Black Mirror’s Madison Davenport and Angourie Rice on Working With a ‘Diva’ Robot

Onscreen sisters Madison Davenport (left) and Angourie Rice (right). Photo: Netflix

In the new Black Mirror episode “Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too,” Miley Cyrus’s pop songstress Ashley O has a problem. A big problem: Her outrageously abusive aunt drugs her into a coma and brings her back to “life” in hologram form, all for the sake of an easy cash grab. Not if a pair of sisters can put a stop to it, that is. What ensues is an episode that becomes less of a technological mediation and more of a save-the-day buddy romp, giving 18-year-old Angourie Rice and 22-year-old Madison Davenport the perfect showcase to have fun — and whoop some adults in the ass.

Vulture recently hopped on the phone with the ladies to chat all about their Black Mirror experience, from their very cryptic auditions to what it was like working with a “diva” robot.

Do either of you have your own Ashley O, whom you admire and love just as much as Rachel does with Ashley?
Madison Davenport: Mine is Lana Del Rey.

Angourie Rice: Mine is Lorde. When I was Rachel’s age, though, it was definitely Taylor Swift. But I love Lorde; she’s my idol now for sure.

If an Ashley Too–esque robot actually hit the market, would you buy one? Or does that tech freak you out too much?
Rice: I don’t think I would at all. Also, I still live with my parents. They would not allow that in the house. I’m almost positive they would say, “No way, you aren’t getting that.”

Davenport: I’m freaked out by Siri because every now and then she’ll answer a question just randomly, so I don’t know if I could stomach having a little doll that would scan me and understand my emotions. That could get real scary, real fast.

Yeah, I totally agree. My Google Home talks to me randomly once or twice a month, and it’s really unnerving.
Davenport: Totally. Although, the only good thing about Ashley Too is that she’s your best friend? If you don’t like actual people, maybe an AI is a better option for you! [Laughs.]

Black Mirror is so shrouded in secrecy up until an episode’s premiere. I’d love to know, when you two auditioned and met each other, did you both know the full extent of the narrative you were going to tell?
Davenport: I didn’t. I only got sent the kitchen scene, where I’m trying to distract Bear in Ashley’s house. That was all I knew about it. I didn’t even know it was Black Mirror. I only got the script about two days before we started filming.

Rice: For me, it was slightly different because I came in very late in the process. So, I auditioned knowing it was Black Mirror. I was booked that same week. I was very last-minute for me, like super quick.

And then you had the twist of working with Miley!
Rice: It was a surprise to me! I suspected they would have gotten someone with that kind of well-known music background, but I didn’t know that it was her.

Davenport: It was definitely a happy surprise. The day when I found out, I was like, Is there anyone better to play this character than Miley? She broke out of that Disney world and became her own person, her own musician.

Please tell me everything about interacting with that Ashley Too robot because it really is a marvel to look at. Was it moving as freely as we saw in the episode? Or were you playing with a little green-screen stick?
Rice: She was such a diva, that little doll.

Davenport: The biggest diva, oh my goodness!

How big of a diva are we talking?
Davenport: There were two guys that had the controls — one controlled her head movements and her arm movements, and the other controlled her wheels. Then, yes, sometimes we would just be interacting with a stick. They’d be like, “This is Ashley Too, have fun!” [Laughs.]

Rice: It was incredible what they could actually do to that diva, though. The stuff that you see onscreen is part CGI, but most of it is what we were seeing. She would spin around and talk to us. It was kind of creepy.

Davenport: It was like watching a choreographed dance. The directions for her would be so specific, like, “No, she needs to tilt her head a little bit more to show confusion.”

What was the experience like to form a sisterhood? I liked how the episode turned into a buddy action-comedy by the end.
Rice: What I loved about the script is that it does have a happy ending, and I think that’s the right ending for the sisters. It makes so much sense for these girls to go, “No, we’re gonna go on this rescue mission.”

Davenport: A lot of it was filmed on a soundstage with green screens. The car was being moved by a stick, so we had to mime all these actions and pretend to be driving and screaming. Our director kept coming to us and being like, “We need more! Scream more! Bring the energy!” [Laughs.]

Kudos, your driving looked very real.
Davenport: I’m so happy they didn’t make me drive because I’m a terrible driver. Your life would have actually been in danger, Angourie.

Rice: Well, that’s a relief.

Davenport: We were all safe in that car. I’m not a good tactical driver.

