The actor discusses surprising cut scenes and Easter Eggs, and takes some choose-your-own-adventure questions from Dazed readers
Since it first graced our screens in 2011, the chilling, dystopian world of Black Mirror has consistently pushed the boundaries when it comes to innovative TV. Haunting storylines and twisted technology permeate a dark future that – scarily – might not be so far away from our own. As Instagram only gets bigger we’re knocking on the door of social-climbing “Nosedive”, and our politics and tech advancements run just a half-step behind.
Charlie Brooker and Annabel Jones’ latest offering “Bandersnatch” is no exception. Not only is it the first feature-length film in the series, it’s also the most ambitious installment yet. If you haven’t caught up on our very thorough “Bandersnatch” coverage, here’s a little overview: protagonist Stefan Butler is a young, wannabe programmer attempting to adapt a video game in 1984. The film follows a choose-your-own narrative style, where you get choice points at various intervals, meaning the viewer controls the story they see.
In true Black Mirror style, the plot takes a number of dark twists and turns, and the viewers are forced to do some pretty fucked up shit. Stefan Butler, played by Dunkirk’s Fionn Whitehead, gets a rough ride no matter how nice you try and be to him.
Basically, I’ve been feeling guilty ever since I killed Stefan in “Bandersnatch”, so I went to meet Fionn Whitehead to apologise for brutally throwing him from a balcony, and for chopping up his dad too. Below, we discuss the hidden layers of Black Mirror storylines and the future of cinema, then let Dazed readers (bander) snatch our interview.
Have you played ‘Bandersnatch’ yet?
Fionn Whitehead: I have, but I didn’t make the decisions. I watched it with my flatmate, so I let him choose.
Did he kill you?
Fionn Whitehead: (Laughs) No he didn’t actually which I was quite surprised by, I assumed he would.
In the film, you’re playing multiple versions of one person – did that have an impact on your character development?
Fionn Whitehead: It meant I had to be very clear in my own head which scene we were shooting, which was often a struggle because we shot variations of the same scene in different ways. Because of time constraints, we had to shoot as much as we could in one location, wrap that, move to another, shoot all of that stuff, then move on.
I was lucky enough that everyone around us was amazing, and everyone was there to make sure it didn't go off the rails. Marilyn (Kirby), who was the script supervisor, and David (Slade), the director, were incredible at managing to keep track of which storyline was going where.
“There’s a lot of things in the world, such as climate change, that as a human race we all wish we could go back and change, but we can’t. What we should do, in my opinion, is everything we can as individuals to change it in the present” – Fionn Whitehead
I went back and redid certain paths, only to forget what I even picked before. I tried to get all the endings I’ve heard about, but were there any you filmed that didn’t make the cut?
Fionn Whitehead: I’m not sure, but we did film extra scenes that didn’t. When Colin arrives at Stefan’s house – at Mr Tucker’s request to help him get the game together – we filmed an option where you get another choice point when Stefan opens the door with a knife. The choice is to either stab Colin or drop the knife, and that didn’t make the final cut. If you chose to drop the knife, then you’d see Stefan breaking down into Colin’s arms, which is rather sweet. Maybe that’s why they cut it – it’s too sweet!
Well, actually, there’s a video on YouTube where Stefan gets the happy life he deserves. Do you think the option of a happy ending would have enhanced or diminished the game?
Fionn Whitehead: Wow (laughs), I really want to see that now. No, I don’t think there should have been a happy ending, I like the bleakness and darkness of it all because I think it matches up with the Black Mirror world quite well, and I think it just works for the story. As a piece it wouldn’t have been as powerful if there was a happy ending.
Did you have a favourite ending?
Fionn Whitehead: I like the ending where it zooms out and you realise it’s all just a film set. Purely because when I read the script, I found that one hilarious. I just thought it was a very ballsy decision by Charlie (Brooker), because it’s so meta, bizarre, and confusing.
I’ve actually got a bit of a meta theory – obviously the ‘White Bear’ logo appears constantly, could it be interpreted that Stefan is being punished for killing his dad and he’s repeatedly undergoing psychological torture for Netflix’s entertainment?
Fionn Whitehead: Like in ‘White Bear’ (laughs). If you want it to be a possibility, then sure, why not?
Did you discuss layers like that with Charlie and the team?
