Black Mirror: 11 Behind-The-Scenes Facts About Netflix's Sci-Fi Anthology

Bryce Dallas Howard in the episodes "Nosedive" on Black Mirror.
(Image credit: Netflix)

There are many great anthology TV shows -- from The Twilight Zone to Guillermo del Toro's Cabinet of Curiosities -- but the one that I have found myself most impressed, unsettled, and even liberated by is Black Mirror. While I do believe it is one of the best sci-fi TV shows on Netflix, its brilliant commentary on the potential dangers that could result from technology's rapid advancement is so believably grounded and disturbingly prophetic that I am not so sure what is an accurate way to categorize it.

It truly is a wonder to imagine how series creator Charlie Brooker has managed to come up with the ideas behind some of the best Black Mirror episodes so far and some of the behind-the-scenes facts below may offer the inside scoop you are looking for. As we anticipate the long-awaited sixth season of this groundbreaking series, let's take a look at some of its most fascinating secrets.

Daniel Kaluuya on Black Mirror

(Image credit: Netflix)

Daniel Kaluuya Actually Cut His Foot While Destroying His Cell In “Fifteen Million Merits”

Daniel Kaluuya became a household name after giving his Academy Award nominated performance in 2017's Get Out. However, what first earned him Jordan Peele's attention -- as the filmmaker revealed on The Tonight Show -- was the British actor's stunning portrayal of Bing, a man trapped in a world ruled by consumerism, in "Fifteen Million Merits."

To really understand the British actor's level of commitment in the essential Season 1 episode, Charlie Brooker revealed in Inside Black Mirror -- an oral history compiled by him, producer Annabel Jones, and writer Jason Arnopp -- that Kaluuya badly injured his foot while filming a scene when he angrily smashes the glass walls surrounding his enclosed room. That would actually turn out to be the take they used in the final cut.

Domhnall Gleeson on Black Mirror

(Image credit: Netflix)

Domhnall Gleeson’s Beard Had To Be Digitally Removed For The Final Scene Of “Be Right Back”

One of the most common criticisms of 2017's Justice League was the digital removal of Henry Cavill's mustache and how glaringly obvious it was. Well, all you have to do is look at the Black Mirror Season 2 episode "Be Right Back" for evidence that it is possible to make that effect look convincing.

Brooker recalls in Inside Black Mirror that one of the most expensive effects from this story of a woman (Hayley Atwell) who orders an android copy of her late boyfriend (Domhnall Gleeson) was making the Irish actor appear beardless when shooting the conclusion. Gleeson was contractually obligated to keep his beard for another project but, because it wold not make sense for his artificial character to grow facial hair, CGI was used.

Lenora Chrichlow on Black Mirror

(Image credit: Netflix)

“White Bear’s” Shocking Twist Was Inspired By A Tour Of The Fenced-In, Former Military Base Where It Was Filmed

While Black Mirror has never been the type of show that relies on twist endings, it has some that even rival The Twilight Zone in creativity, complexity, and startling shock. Perhaps the prime example of this also occurs in Season 2 when -- SPOILER ALERT -- the conclusion of "White Bear" reveals that our amnesiac protagonist (Lenora Chrichlow) is a child murderer and the dystopian nightmare she has awoken into is an elaborate façade crafted for her own torturous humiliation.

When speaking to Variety, Brooker recalls that this episode was initially intended as a "straightforward apocalypse story" and originally ended with a public crucifixion, until the day he saw the former military base where it was set to be shot. A fence surrounding the perimeter of the base inspired him to restructure the story as the thought-provoking commentary on obsessive hate culture it is now.

