black Mirror was one of the best things I’d seen on TV for ages. As soon as the audition came up I was like ‘oh god I have to get that.’ I just love Black Mirror, and Carl the director. I was just really confident he could do a good job and he seemed to have a really good vision. And like I said it’s a part totally unlike myself, apart from being tall, which I think is why I mostly get cast as these sort of parts, I’m not at all like that. I’m not this kind of action girl. It was something really different for me.
When you’re going up for an audition like that, something that you really want to get, does that make you a lot more nervous, and how do you deal with that?
Yeah it makes you more nervous, but then you turn that into determination. You can’t let it get the better of you. Ultimately when you’ve got something you really want, it’s more about showing how passionate you really are about it and when you get to actually meet the director and meet the producers and stuff and talk about the role and talk about the script then it’s great because you can input your ideas in the initial audition. So you get carried away with how enthusiastic you are about it as opposed to how nervous, and you come back and think ‘I have no idea how that just went’. I’m terrible at judging it, and then you get the call and it’s amazing, so I was really pleased, it’s a brilliant job.
In your relatively short career so far you’ve worked with some amazing names - just picking a few David Tenant, James McAvoy, Emma Thompson, Timothy Spall, Danny Boyle, Sean Bean. How have you managed to squeeze that all in into such a short time?
I have no idea, to be honest, because when I first started, there would often be periods where I wasn’t working for a few months. I think the gaps just gradually get smaller and the roles you do become bigger, either in the sense that you’re taking more of the lead role or it’s a small role in a more prominent thing, a kind of step up in terms of who you’re working with. The more people I work with like that the more I learn from them. Emma Thompson, I was working with her for a day or two, but you learn so much even in that short amount of time. It's great, I mean it’s kind of strange because you think about all those names after you’ve done it but when you’re doing it, they’re just people who are also doing a job. You just have to think like that and, yes, it’s such an amazing learning opportunity and I think I’ve been lucky to work at all since I left drama school because so many people don’t. I am thankful that it’s been with some amazing talent.
There’s been a huge variety in your work – you’ve done everything from comedy to horror to more arthouse stuff. Is that an intentional thing to keep moving genres, to stretch yourself like that?
Yes completely. I mean I’ve been sort of lucky with the genres actually but I guess it’s more for me about finding parts that interest me and scripts that interest me. I think I always want to do something different to the thing I’ve just done and I always want to play a part different to one I’ve played before. It’s just about finding variety and I get an instinct very quickly about a script whether I like it or not. Over the four-and-a-half years I’ve been working, although it’s not long, I think you start to build up your own taste. I think it’s just constantly about keeping me on my toes and having a challenge rather than playing something which is second nature to me.
Who are the people working in your industry who you most admire?
That’s such a hard question. I was really lucky working with Danny Boyle because he was definitely on the list. There are definitely lots of directors I’d love to work with, I mean in a crazy world I’d love to work with Tarantino. Obviously there’s too many actors to mention that I’d want to work with but I think you really get drawn towards certain directors as well and I say there’s definitely certain directors I’d want to work with. David Fincher I think is great, David Lynch.
Most people when they leave drama school maybe do an apprenticeship in theatre but you’ve slightly bypassed that. Do you want to do theatre as well?
Funnily enough I’m starting to rehearse for a play on Monday. It’s just a short run - it’s on throughout March at the Jermyn Street Theatre, a Graham Greene. You spend most of the time at drama school training for theatre and then I just happened to come out and do film and TV because my first job was a film and it paved the way for the rest of my work. I absolutely can’t wait for rehearsals to start for the play. I think it is going to be a really different discipline and a different experience for me. Yes I’d definitely like to do more of it but I think you tend to get more work in one area and maybe that will change in a few years’ time when I’m a bit older. At the moment I’m happy with the way it’s going and I’m looking forward to trying my hand at a play.
What ambitions do you have left? What do you really want to do with your career?
I guess primarily it’s always about making work that I like, being in films from scripts that I love and not compromising on that, and just to make it into a career and not working for three years and then I stop working. I want to be working into my eighties. If I live that long!
Black Mirror: Whiter Bear is on Channel 4 at 10pm on Monday 18th February.