Fionn Whitehead: We didn’t discuss that particular layer, but there are lots of Easter Eggs in it. Although when approaching it, we saw it as a separate film, which is actually how I think they approach all of their episodes. We weren’t thinking about this particular story in relation to any of the others, in terms of chronology or things that might have happened in them.
In an interview, Annabel Jones said that Stefan is obsessed with branching narratives because he wishes he could go back and change things – not only in his ‘Bandersnatch’ game, but also relating to his mother’s death. He wants to change his entire life effectively, that’s why he’s so obsessed with redoing things. Do you think that’s reflective of our current anxieties about the world?
Fionn Whitehead: I don’t think it’s necessarily purposefully reflective on Charlie and Annabel’s part. I think there’s a lot of things in the world, such as climate change, that as a human race we all wish we could go back and change, but we can’t. What we should do, in my opinion, is everything we can as individuals to change it in the present, rather than dwelling on the fact that it’s happening.
“You do have to really pay attention to it, which is how I feel it should be in general with film and TV, and anything that you’re choosing to sit down and enjoy as a piece of entertainment” – Fionn Whitehead
Do you think ‘Bandersnatch’ could pave the way for a new type of television? It demands the audience’s attention from their phones.
Fionn Whitehead: Yeah, I think it could. It does mean that you can’t afford to lose focus while watching it because you could miss a choice point, which could affect the story. Unless of course you don’t want to choose anything, in which case it will run as one anyway. You do have to really pay attention to it, which is how I feel it should be in general with film and TV, and anything that you’re choosing to sit down and enjoy as a piece of entertainment, but it’s not the case – we’re all guilty of it. I’m definitely guilty of it.
Of course the other thing that stops you checking your phone while you’re watching something is going to the cinema (laughs), so it doesn’t mean that every piece has to be a choose-your-own narrative – I think the two things can run alongside each other. I don’t think it’s necessarily going to overtake classic filmmaking.
Were you a fan of Black Mirror before filming ‘Bandersnatch’? Did you have a favourite episode?
Fionn Whitehead: Massive fan, yeah. I loved ‘Be Right Back’, the Domhnall Gleeson one. I really, really love that episode, and it is very spooky. It’s very disturbing as well – traumatic. Don’t read into that too much (laughs). I really liked it, and thought it was incredibly powerful as a piece when I saw it.
Were you into sci-fi/dystopia before? Is it something you might continue to do?
Fionn Whitehead: To be honest, I just pick things up and see if I like them. In terms of watching and reading scripts, I generally just go with my gut on what I respond to material-wise, and what I enjoy and think I’ll be proud of. So who knows? Maybe!
What have you got coming up soon?
Fionn Whitehead: I did a film called The Children Act, which has already been released. Then I did another film called Roads, directed by Sebastian Schipper and with Stéphane Bak, both of whom are great and lovely people. Port Authority is a film I shot in New York, an independent film, which will be coming out at some point.
Sounds exciting! In honour of ‘Bandersnatch’, we asked our Instagram followers to choose their own interview questions. The first one is: what would your dream movie role be?
Fionn Whitehead: Oh I’ve thought about this, and I have an answer which I still beat myself up over whether or not it’s OK enough as an answer, because it’s a Scottish role, and I’m not Scottish.
Can you do a Scottish accent?
Fionn Whitehead: I don’t know.
Give it a go…
Fionn Whitehead: No, I’m not your performing monkey, I’m absolutely not doing it here in this room! But if I could, and if I felt I could do it justice, playing a young Franco Begbie from Trainspotting would be fun, like before Trainspotting. A film centred on Begbie.
Nice. Okay, question two: if you went back in time to 1984, when ‘Bandersnatch’ was set, what item from the future would you take with you?
Fionn Whitehead: That’s a good question. Can I have two?
Fionn Whitehead: My Bluetooth speaker, and something to play… no, no I wouldn’t, because you could just get records from the time I suppose... I’d take music from after 1984.
Finally, I know we’ve already touched on Easter Egg moments, but are there any in the film that haven’t been spotted yet?
Fionn Whitehead: Will (Poulter), David, and Charlie all discussed the prospect that his character Colin can travel through time, which meant there’s certain things to do with his character that don’t fit in with 1984 on purpose. So there’s some records in his flat from 1986, or there’s posters from slightly before the time. It’s quite interesting, isn’t it?
“Bandersnatch” is available to watch on Netflix now