Madison, did you learn to play the bass for that punk-concert scene with Miley? Or was that just some top-notch finger flailing?
Davenport: So, I made the 27-hour journey to South Africa, I landed, I did my costume, makeup, and hair fitting, and then they brought me to a room and said, “Here’s your bass guitar, enjoy it.” I was like, “Oh my God, I thought I was playing guitar,” because I actually play guitar in real life. For about two weeks, I had a lot of bass lessons, and I learned to play the bass. The first song I learned was “Husbands” by Savages, which was pretty easy because it was just those two notes. Then I learned “Nothing’s Gonna Hurt You Baby” by Cigarettes After Sex. That was also pretty easy. And then I learned “Head Like a Hole.”

It was a great Nine Inch Nails cover. Did you record it in a booth, too?
Davenport: Yeah, I recorded with Miley and got to be her backup singer. We both got really into the punk mood. We were screaming our hearts out, and I was like, “Should I do a crazy whisper?” And then we’re like screaming our hearts out again even harder. I’d love to know what people outside of the booth were thinking. I hope the show is gonna release it soon.

That post-credits scene seemed almost like a concert experience. What was it like being on the stage for you, Madison? And Angourie, what was the vibe like taking it all in as an audience member?
Davenport: We only played “Head Like a Hole.” It was really my first time being in a punk band. I know, surprising, because I fit the role so well, right? [Laughs.] I’m thinking of starting a punk band now. Angourie, you want to get in on that? You can be a part of my punk band.

Rice: Yes please, oh my God. Yes.

Davenport: It was just nonstop for a few hours. When you see us head-banging and really getting into it, that’s because we were. All of the extras and guests and everyone who was in the crowd, they had so much energy. It felt like we were really in a small punk venue. I was sweaty and exhausted by the time we were done. I was like, Dang, being a rock star is hard work.

Rice: We were actually in a bar in Cape Town.

Davenport: The coolest bar.

Rice: I felt very young. [Laughs.] It was Miley’s last day as well, which I think was such a fun note for her to end on. And it was so fun to see you rocking out, Maddie, because you’re so different than that. It was great to see you unleash your inner beast.

Davenport: We joked about that all the time on set, how I’m such a girly girl. Angourie and her mom and me would go get afternoon tea on the weekends when we had our one day off. We’re pinkies-up ladies. We’re classy. Angourie is definitely more of a punky teenager than me.

Rice: We went to so many different places for high tea. We tried everywhere in Cape Town.

Did you two get to spend some time with Miley during filming? Those afternoon teas sound fun.
Davenport: We got to hang out on set, but we really didn’t have a lot of days off. We worked six days a week. Sundays were meant for sleep and tea.

Rice: I wish we did have more time to hang out with her, but it was a really quick shoot. It was only a month, right?

Davenport: Five weeks exactly. I want to say that I was so impressed and proud of Miley because when we were filming her scenes — I think, to be more specific, when her character wakes up from the coma — her house was burning down in Malibu. She had to work through that. I’m so proud to say we were there with her during that, and she did it. She fucking did it.

What do you think your episode was trying to convey with tech, and should people take note of any particular warnings?
Davenport: It’s funny because earlier today I saw Whitney Houston’s estate is going to start using holograms of her. What an interesting thing to find out after we’ve just watched our episode. I felt like the underlying message was how easily replaced somebody can be by technology. But you’re still not actually getting the person. They can’t fully replace the person. Technology is so readily available and we can do so many things with it, but the real, true humanity lies within real human interactions.

Rice: If you generate creativity using a machine, do you still get the same experience? And is it real? Our episode spoke so much about what sells, and if you can sell something, does it mean that it’s still coming from a true place? As cheesy as it sounds, I feel like it’s about being yourself.

Davenport: Yeah, it’s about putting your true self out there, and not necessarily being what everyone wants to see. That’s real humanity. It’s not just the perfect windup doll that performs on command. It’s the dirty, messy, gritty parts. People are messy. AIs are not. You can’t replace the human with the technology.

I think you two should play sisters again soon.
Davenport: Angourie was the greatest little sister I could have ever asked for. People need to be obsessed with this girl because she’s so smart and talented and beautiful and funny. We had such an amazing time playing Heads Up! between our scenes.

Rice: We have so much in common, it’s ridiculous. I loved hanging out with you. It was the best thing. We need to play sisters again.

Davenport: We should make that our thing. We have to play sisters in everything.

Rice: Put it in a contract somewhere.

Davenport: We’ll get lawyers on that right now.

Black Mirror’s Girl Duo on Acting With a ‘Diva’ Robot