Interview: Rafe Spall on Black Mirror: White Christmas

Rafe Spall

Rafe Spall / credit: © Hal Shinnie

Rafe Spall, Oona Chaplin and Jon Hamm star in feature-length episode of Charlie Brooker's TV sci-fi

Charlie Brooker's Black Mirror has presented some truly original tales. Resembling an evil relation of The Twilight Zone or Tales From the Unexpected each show is a self-contained story and like the best sci-fi it uses the genre to present a warped reflection of modern society. Over two series Brooker has expanded and exaggerated current media and technology trends to propose a bleak future view of reality TV or downloadable dead relatives. Now Black Mirror is back for a one off Christmas special.

Composed of three interlinked stories, and while at this stage no-one is keen to share the specifics of the secrets, twists and turns of this feature length episode actor Rafe Spall is willing to at least give us a rough overview: 'Along the lines of other Black Mirrors, it exists in some imagined idea of the not-too-distant future. There are two guys in an outpost in the middle of nowhere, in the Arctic, telling their stories about how they got there. Those two guys are played by Jon Hamm and me.'

Spall jumped at the chance to work with Hamm. 'I'm a huge fan of his, I think he's a tremendous actor. Not just his work in Mad Men, but also in some of the comedy films he's done as well, like Bridesmaids and Friends with Kids.' It also stars Oona Chaplin who has been making a name for herself in Sherlock, Inside No. 9 and Game of Thrones. Unfortunately Spall doesn't get to share any screen time with her. 'Our stories are completely separate. Jon is the only one who's in all three parts of the story.'

However it was Brooker's complex interweaving story that first lured in Spall. 'I thought the script was a phenomenon, I couldn't believe it. It was extraordinarily detailed and original and mind-blowing, and I had no hesitation in saying I wanted to do it. It was just wholly original, and how often can you say that about any piece of screenwriting? It was strange, funny, human and moving, and absolutely, totally original.'

Fans of Brooker's acerbic wit should enjoy the black comedy but this is a world away from the topical comedy of Screenwipe. At heart Black Mirror is a satire but it also takes the drama and sci-fi very seriously. 'It comes through the Channel 4 comedy department,' adds Spall, 'but it's definitely very dark, there's lots of emotional stuff in it as well. It takes you to all sorts of depths. But I think anything worth its weight has got some humour in it, no matter how serious it is.'

Black Mirror and Christmas might seem like unlikely bedfellows. Especially when you consider that opening episode – 2011's 'The National Anthem' – memorably saw the Prime Minister (played by Rory Kinnear) forced into unnatural congress with a pig. 'I think Charlie was inspired to write it by the idea of "spooky Christmases",' explains Spall. 'He grew up with Christmas ghost stories, A Christmas Carol and things like that. There is a definite Christmas theme, some of it is set at Christmas, and I think, when you see it, you'll realise what it has to do with Christmas.'

Black Mirror: White Christmas, Channel 4, Tue 16 Dec, 9pm

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