Airing on Channel 4 on 16 December @ 9.00pm is the much anticipated Black Mirror festive special White Christmas, a trio of interlinked dystopian future visions penned by Charlie Brooker and starring Oona Chaplin, Jon Hamm and Rafe Spall. Here the gorgeous Oona tells us what attracted her to the project and what it was like working with Jon Hamm.
You star in the feature length Black Mirror Christmas special, ‘White Christmas’. Can you reveal who you play and what their story is?
I play a pretty anally retentive, single, extremely wealthy woman from the future, who likes everything just so. And I can’t tell you any more than that, sadly.
What was it that attracted you to the project?
I thought it would be wonderful to play an extremely wealthy lady in a plush house! But mainly, it was Charlie Brooker, really. I’ve watched all of the Black Mirrors. I had a few friends in the first series, and I got totally hooked. I really love his curiosity and his way of making social commentary without ever becoming moralistic. He’s never proposing an idea of right or wrong, he’s just exploring what the human condition is, and how it relates to technology. I think that’s really clever, and really pertinent to today’s society. And he’s one of the only people that can explore technology without being boring. There’s very little drama in a scene with a group of young girls texting. It’s not very interesting. But he takes it that next step further, and actually makes it entertaining and challenging and interesting and surprising.
Black Mirror is fairly dark and dystopian. It doesn’t seem a natural fit with Christmas. I take it this isn’t all chestnuts roasting on an open fire and goodwill to all men?
No. I don’t think the Christmas theme is that strong in this, although I might have missed it. We talk about it being Christmas, but the programme isn’t really about Christmas. Mind you, Christmas isn’t really about Christmas any more. It’s about shopping and being a really big capitalist venture. If anything, this is more in tune with that.
What was it like working with Jon Hamm?
It was a real treat. I came to Mad Men quite late, so I’d actually just finished watching it when I got the call to go and work with him. That’s synchronicity if ever there was such a thing. He’s a really cool dude, he’s relaxed and confident and he listens, which makes for a fantastic working atmosphere. He’s intelligent, he likes to think about things in different ways. I learned a lot in the little time that we did work together.
You’re from a family with an extensive showbiz history. Did you always feel that you were going to act as a career, or did it start out as a hobby?
No way, I resisted it for as long as I could! I really, really didn’t want to be an actress growing up. I thought it wasn’t a real job, but it was thanks to the history of my family, and maturing enough to be able to see the social value that it has, that changed my mind. Storytelling is a really honourable profession, we learn and grow with stories. You can change the world! Getting more to grips with what my family had done, in the greater scheme of things, was actually what really inspired me to get into it. If I’m in a project, maybe whatever I do doesn’t inspire people, but maybe they look me up – speaking of technology – and maybe they see who my granddad was, and go and watch one of his films, or one of my mum’s films, or read one of my great granddad’s plays. To encourage that curiosity so people may rediscover those great storytellers – that’s good enough for me.
You’ve had some amazing roles in recent years. What are you most proud of?
That’s such a tough question. I’m actually really proud of them all, in very different ways. The great thing about this line of work is that you get to be a part of so many different projects that have such a different vibe and purpose that you learn a lot. Each job is an opportunity to learn about people and the world and relationships, and with so many different points of emphasis. But, if I had to pick, I did this series called Dates on Channel 4, and I think that maybe my best performance. It was really hard, she was the most different to me of any character I’ve played. She was composed and controlled and manipulative, and I’m just a bit jokey and all-over-the-place. I’m really proud of that work, and so grateful to John Maybury and the guys for their patience and skill. of course, Game of Thrones was such a defining point in my life, and not just because of its mammoth reach. It’s trying to say something about how we are and how we live. It has such an astute way of portraying relationships of power. It’s really pertinent to a world today, where power is something so abstract. You don’t get a king who’s a villain, and then people kill him. It doesn’t happen like that. It’s much more subtle now. So maybe exploring it in a more extreme setting can help us see the world for what it is. So I’m immensely proud of that, too.
And more recently, you did The Crimson Field, which everyone was very surprised wasn’t recommissioned.
I think that’s just a symptom of how entertainment works nowadays. It’s a real mystery. But it was great while it lasted. I’m really grateful to have been a part of something that was a new take on an old story. It was interesting to find out about the female side of the First World War. But I’m also grateful not to be freezing my tits off filming in Bristol right now.
You’ve also made some Spanish films over the years. This might sound like a daft question, but does acting in Spanish feel different from acting in English?
That’s actually a really good question. Even when you’re working in different accents, you’re using different parts of your mouth and facial muscles, and placing your voice somewhere else. How you express yourself is so tightly-knit with what you’re expressing. When I talk in Spanish I’m a completely different human being. Spanish is a much more poetic language than English.
English is more cerebral, whereas Spanish is more visceral. Even in really common colloquialisms, you’re using a level of metaphor and humour that you don’t get to play with as much in English. It’s a different way of expressing yourself. I love it. I love languages. I speak French as well, and again, when I speak French, I suddenly become a little more tight-lipped. It changes my view of the world.
You’ve lived a fairly peripatetic lifestyle. Is that a good preparation for a life in acting?
I don’t know if anything is a good preparation for life in acting. At the same time, everything is. The thing about acting is that you devote your life to experience – to be able to experience the truth of other human beings, or of situations that you would never find yourself in. I suppose the answer to your question is, yes. It probably opened up my horizons in a more accelerated way than if I’d been in one place. But that doesn’t mean that other people who have stayed in one place don’t have a wealth of experience that I can’t fathom. A really good teacher in Spain – this amazing, massive Argentinean old queen who had really long toenails and a beautiful brain- he said “Acting is an expression of life lived, and seen lived in a direct fashion.” (sounds better in Spanish!) Anything that you can experience first hand helps you evolve, but also just turning on the TV and watching the news and seeing a mother mourning her son who’s buried under the rubble in Baghdad, to see that woman’s truth and feel empathy, means you enrich your own scope of human understanding.
Black Mirror: White Christmas – Channel 4 – 16 December 2014