Doctor Who’s Jodie Whittaker opens up about “dark and fascinating” Black Mirror role

Before she took to the Tardis, Jodie Whittaker starred as Ffion in the first series of Charlie Brooker’s dystopian anthology Black Mirror

Jodie Whittaker, Getty

While she’s now internationally renowned as the Thirteenth Doctor (and the first woman ever to star in the iconic role), cast your mind back and you’ll remember jobbing actor Jodie Whittaker appeared in the very first series of Charlie Brooker’s hugely popular Black Mirror.

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The 36-year-old starred in the show during its pre-Netflix days, in the first series finale The Entire History of You.

In the show, Whittaker played Ffion, the wife of soon-to-be-unemployable lawyer Liam (Toby Kebbell) in an alternative reality where humans have ‘grains’ embedded into their brains which allow them to store and replay memories.

The episode sees Liam discover Ffion cheated on him with a former fling, questioning the paternity of their baby daughter as he reviews footage in his mind over and over again.

Whittaker was immediately drawn to the powerful script, penned by Peep Show writer Jesse Armstrong – with her audition so strong both the producer and casting director chased her down the road to offer her the part on the spot.

Speaking in new book, Inside Black Mirror, she explained, “I remember getting my raincoat on as I headed for the tube, when they caught up with me. That never ever happens!

“Back then, The Entire History of You was unlike anything I’d ever read before. I knew it was extraordinary. When it’s your own memory being used against you, that’s so dark and fascinating.”

The episode focuses around a strained dinner party, with tensions coming to the surface between Liam and Ffion as they review the footage the next morning.

“The dinner party scene was epic!” added Whittaker. “It had so many key cast members around the table, with the added element like the eye contact between different characters that Liam would later try to pick up on.

“My favourite scene to shoot was when Liam and Ffion got back from the dinner party and we were looking at the nanny-cam footage. That’s when the kernel of mistrust grew.

Toby Kebbel (Getty)
Toby Kebbel (Getty)

“Brian (Welsh, the director) was perfect for that piece. Before one take, he would tell me, ‘Liam is a grenade that would go off at any point. Treat him with care.’ And then on the next take he would go, ‘Just don’t give a f***. You can’t be arsed. You’re tired.’

“I loved that Toby and I didn’t know which note we were being privately given! It made it really interesting to not know how the other person was going to play it.”

But there were some moments which Whittaker was less keen to act out – including the intense sex scenes between she and Kebell’s characters.

“I’m embarrassed that we went ridiculously far with the footage we shot of the grain-sex scene,” Welsh explained. “In order to make Jodie feel comfortable, I had to play her part for a bit, because it was shot as point-of-view.”

Jodie Whittaker (Getty, EH)
Jodie Whittaker (Getty)

Whittaker added, “There’s probably a moment where they’d lined all the shots up, then I came on set and said, ‘Nah, I’m not doing that.’”

The episode ends with Liam violently confronting Ffion about the affair, with a tearful Ffion showing him that she had had sex with Jonas while the pair were on a break.

“The hardest scene to do was the emotional climax, with the full bedroom argument,” Whittaker recalled. “You go from crying your eyes out, covered in snot and tears, to resetting the scene and shooting another take.

“Between takes, Toby often tended to concentrate and stay focused, whereas I’m someone who has to get up, walk around and have a chat. Every actor has a different approach, which is completely normal – and in this case, I think it added to the sense of separation and mistrust between our characters, which was great.”

Jodie Whittaker and companions (Getty)
Jodie Whittaker is now best known for her work in Doctor Who (Getty)

Her new role Doctor Who has established her as one of the best known TV actors in the world – but Whittaker’s small part on Black Mirror still gets her recognition…

“I met someone in LA who stopped me and asked me if I was that girl from Black Mirror,” she explained. “I said, ‘Oh yeah, that Grain thing was terrifying, wasn’t it,’ and he said, ‘I thought it was an amazing idea!’ He worked at a massive tech company. I was like, ‘How can he not see this is not the way we should go?’”

Black Mirror returns to Netflix later this year 

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Inside Black Mirror, published by Ebury Press, is out on Thursday 1st November


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