After four years off the air, Black Mirror fans will finally get their long-awaited fix with a brand new season this week. For Annie Murphy—best known as reformed celebutante Alexis Rose on the beloved Schitt’s Creek—the chance to star in Netflix’s award-winning, dystopian anthology series was a no-brainer: “I screamed yes,” she says of the moment she got the offer to play Joan, a regular career woman who is alarmed when her life becomes fodder for a television series. The catch: on the show, Joan is played by a computer-generated version of Salma Hayek (played, in turn, by the IRL Salma Hayek). It’s confusing and terrifying and exactly the kind brain-bending scenario that Black Mirror is famous for. Here, Murphy talks about how she got the part, filming that NSFW bathroom scene and why Schitt’s Creek continues to be the balm for our troubled times.
Black Mirror has so many A-listers in its episodes that appearing on an episode feels like a celebrity status symbol. How does it work? Do they come to you or do you approach them?
This is one of the rare and deeply thrilling occasions in my career where they called me. My agent told me I had been offered a role on Black Mirror. I didn’t ask what the role was, what the episode was about, who else was in it. I just screamed yes. I have loved the show so much, and I think creator Charlie Brooker is one of the most creative brains out there. And then I got the script, and I genuinely felt like I was being punked. Like it was too good to be true.
It’s not every day you get to co-star with Salma Hayek. Were you a fan?
Oh, definitely a fan of her work. I guess Frida comes to mind as a favourite, but what I really love is how her career is all over the place. It seems like she says yes to roles that make her happy, which is an admirable way to do it. I had these expectations of who she would be, and they were all blown away. She was so much fun and so smart and observant and so willing and eager to make fun of herself, which her role required. It was Black Mirror, but often it felt like we were shooting a buddy comedy.
Without giving too much away, the episode involves a pretty epic defecation scene. You were excellent. Did that come naturally?
Haha. Thank you. I’m very good at fake defecation. The scene just felt so preposterous and over the top and gross and funny. I read the scene and thought, If this isn’t the role for me I don’t know what is. But then poor Salma is a real classy lady, and I think she had the exact opposite reaction. On shoot day it was me, Salma and Kayla Lorette, who also plays a version of Joan—we were three ladies pretending to defecate in a church, and everyone on set reverted to 10-year-old children. I think even Salma had a good time.
Your character, Joan, is the victim of a scheme in which her life is turned into content without her permission using deepfakes—digitally manipulated content often used to fake another person’s likeness. What did you understand about deepfakes before this role?
I had read some spooky articles about them online and seen the videos that were circulating, but I certainly wasn’t an expert. And now I’m even less of an expert. But Charlie had the great idea of writing in this cameo with Michael Cera, whose character is able to explain what is going on to a befuddled audience.
The set-up is that actors don’t act anymore, screenwriters don’t write. Instead celebrities licence their likenesses and AI creates content in seconds. On a scale from ain’t-gonna-happen to eventual certainty, where do you think this falls?
Charlie has always has his finger on the pulse of technological developments. He has dreamt up some scenarios that have come true, and this episode is literally happening right now. Look at the WGA writers’ strike in the U.S. Part of what they’re asking for is to not be replaced by computers. It’s very scary, and if we don’t get a handle on it and listen to these brilliant minds who are begging for a pause in the development of this technology, we’re in for a scary awakening. As funny and lighthearted as this episode is in some ways, I hope it can spark conversation.
Any backup career plans?
Maybe I’ll work at a book shop. I don’t know if computers will take those over. I guess I could work at a bar.
Black Mirror is about our relationship to technology. What’s yours like? Are you someone who has to have the latest gadget? Or are you still using a flip phone?
I’m in between. I’m on my phone too much, and my attention span has been significantly diminished. I have been trying to wean myself because I used to be an avid reader. I gobbled up books, but now every 10 minutes it’s like, okay, gotta check my phone.
Obviously you have a lot of fans from your role on Schitt’s Creek. Has the attention died down at all or does having your series on a streaming platform mean new mega-fans are born every day?
It really is the gift that keeps on giving. People keep recommending it. I think it’s a balm for the crazy world that we live in, so people go to Schitt’s Creek to feel comforted and safe and almost okay-ish. I guess it’s bleak, but I think that need will continue to exist.