Netflix logo

(Image credit: Netflix)

Channel 4’s Preference To Fund A Different Anthology Series Over Black Mirror Season 3 Prompted The Move To Netflix

One of the best Black Mirror seasons (in my opinion), and the one I often recommend newcomers to the show start with, is the Emmy-winning third season, which also marked its revival as a Netflix exclusive after first premiering on Channel 4. Causing the shift in distribution was the U.K. network's admission that they did not have the funding to continue the show, while also mentioning that they had a similar series in mind instead. Producer Annabel Jones was candid about her feelings on the matter in the following quote pulled from Inside Black Mirror:

I don’t often show when I’m upset, but there were actual tears from me. They’d basically told Charlie his show was going to be cancelled an hour before he went out to do a big press meeting. And they were replacing it with another sci-fi anthology show that looked to us like it was more expensive to produce, with more episodes and probably filming overseas.

The replacement sci-fi anthology series in question was Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams, which would later find its own streaming home in the form of Amazon Prime. After the first two seasons of Black Mirror starting gaining popularity on Netflix, the streaming platform won the bidding war to pick the series up and, to Jones and Brooker’s surprise, gave them complete creative freedom. It would also lead to the opportunity for the interactive, feature-length spin-off, Bandersnatch, which I think we can all be thankful for.

Bryce Dallas Howard in her episode of Black Mirror.

(Image credit: Netflix)

Bryce Dallas Howard Had A Traumatic Experience With Black Mirror Prior To Her Casting In “Nosedive”

One of my personal favorite episodes from Black Mirror Season 3 (or any season, really) is "Nosedive," which imagines a society in which people are judged by a system similar to how you rate a ride share driver, a food deliverer, etc. Leading the episode with brilliantly manic desperation is Bryce Dallas Howard, who did not really get a great first impression of the show.

While promoting the series, the actor and filmmaker showed Conan O’Brien a series of videos she sent her husband, who recommended she watch “Fifteen Million Merits,” of her tearful, upsetting reaction to the episode while away on a shoot and, in one video, actually says, “I’ve just taken a real nosedive.” Who would have known that would be the title of the episode she gained 30 pounds to appear in?

Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Mackenzie Davis on Black Mirror

(Image credit: Netflix)

Charlie Brooker Chose To End “San Junipero” With “Heaven Is A Place On Earth” When It Randomly Came On During A Run 

Another thing Black Mirror is exceptional at is choosing the right needle drops, such as in the fan-favorite, "San Junipero." No song could have been a better choice to end the story of a couple (Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Mackenzie Davis) living on forever in a VR simulation than "Heaven is a Place on Earth."

So, how did the idea to include Belinda Carlisle's synth-drenched 1987 romance ballad come to be? Well, it was fate, apparently. In an interview with Still Watching Netflix, Brooker said he was going for a run when the song came on, it reminded him of "San Junipero," and the rest is history.

Jerome Flynn on Black Mirror

(Image credit: Netflix)

Jerome Flynn Frequently Hyperventilated While Shooting “Shut Up And Dance”

One of the most intense and unsettling episodes of Black Mirror Season 3 is "Shut Up and Dance," which follows a young man (Alex Lawther) forced to perform a series of tasks after he falls prey hackers. Apparently the tension was high on set, too, based on what Lawther's co-star, 1923 cast member Jerome Flynn, recalled in Inside Black Mirror:

The stuff in the car was very thrilling. As an actor, you’re not actually driving, you’re being towed, and so to compensate for that, I found myself hyperventilating to the point where I almost fainted. It was very strange, and I don’t know why I did that! Maybe I would’ve hyperventilated anyway, due to the tension of the situation.

Considering the British actor was also in the Game of Thrones cast at one time, you would think playing an internet hacking victim trying to conceal evidence of his infidelity would be a cake walk for him. I suppose that's a testament to just how frighteningly real Black Mirror's subject matter is.

Kirsten Dunst on Black Mirror

(Image credit: Netflix)

Kirsten Dunst Makes An Quick, Uncredited Cameo in “USS Callister”

Black Mirror has boasted an amazing rotation of talented actors since the very beginning. However, one you may not have known about is Academy Award nominee Kirsten Dunst, who made a blink-and-you-miss-it appearance on Season 4's "USS Callister."

