Gugu was born in Oxford, England, she appeared in TV series Bad Girls, Bonekickers and Doctor Who. In 2013 She starred in Amma Asante's film Belle.Followed by starring in Gina Prince-Bythewood's film Beyond The Lights. Also starred in Jupiter Ascending, Concussion, Free State of Jones, Miss Sloane and Beauty and the Beast.
If computer-generated life after death were an option, would you take it?
By Emma Dibdin
Oct 28, 2016
If you’ve heard anything at all about Black Mirror, you’ve probably heard that it’s a vicious, unsettling commentary on technology, our dependence upon it and its corrosive effect on society. Brilliant, you’ve probably heard, but too bleak to binge. All of that is true — except that the show’s newly released third season features its most hopeful and heartfelt episode to date.
"San Junipero" begins as a love story between two young women in the 1980s, Kelly (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) and Yorkie (Mackenzie Davis), and evolves into something more complex, a bittersweet fantasy about the redemptive possibilities of technology. The town of San Junipero, as it turns out, is a computer-generated afterlife to which people can upload their consciousness — either temporarily, for five hours per week as "tourists," or permanently after their death, allowing them to live forever in suspended reality.
Cosmopolitan.com spoke to Gugu about 1980s nostalgia, the episode’s ambiguous ending, and whether a real-world San Junipero would appeal to her.
You must have been familiar with the show. But how was your episode pitched to you?
Yeah, I was familiar with it, but I actually hadn’t seen it. I had heard about it, and I got sent the script by my agent, and I was like, “Ohhh, Black Mirror. I’ve heard that’s cool.” So I started reading it instantly on my phone and I was actually at Oxford Circus [in London] about to get a bus to Brixton. I read the whole script between Oxford Circus and Brixton because it was such a page-turner. And I read the whole thing on my phone, which is very Black Mirror-esqe, I suppose.
Did you see the twist coming?
I didn’t see it coming. I couldn’t — it was unpredictable. But it was also emotional and playful and really makes you think. So then I met with Charlie [Brooker, the creator] and [executive producer] Annabel Jones and Owen Harris, the director. And I watched his episode that he’d done before, “Be Right Back,” which was so emotional and beautifully executed. So it was a no-brainer [to take the part].
It’s interesting you hadn’t seen the show — maybe you didn’t realize your episode is so much different than the rest?
I think Charlie did that intentionally [as] a palate cleanser from a lot of the other more paranoid or more cynical-toned episodes in previous seasons.
Nostalgia is so huge, and this episode taps into that a bit. There’s this desire for people to recover some era of their lives. Did that resonate with you?
Yeah, absolutely. I was born in the ‘80s, so I don’t really remember it very strongly, but the music is so iconic. And so those artists — Madonna, Prince, Janet Jackson, Whitney Houston — you still hear those songs all the time. And there’s such a distinctive style — the clothes, the shoulder pads, the big hair, the perm. You look back and you think it wasn’t that long ago, but it’s actually very distinctly different from where we live now and you see how rapidly our culture is evolving.
How long did it take you to get “Heaven Is a Place on Earth” out of your head, because it’s still on a loop in mine.
It’s really good like that, isn’t it? It’s annoying, but it’s fabulous. I went back and watched the original Belinda Carlisle video. It’s like her, sort of all in black, with these guys walking around with these globes. It’s very surreal. I remember sending it to Owen Harris when I first got the job and was like, “Have you seen this?” But yeah, I love that song and I think it’s so resonant for the episode. It really ties it together.
How was it developing your relationship with Mackenzie Davis?
Well, Mackenzie Davis is a wonderful actress. We had a very rapid shoot period. It was about three weeks, but I think we actually shot for 14 days — like, seven days in London and seven days in Cape Town. So that’s really fast considering the scale of some of the locations. We didn’t really have much time to rehearse. We didn’t read through. And we met our other counterparts [the actresses who played the older versions of their characters], but that was kind of it. It was really fun.
I didn’t think this was up for debate, but some people are wondering whether Kelly and Yorkie really do end up together or not. Was that ever a question in your mind?
I love the fact that people are talking about it and it’s raising all of these questions. I think for me, I always felt that they were, but I guess it’s open for interpretation. That’s the great thing about Charlie’s writing — it provokes people and everybody brings their own experience and their own interpretation [to it].
Does the idea of a place like San Junipero appeal to you? Do you think you’d want to do that or not?
In a weird way, I think it depends on your circumstance. I would certainly maybe try it. I would be a tourist, but I don’t know if I would go permanent. I don’t know.
It’s such a strange thing. Like all of Charlie’s ideas, it seems less and less theoretical. It’s so easy to imagine that being an option in 50 years time.
We’ve already got half of our lives uploaded onto a cloud. What does that even mean? We just accept it as a part of our vocabulary, but do we really know that means? And that, to me, is fascinating. [There is] all this information about us that’s on the internet … how much of somebody could you really replicate or, you know, create?
The genius of Black Mirror is that [Charlie] comes up with these things that are not wildly sci-fi fantastical. So you don’t go, “No, no, no. That could never ever happen.” Because we recognize the world [the show is set in], I think it opens up your brain to the possibilities. And then some of these things are not so fantastical. Sadly not.
All three seasons of Black Mirror are available on Netflix now.