[Editor’s Note: The following contains spoilers from “Black Mirror” Season 1, Episode 2, “Fifteen Million Merits.”]
When Jessica Brown Findlay famously left “Downton Abbey” in its tragic third season that also saw the departure of Dan Stevens, she sought to change up her image. Although she had first appeared in the science fiction drama “Misfits” as a young offender, she knew she would always be associated with the sweet youngest Crawley daughter, Lady Sibyl.
Enter Charlie Brooker’s “Black Mirror,” the sci-fi anthology series that in its first season surprised viewers with its gloomy and over-the-top look at how the use of technology in culture can backfire. The season’s second episode “Fifteen Million Merits” is set in a society where members must cycle on exercise bikes to power their surroundings and simultaneously earn “merits.” It stars a pre-“Get Out” Daniel Kaluuya as Bing, who encourages Abi (Brown Findlay) to enter a talent competition to escape the drudgery of her existence.
In one of the most iconic moments of the series, Brown Findlay sings Irma Thomas’ “Anyone Who Knows What Love Is (Will Understand)” to showcase her talent. It’s a sweet and beautiful rendition, if a bit raw and unsteady.
“I was terrified. I was sick that morning out of nerves,” Brown Findlay told IndieWire. “But I just told myself that it’s not my job to be nervous and went for it. The shakes in her nervous voice were mine.”
In a bleak twist, although the crowd receives the song well, the judges don’t agree that it’s good enough. In the end, she doesn’t advance in the talent competition but resorts to becoming a porn star instead. That’s a far cry from Sybil Crawley.
“I’m so proud I did it and that I can now make an origami penguin,” she said.
Meanwhile, Brown Findlay had been on “Harlots,” playing 18th century courtesan Charlotte Wells, another creative and freeing role for her. Now, she has her sights on bigger challenges. “I am filming ‘Brave New World’ until the end of the year – it’s gonna be incredible – and some more theatre,” she said.