Black Mirror - Beyond the Sea

USA-UK 2023, 75 mins
Director: John Crowley

+ Q&A with writer/creator Charlie Brooker, actor Josh Hartnett, executive producer Jessica Rhoades and director John Crowley.

Writer/Creator Charlie Brooker on ‘Beyond the Sea’

Tell us about the concepts behind ‘Beyond the Sea’.

Beyond the Sea is set in a fictionalised 1969. We encounter two astronauts, David and Cliff, played by Aaron Paul and Josh Hartnett. They are on board a spaceship that’s undergoing a lengthy mission. And there’s a very ‘Black Mirror’ bit of tech at work that’s central to their mission – and that’s all I’m going to say about that for now! When I’d first envisaged this, it was set in the near future – but in keeping with shaking things up this season I thought ‘fuck it, what if it’s set in the 60s instead’. And then doing that immediately gave it a slightly different tone, and also informed the characters – because they have the mindset and attitudes of people from that era. Alongside that, this episode has a classic sci-fi feel with a dreamlike quality.

One of our producers said to me, ‘This is your pandemic episode’. I stopped and thought about it, and it kind of is. But not in the way you might think. The story does deal with isolation, loneliness, and confinement, all things we felt during the pandemic. Something about the premise is very straightforward but it’s also a real actor’s piece and needed a strong cast which we were very lucky to have.

Tell us about the cast of ‘Beyond the Sea’.

We’ve been very lucky with Black Mirror across all the seasons, but we have a very strong cast this season. Aaron Paul was great as Cliff, as was Josh Hartnett. Aaron Paul had the tough job of playing both characters simultaneously, and he had to wrestle with some grim material. We were filming in a heatwave, and I have no idea how he stayed sane. Josh Hartnett captured the golden boy nature of his character mixed with vulnerability. Both did an astonishing job. Then there was Kate Mara, who was amazing. Her performance is heartbreaking. Honestly, I am in awe of all their performances.

Executive Producer Jessica Rhoades on ‘Beyond the Sea’

Can you talk to us about your thoughts on ‘Beyond the Sea’?

Beyond the Sea is the episode of the season that most comments on the last several years that we’ve all experienced in the wake of the pandemic. It takes a hard look at how we communicate and connect remotely with one another in an unexpected way.

Aaron Paul really is astounding in his role. We wanted him back after his small cameo in ‘USS Callister’. At the time of casting, he had just had his second child, so we were concerned it wasn’t going to work out. We sent him the script, and he fell in love with it. The thing about Aaron is, aside from being an incredible actor, his ability in finding the most amazing ways to connect the character and then the scene.

Then with Josh, we get to see a different side of how viewers have typically experienced his work. With this episode, he gets to explore a leading man charm, which audiences have seen before, but then things take a twist in a way that I don’t think will be expected.

What was the greatest challenge for ‘Beyond the Sea”?

The creation of the space shuttle was complex. We had to take into consideration how these two men were living in the spaceship, in this confined shared space. It really was a collaborative process between Charlie Brooker, our director John Crowley, and our production designer Udo Kramer. We wanted to lean into preconceptions that viewers have of spaceships of the era, even though this is a fictionalised alternative 1960s, but give them something they hadn’t seen before.
Production notes

Charlie Brooker
Charlie Brooker created the critically-acclaimed anthology series Black Mirror, with the sixth season of the nine-time Emmy-winning show launching June 15th on Netflix. Brooker is also the creator of BBC/Netflix comedy series Cunk on Earth and C4 zombie horror Dead Set. He is the co-creator of Nathan Barley and the unfairly overlooked (his words) A Touch of Cloth. As a writer-presenter, he dismayed viewers for years with his series of Wipe shows for the BBC. In a previous life, he worked as a TV critic, videogames reviewer and cartoonist, although not all at the same time.

