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Black Mirror stars reveal how improv shaped season 6’s best episode

Anjana Vasan and Paapa Essiedu tell The Digital Fix about making one of Black Mirror season 6's wildest episodes, the strange and enthralling 'Demon 79'.

Black Mirror season 6 interview

After years of anticipation, Black Mirror has returned. Season 6 offers much of what we’ve come to expect; bleak stories about our warped relationship to technology, and a general dystopian view of existence. But there’s one episode, ‘Demon 79’, that marks a real change of pace, and the show’s all the better for it.

Featuring demons and the apocalypse, ‘Demon 79’ leans more towards fantasy than science fiction. A young woman, Nida, is forced to sacrifice three people in three days by an otherwordly spirit dressed like a popstar, or the world will end. Sporting credits that read Red Mirror, a willful stylistic change from creator Charlie Brooker, the installment definitely adds credence to Black Mirror being one of the best horror series around.

Stars Anjana Vasan and Paapa Essiedu, who play Nida and the demonic Gaap respectively, spoke to The Digital Fix about the ins and outs of the story. They reveal the method behind the madness of the Netflix series, which really boils down to a lot of improvisation, at least under the direction of Toby Haynes. But that was after the feel of the characters was decided.

“Gaap was initially written with a very different aesthetic,” Essideu explains to The Digital Fix. “A more punky, gothic, skinhead-y type of person that was meant to be a manifestation of Nida’s fears and nightmares moreso than desires or intrigues, which is what we ended up with.”

If ever a costume could steal a Black Mirror episode, Gaap’s glittery white ensemble, straight from a performance on Top of the Pops, nearly does it. Getting into the skintight pants was as tight as you’d imagine, Essideu confirms, but generated a particular charisma they were searching for.

Black Mirror season 6 'Demon 79'

“We worked with Matt [Price] and Lucy [Bain], who designed the costume and the hair, to create something that felt like an homage to that time period,” he says. “We were really used to seeing men portrayed in life that we hadn’t seen before. And those men were intriguing and magnetic and confusing and unexpected, and that’s what we wanted to create.”

Gaap arrives in firm opposition to Nida, who’s quiet and worn down by constantly being undermined and taken advantage of by co-workers. She accidentally summons Gaap when she finds his talisman, and doesn’t exactly jump at his mission. Plenty of pent up aggression she might have, revealed to us in bloody daydreams, actually hurting others doesn’t come easy to her one bit.

“They’re a manifestation of so much that she’s repressed,” Vasan tells The Digital Fix about Nida’s idle thoughts. “How the world treats her and diminishes her every day, all the micro aggressions. I think that’s why the fantasies are so vivid, because in real life, she can’t act out on them.”

Black Mirror season 6 'Demon 79'

Even though she now has license to let some of this out, and Gaap’s powers of mindreading and future-sight to find targets that deserve it, Nida struggles. Her first kill’s a panicked bludgeoning, her second a brutal stabbing that has collateral because there can be no witnesses. She winds up treating it all like a nightmare just to cope, undergoing cognitive dissonance because she has thought about a lot of this before.

“She knows that deep down, in her deep secrets and her fears and anxieties, she’s had those fantasies, and she starts to question if all of this is real, even or is she just going insane,” Vasan states. “But then it feels so real to her. She kind of goes through hell trying to save the world.”

Vasan and Essideu’s chemistry contributes massively to ‘Demon 79’. Their back and forth, from all-knowing dark spirit to scared lowly mortal is the engine that allows the episode to flourish. Among Gaap’s powers is teleportation, much to Nida’s continued misery, creating some entertaining and almost comedic moments.

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“It was really organic,” Essideu says, explaining one scene where Nida’s followed by Gaap endlessly: “We really made it on the day, you know, him popping up like that. We had an idea of maybe wherever she looks, he was there, and we just shot it basically and it ended up in the final edit.”

Yes, that does mean Essideu was usually just out of frame for most of the transitions. “There’s a lot of Papa having to crouch and run under the camera and pop up another place,” she says with a laugh, “because we tried to do it in a way for it to feel real, to not have to rely too much on camera trickery.”

Someone like Gapp in the late ’70s presents an enormous opportunity for exploration and creativity. How does an all-encompassing representative of the underworld navigate such a period? Essideu can’t speak positively enough about the space he was given – Gapp was a “gift” that was invigorating.

Black Mirror season 6 'Demon 79'

“You’re not bound by the rules that you’re typically bound by,” he explains. “When you’re playing people’s demon, they can do whatever he wants, he can be whatever he wants, he can travel however he wants, he can disappear, he can appear, whatever. You can make people see things see into the future, whatever.”

That placed a certain amount of pressure on Nida, who’d to navigate being the regular person in these scenarios. Several times during the episode, she’s given visions the past and the future; quick, disorienting sequences that leave her traumatized. One of them involves a montage of the future under a fascist politician. Innkeeping with how other parts were shot, a lot of it came down to just feeling out Nida’s headspace.

“We talked loads about what happens to her eyes when that happens,” Vasan tells us. “What it might feel like, is it like a panic attack? Is it like, she can’t breathe? What is the quality of that breathing?”

Black Mirror season 6 'Demon 79'

Quite literally, the remit was, “try something”, and then they’d discuss afterward what worked and what didn’t. “I had to just really trust that Toby in the edit would make that come together, but it was definitely an episode where you just have to turn up and then just go for it,” Vasan adds.

Not dreadfully far from Gaap and Nida, who give saving the world their best go. You probably know whether they did it by now. The Black Mirror season 6, episode 5 ending mightn’t seem the happiest, but the protagonists were satisfied, just like the actors seemed to be. In Black Mirror, those are wins worth relishing.

Black Mirror season 6 is streaming on Netflix now. Our Black Mirror season 6 episodes ranked will tell you how we feel about it. The new on Netflix guide has everything else freshly added to the platform. We have lists of the best sci-fi series and best fantasy series for more fine genre storytelling, and keep an eye on our Black Mirror season 7 release date guide for when more might arrive.