You never know exactly where you are in the world of Black Mirror, Netflix’s dark anthology series. Sometimes you feel you’re in the world we live in now—other times in a far-flung future. In Bandersnatch, the interactive film that has becomes something of a cultural phenomenon since release; you’re ostensibly in the past—1984, where a young video game developer is losing his mind trying to complete his first game.
The film stars Fionn Whitehead (Dunkirk) and Will Poulter (The Revenant), two up-and-coming stars whose performances as the young programmer Stefan Butler and the renowned game designer Colin Ritman respectively are what make Bandersnatch such an inviting rabbit hole to fall through.
Poulter’s character Colin, especially, could perhaps be the best character Black Mirror has introduced yet.
Some quick spoilers for those who haven’t seen it—Colin is aware. How much we’re not sure, but he knows that there are other universes, other timelines, and that the choices that we are making about the characters through this interactive story can be made, and that while he may die in one, he is still alive in another. He’s prone to a lecture about the nature of space-time, he’s got Philip K. Dick posters on his wall, he’ll tell you directly which bands you should be listening to, but Poulter plays him with an empathetic touch that stops him from being obnoxious.
“Charlie Brooker told me that he’d be open to having Colin return to the Black Mirror universe after this. Would you be interested?” I ask Poulter.
“If Charlie Brooker and Annabelle Jones would have me again, I’m not going to say no. I would love that. I would love if Colin made a re-appearance. That would be fun. One of the things they played with is the idea that he can travel through time. There’s a poster in his house that I think is from 1986, and the episode takes place in 1984. In his record collection there are records released later than the date in which you meet him. That could be fun, I’m certainly up for it—I’m available,” Poulter says.
“I would love you to be an expert in an episode, and just walk in the background and spike the camera as you walk past,” says Whitehead.
Filming Bandernsatch, was, of course, no easy task. The actors had to film every strand the story could take, jumping through every possible choice that sometimes had wildly different consequences for their characters.
“At the end of every day, I think I was so knackered that the last thing I wanted to do was even think about the day’s work. Maybe I’d have a look through the next day’s lines or whatever, but that often changed anyway because we had so much to do,” says Whitehead.
“I really struggled with the challenge presented by shooting this. It’s important to underline that I had about a third of the material that Fionn had to grapple with and I was knackered at the end of every day as well. I kind of describe one day’s work on Bandersnatch as a week’s worth of work. We shot it in six weeks, but it was a very intense six weeks,” says Poulter.
It was intellectually challenging to Poulter to make sense of what they were trying to accomplish.
“I don’t think I’ve ever had to be so cognizant of the audience’s emotional state or sense of knowing before. Ordinarily you try to block that out but there’s an element in this where you have to consider the audience more so, and there’s a breaking of the fourth wall on occasion. Often in our conversations with the director, and together as actors, along with Asim [Chaudry], Craig [Parkinson] and whoever else we were in a scene with it was about talking about how much knowing and how much awareness there was, and dialing that up or down depending on which scene you were shooting. It was always a bit of a tricky task to know where you were at any one time,” says Poulter.
“I think that was also specific to me and you though,” Whitehead says to Poulter, “because all the other characters at least from my perspective within Bandersnatch aren’t aware of the fact that they are within a thing on Netflix, or whatever they think it is. Colin and Stefan are the only characters who are aware of it—Stefan becomes aware of it and Colin is always aware of it, it seems like.”
When the film was finally released, Poulter and Whitehead had different reactions when they sat down to actually watch it.
“It wasn’t until I became a viewer that it actually fully made sense. On set, I was constantly grappling with the different timelines, the different narrative strands, and trying to make sense of what the viewer might be experiencing, but it wasn’t until I was actually in the shoes of the viewer that it all finally came together. I’m glad it seems to finally all make sense and the chronology of it has been worked out,” says Poulter.
Whitehead refused to participate as a viewer.
“I didn’t make the choices about my character. I let my flatmate make the choices for me. I found that till a little bit too strange. I was still a little bit too close to it,” says Whitehead.
“Fionn still doesn’t have control. He’s still being controlled,” quips Poulter.
“Always,” says Whitehead.
- Black Mirror: Bandersnatch is now streaming on Netflix -