If you’re a real movie and TV nerd, chances are you get as excited when you see a supporting character with a familiar face as you do when one of your faves is the star. Let’s celebrate these heroes!…
Back in the early World Wide Web days, defunct site Fametracker had an awesome column called “Hey, It’s That Guy!”, celebrating character actors and actresses from all your favorite things. So we’re showing our love for that idea every so often in our Friday Five by doing the same, and this week we’re dipping into our most favorite binge-able show about techonological paranoia… and celebrating some real heroes of the craft.
U.S. fans of Charlie Brooker’s hit dystopian sci-fi anthology show Black Mirror are often still surprised to discover that its first episodes are seven years old at this point; the first six installments and Christmas special “White Christmas” aired on the UK’s Channel 4 well before the show was picked up by Netflix, both to stream those eps as well as produce new ones. One thing that has been consistent throughout the show’s run – well, besides the totally unnerving freak-out factor of Brooker’s cautionary tales – is the absolutely stellar cast.
Since their episodes of Black Mirror originally aired, many of the finest performers in it – including Daniel Kaluuya, Letitia Wright, Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Mackenzie Davis – have gone on to become movie stars. Jodie Whittaker’s the Doctor now, for heaven’s sake! The show has also gradually started to attract bigger names, particularly American stars like Jon Hamm and Bryce Dallas Howard. So for our “Hey, It’s That Person!” take on the show, we’ve carefully selected five of our favorite Black Mirror performances from actors who are truly in the character actor realm, or who seem poised to be the next to make that leap to superstardom…
Andrea Riseborough (Mia, “Crocodile”)
If there were ever an example of a performer who deserves to be a movie star precisely because they are so good at disappearing into characters, it’s Andrea Riseborough. Her incredible range and ability to inhabit her roles is on a Day-Lewis or Oldman level; she’s astonishing. If you’re a horror fan who loved the bonkers, Nic Cage-starring cult-smash Mandy this year, did you realize the ethereal waif in the title role is Riseborough? – the same successful, working mum who very quickly turns murdery in this episode from Black Mirror‘s fourth series? From films like Oblivion and Oscar-winner Birdman to TV including Bloodline and Being Human, she never quite looks the same or sounds the same. (Most Brit actors are good at at least one American dialect; Riseborough is good at all of them, apparently.)
Rafe Spall (Joe, “White Christmas”)
The aforementioned Mr. Hamm is definitely the handsome jerkface who sets Black Mirror‘s very black holiday tale in motion, but the quiet tragedy at its center falls on the capable shoulders of Rafe Spall. Fans of Shaun of the Dead may not realize they caught Spall’s screen debut, as the then-pudgy teen played Shaun’s irritating electronics store underling Noel. (“‘Ello, maaaaaaate!” – Spall also played one of the snarky Detective Andy’s in Hot Fuzz.) He has definitely grown into next-big-leading-man material, albeit with a powerful gift for melancholy and expressing a whole lot with very little; Joe’s tale of emotional and technological erasure in “White Christmas” doesn’t unfold until it’s over halfway over, but when it does man Spall packs a punch. You’ve likely also seen him in Prometheus, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom and Life of Pi. (Fun fact!: His dad is the great British character actor Timothy Spall, aka Peter Pettigrew to you Potterheads. 😉 )
Hannah John-Kamen (Sonja, “Playtest”)
The virtual reality gaming nightmare at the heart of this episode is navigated by Wyatt Russell’s rolling-stone American abroad, but the smart and captivating tech journalist he meets along the way is hard to take your eyes off of. Hannah John-Kamen is an insanely charismatic screen presence, the kind of actress who commands your attention even when she’s part of an ensemble – which she’s been a lot in recent years. She’s the lead of the cast on Syfy’s Killjoys, itself a much-underrated space adventure about bounty hunters that you really should be watching; and this year alone she stood out in supporting roles in Tomb Raider, Ant-Man and the Wasp and Ready Player One, all of which she’s garnered critical acclaim for regardless of whether someone was a fan of the film or not. The money’s on John-Kamen to be the next to join the newly minted movie stars list we mentioned up top…
Cherry Jones (Susan, “Nosedive”)
By the time we meet Cherry Jones’s character in Black Mirror‘s Series 3 premiere, Bryce Dallas Howard’s relentlessly eager to please Lacie thinks she’s hit rock bottom. In this world where people’s opinions of you on social media literally dictate your success in society, the sad part is she hasn’t yet – but for a minute, Jones’s Susan, a carefree truck driver who has long since stopped caring what anyone thinks of her and is happier for it, makes you think there’s hope. There’s no way to understate Cherry Jones’ status as one of the great character actresses of her generation; her reputation grew via decades (and many Tony Awards) for her work on the stage, but she’s since become an always-revered presence in film and television too. To TV fans, she’s probably best known as President Taylor on 24 (for which she also bagged an Emmy); her other screen credits include The Perfect Storm, M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs and The Village, and Amazon’s Transparent.
Michael Smiley (Baxter, “White Bear”)
The brutal mysterious-TV-signal-creates-killers plot (and big twist) of “White Bear” tends to be one of the more polarizing Black Mirror episodes, but one thing is for certain: a lot of nerds out there probably perk up when the unmistakeable mug of Irish actor Michael Smiley arrives on scene as a survivor who at first seems like a friend, but really isn’t. We’re back in Edgar Wright favorites-land, as fans of his landmark sitcom Spaced will definitely remember Smiley as the hilarious, hyper-space-cadet-raver-bicyclist Tyres. (“Oi, oi! Youuu lucky people!” – fun fact, Smiley was also Simon Pegg and Nick Frost’s roommate in the 90’s). He’s since appeared in loads of film and TV including Doctor Who, Ripper Street and Utopia; he’s also become a favorite of budding UK auteur Ben Wheatley, who cast him in his super-bleak gangster thriller Kill List as well as black comedy caper Free Fire, where Smiley co-stars with Brie Larson, Armie Hammer, Cillian Murphy and a host of other faves. (That one’s a hidden gem, check it out!)