Black Mirror Season 5 hits Netflix this week – we chat to Charlie Brooker about casting Miley Cyrus...

With Emmy-award winning anthology show Black Mirror dropping its fifth season on to Netflix, HCC spent time with creator and writer Charlie Brooker and executive producer Annabel Jones to learn more about Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too, certain to be the breakout episode in the new three episode run.

Inspired casting sees Miley Cyrus deliver a jaw-dropping turn as Ashley O, a teen pop star desperate to escape her pop princess image, but shackled by an evil management who will do literally anything to keep the money machine rolling.

Riffing just as heavily on the entertainment industry as it does technology – there’s AI, holograms and Smart Assistants a plenty – the story is the most overtly entertaining Black Mirror yarn since the multi-award winning USS Callister.

And it’s not a stretch to see this achieving similar critical success. On the treatment, the writer says...

Brooker: 'It really depends on the story that we're trying. There were so many sort of big flavours and elements in it that it made sense to take it in that direction. We always know that some episodes are going to piss people off. That some people are gonna appreciate one type of story more than another. I think that if we just kept doing nihilistic bleak stories, then it becomes very, very predictable. So sometimes we like to go a bit Pixar, and other times we like to go a bit Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It really depends on our whim.'

Brooker says that while the story seems a perfect fit for Cyrus, it wasn’t originally written for her in mind.

Brooker: 'These stories come about in a strange way. It was an idea I'd had for a while. Originally I had an idea about a punk band from 1977 being resurrected in the present day, I tried to write a sitcom about that. Then it was going to be about a rapper. Then we had a conversation about Alexa and I seem to remember saying that soon there'll be ones based on celebrity personalities…'

Jones: 'Her [Miley Cyrus] whole career has been about the Disney pop star trying to carve out her own identity, facing opposition from her label. So she's been on that journey. So she found it hilarious. She was like: "Oh my god, I'm going to have so much fun with this".'

So just how much of her own experience did she contribute to the role?

Brooker: 'She had all sorts of little observations. I remember being struck by her saying that she'd recently made an appearance on stage with some act aimed at an older generation, I don't know who it was, maybe The Grateful Dead or somebody, but from a different era. And she went on stage and looked down into this massive auditorium – and no one was filming it on a phone, they're all looking at her. And she hadn't seen that for about 10 years, it was just a sea of human faces. She found that quite emotional. It affected her quite a bit, so there are definitely lines derived from things Miley said.'

Jones: 'She was asking, does it matter that I'm on stage or whether I’m a hologram. It’s the whole question about what it is to be an artist and what it means to perform. A lot of the details of her life have been engineered into the script. And she had lots of thoughts about the music, the performance and the look... and the relationship between the idol and the fan. It’s something we touch on in the film, the idea of empowerment and the messages very powerful pop stars give to their fans. You see Rachel (Angourie Rice) believing everything her idol Ashley says, and it does actually help her on so many dark issues.'

Jones: 'The whole idea of a digital friend that is also your idol is a potentially dangerous scenario.'

Which is where the Ashley O AI doll comes in…

Brooker: 'It's not very nuanced advice, it's just a shallow pep talk that the Ashley O doll dishes out.'

Brooker: 'I think often people expect Black Mirror to be somebody frowning at a transparent phone until their life falls apart, so it's quite nice to occasionally up-end that. When we did USS Callister, in Season Four, that had quite a quite a rompy tone. In the first half it looks like it's going to go one way, and then it turns, literally, into a chase at one point.'

You have a lot of fun with the music...

Brooker: 'Actually, everything Miley performs in this episode are Nine Inch Nails songs, adapted into sort of pop standard. That was one thing that was in the script early on. We had to get permission from Trent Reznor to rewrite these tracks as upbeat pop songs. He got it straight away. He thought it was very funny. I got to rewrite his lyrics is in a chirpy way – I'm not the best lyricist in the world – "You're gonna get what you deserve" became "I'm stoked on ambition and verve".

'He found all the dark comedy very entertaining. You know, there are lots of dark concepts in the film. The idea of an artist being more successful when they're dead than when they were alive is such a ghoulish idea, but then we're living in a time where you can see holograms of Prince...'

Jones: '...Or Whitney Houston back on stage. I think in the next few years we’ll be going to live concerts where there's a hologram performing music we love. At what point are we going to say "Yeah, I'll embrace that"?'

After watching this episode, how many people will want to buy an Ashley O doll?

Jones: 'We wanted the doll to feel plausible, something that you could probably buy if you wanted to. So it was a matter of trying to make it as simplistic as possible, but trying to give it animation. Trying to achieve both of those things was very difficult.'

Brooker: 'As Annabel says, we needed two degrees of expression. At the start it has to look sort of non-threatening, like an Alexa type device. Then in the second half, the same simple eyes had to be very suddenly a lot more expressive. Its movements become more fluid.'

Black Mirror: Season Five is available on Netflix from June 5.