'Black Mirror' Director on Show's #MeToo Moment: "The Age of the A—hole Is Over"

Courtesy of Netflix
Jesse Plemons plays an online game in which he holds his co-workers’ avatars captive.

Toby Haynes, who directed the "USS Callister" episode of Netflix's sci-fi anthology, tells The Hollywood Reporter about how the stand-alone took on new meaning amid the workplace harassment reckoning: "You're watching it going, 'Crikey, this is really touching on something here.'"

The script for the "USS Callister" episode of Netflix's creepy sci-fi series Black Mirror was conceived long before the Harvey Weinstein bombshells and the subsequent #MeToo and Time's Up movements, but the episode felt especially timely when it aired with the rest of the six-episode fourth season in December.

Following tech genius Robert Daly (Jesse Plemons), who creates his own Star Trek-esque universe within an online game where he controls and abuses digital clones of his co-workers, the episode hit Netflix two months into the workplace harassment reckoning. "It kind of contextualized [the episode] in a way that was completely unexpected," says director Toby Haynes. "It just brought new meaning to it. You're watching it going, 'Crikey, this is really touching on something here.'"

Still, Haynes largely credits star Cristin Milioti — who plays Nanette, a co-worker who eventually refuses to comply with Daly's in-game demands and leads the others to revolt against him — with bringing the harassment angle to the forefront of the episode. "She was already bringing the whole toxic masculinity — the kind of harassment in the workplace — aspect to the story," he says. "Like any woman in this industry, she really recognized it in her life and she pushed it to the front."

For the part of Daly, Plemons, known for his chameleon-like performances on Fargo and in films like Black Mass, shaved a bald spot into the back of his head. Plus, the actor had to disclose his weight ahead of the shoot. "We had to ask him how heavy he was," says Haynes. "You just don't know with Jesse because he's a shape-shifter for roles."

Although at first Daly seems like a sympathetic outcast, it becomes clear within the game that his Captain Kirk-like character is playing "bad God" — and that, unfortunately for him, he completely underestimates Nanette. "Right as he meets her, [he] thinks she's kind of a pretty little thing and doesn't really see her as a worthy adversary. And then she gets to overcome him in such a brilliant way," says Haynes. "She triumphs ultimately."

That victory creates a more optimistic ending to the episode compared to other chapters of the Charlie Brooker-created series.

Says Haynes, "This one really did feel like a message of 'We will overcome.' The age of the asshole is over, and it should be."

This story first appeared in a May stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.