The Spider-Man star's now-husband, Jesse Plemons, plays the antagonistic lead of the episode about a game programmer who imprisons digital copies of his co-workers in a simulation resembling a Star Trek-esque show. Director Toby Haynes told The Hollywood Reporter that Dunst was visiting Plemons on set, asked to be involved somehow, and was given her wordless, uncredited, walk-on role.

Andrea Riseborough on Black Mirror

(Image credit: Netflix)

Andrea Riseborough’s “Crocodile” Role Was Originally Written For A Man

While Andrea Riseborough's resume is full of dark characters -- such as the title role of Mandy or an assassin with very manipulative methods in Possessor -- the peak might be in "Crocodile," in which she goes on a traumatic downward spiral after a damning secret catches up with her. While revisiting her career on People TV’s Couch Surfing, the Amsterdam cast member revealed that -- not only was she originally offered the part of Kiran Sonia Sawar’s insurance investigator character -- but the Season 4 episode's protagonist was intended to be male. 

Riseborough had this to say about why she is happy for the gender-swap: 

I think it really gains something from being a story between two women and it’s probably deeply worrying that I identified with my character rather than the other character. But, you know, what can you do? [laughs]

Metalhead dog from Black Mirror

(Image credit: Netflix)

“Metalhead” Was Made In Black And White To Look And Feel Like “Metal” 

While "Crocodile" is easily the most traumatic episode of Black Mirror Season 4 (or of the show entirety, perhaps), one of its more fun and thrilling entries is the post-apocalyptic chase epic, "Metalhead." The choice of filming in grayscale also makes it an especially unique visual treat, and director David Slade told us during a CinemaBlend interview that he had specific intentions behind that:

I just said to them, 'Look, this world should look as if it was made out of metal. You know, the whole thing, it's called 'Metalhead.' There's a very stark nature to it all. The locations I think we should be using are all kinda -- not post-apocalyptic, because that would be a little cliché -- but the lands, the marshes, the English countryside: we want to be looking at that. We don't want to be looking at that like a Merchant Ivory film, we want to be looking at it like it's the end of the fucking world.' So it just seemed to make sense thematically, as well as tonally and atmospherically.

As a fan of "Metalhead's" ability to make otherwise serene, outdoor locations appear grim and foreboding, I could not agree more.

Letitia Wright on Black Mirror

(Image credit: Netflix)

Letitia Wright Read Lines For Her “Black Museum” Audition Tape With Daniel Kaluuya On The Black Panther Set

Black Mirror is famous for employing, not just one, but two Black Panther cast members to lead an episode -- the second being Letitia Wright in the Season 4 ender, "Black Museum." As it turns out, she had a little help landing the part from a veteran of the show, whom she also had the honor to call her co-star on the hit Marvel movie.

Wright explains in Inside Black Mirror that she was a few weeks from completing Black Panther when she filmed an audition that also featured W'Kabi actor Daniel Kaluuya -- whom Wright refers to as "the O.G. of Black Mirror" -- running lines with her. Annabel Jones said she found herself distracted by the familiar voice on the tape, but it didn't stop her from being "mesmerized" by Wright.

It sounds like Black Mirror Season 6 also has a cool cast line-up, including Aaron Paul, for what will actually be his second time on the show after a vocal cameo in "USS Callister." Whoever is chosen to act, direct, or breathe air on the set of the next batch of episodes is not of any concern to me because, above all, I am just happy to see my all-time favorite series return.

Jason Wiese
Content Writer

Jason Wiese writes feature stories for CinemaBlend. His occupation results from years dreaming of a filmmaking career, settling on a "professional film fan" career, studying journalism at Lindenwood University in St. Charles, MO (where he served as Culture Editor for its student-run print and online publications), and a brief stint of reviewing movies for fun. He would later continue that side-hustle of film criticism on TikTok (@wiesewisdom), where he posts videos on a semi-weekly basis. Look for his name in almost any article about Batman.