Jessica Rhoades
Jessica Rhoades has committed her career to fostering creative voices, and in 2018, launched her production shingle, Pacesetter Productions, to focus on bringing the projects of new and established writers to life. Rhoades is currently an executive producer on the latest season of Charlie Brooker’s groundbreaking, Netflix worldwide sensation, Black Mirror. Rhoades is also currently in production on the upcoming Starz series, The Venery of Samantha Bird starring Katherine Langford. Previously, Rhoades executive produced the seven-time Emmy nominated HBO Max limited series Station Eleven from creator Patrick Somerville and director Hiro Murai. Rhoades served as an executive producer on Gillian Flynn’s Amazon Studios Utopia, and season two of the critically acclaimed Alexandra Cunningham-created series Dirty John, starring Amanda Peet and Christian Slater. Previously, Rhoades executive produced the critically acclaimed HBO series Sharp Objects, based on the novel by Gillian Flynn and adapted by Marti Noxon, starring Amy Adams and directed by Jean-Marc Vallée. Sharp Objects was nominated for three Golden Globes and eight Emmys, including nominations for Best Limited Series for both.

John Crowley
With a background as an award winning theatre director, John’s other credits include Brooklyn (Bafta for best British Film), The Goldfinch, Intermission and Is Anybody There? Television credits include Life After Life (BBC) and Boy A (Bafta for Best Director). He has just finished shooting his new film We Live in Time with Andrew Garfield and Florence Pugh.

Josh Hartnett
Josh Hartnett first came to audiences’ attention as Michael ‘Fitz’ Fitzgerald in the television series Cracker. He made his feature film debut in 1998 with Jamie Lee Curtis in Halloween: H20. Also that year, he starred in The Faculty directed by Robert Rodriguez. In 1999 he starred in the critically acclaimed black comedy The Virgin Suicides opposite Kirsten Dunst, Sofia Coppola’s directorial debut. In 2001 Hartnett hit a stride by starring in three features. He portrayed the antagonist in the Lionsgate film O, a modern day version of Othello and then landed a role in the Jerry Bruckheimer blockbuster Pearl Harbor, which earned over $1 billion dollars worldwide. He segued to Morocco where he starred in Sony’s Black Hawk Down for director Ridley Scott. In 2002 the National Theater Owners awarded him with the ShoWest 2002 Male Star of Tomorrow Award. He followed with MGM’s Wicker Park, Miramax’s Sin City for director Robert Rodriguez, and Mozart and the Whale. He also starred in Lucky Number Slevin with Morgan Freeman and Bruce Willis as well as The Black Dahlia for director Brian De Palma. Hartnett starred as Ethan Chandler in the much lauded Showtime series Penny Dreadful. Additional film credits include Hollywood Homicide, 40 Days and 40 Nights, Blow Dry, Resurrecting the Champ, Sony’s 30 Days of Night and Oh Lucy! Most recently he appeared in the Guy Ritchie directed Wrath of Man and Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre, the HBO/Raoul Peck four part documentary Exterminate All the Brutes. He will next be seen in Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer.

Directed by: John Crowley
Written by: Charlie Brooker
Produced by: Dan Winch
Executive Producers: Charlie Brooker, Jessica Rhoades, Annabel Jones
Co-executive Producer: Bisha K Ali
Co-producer: Joel Stokes
Consulting Producer: Louise Sutton
Head of Production: Jo Kay
Line Producer: Kelly Duffell
Financial Controller: Rebecca Samuelson
Post-production Producer: Tara Bhoola
Casting by: Jina Jay
Supervising Location Manager: Adam Betterton
1st Assistant Director: Andy Pearson
Director of Photography: Stuart Bentley
Editor: Jon Harris
VFX Supervisor: Abigail Scollay
VFX Producer: Josie Henwood
Production Designer: Udo Kramer
Supervising Art Director: Philip Barber
Costume Designer: Suzanne Cave
Make-up and Hair Designer: Konnie Daniel
Music by: Volker Bertelmann
Music Supervisor: Amelia Hartley
Sound Mixer: Richard Miller
Stunt Co-ordinator: Guiomar Alonso

Aaron Paul (Cliff)
Josh Hartnett (David)
Kate Mara (Lana)
Auden Thornton (Jessica Ross)
Rory Culkin (Kappa)
Daniel Bell (Henry Stanfield)
Billie Sturrock Kewish (Lily Ross)
Charlie Fidelski (Ricky Ross)
Olen Gunn (Kyle)
Lydia Cherry (Sally)
Marama Corlett (Theta)
Siân Davis (Sigma)
Ioachim Ciobanu (Epsilon)
Simon Markey (pastor)
Marceline Hugot (bookshop clerk)

75 mins
2023 Netflix / Broke & Bones

Total running time: 120 mins

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Programme notes and credits compiled by Sight and Sound & the BFI Documentation Unit
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