USS Callister (Black Mirror) was the most talked about chapter of the dark anthology series' latest arc, and that was in no small part thanks to Cristin Milioti's performance as Nanette — a whip-smart computer coder whose friendly admiration of her boss lands a digital replica of herself in his cyber torture chamber/video game that looks a lot like a spoof of Star Trek.
Digital Nanette arrives on the bridge of the "USS Callister" when she didn't defend her boss Robert Daly (Jesse Plemmons) from accusations of creepily staring at female workers in the office, only to find that several of her coworkers had also been digitally copied and trapped in Robert's hidden game that forced them to play along with his fantasy of captaining the space ship from his favorite TV show. If any of them step out of line or refuse to play his game, they suffer fates worse than death.
"I do know that this is a straight sci-fi drama, but there's also an element of comedy there," Milioti says in TV Guide's Best Performances video series. The actress is most known for her comedy work on series like How I Met Your Mother and FX's quirky drama Fargobut says her Black Mirror experience wasn't that different from her lighter roles.
"I always likened it to if the cast of The Office was blasted into space," she says. "They're coworkers. They're not friends. They don't know each other particularly well. It's a ridiculous scenario but it's also terrifying. [Black Mirror] toes that line very well. "
To pull it off, Milioti plays two different versions of Nanette. There's her normal self, living her life and interacting with Robert on a daily, professional basis, and then there's the digital copy who must defeat him within the realm of the world he created. They're the same person but essentially completely different characters.
"Even though they are the same person I did approach the two different Nanettes differently, because the version of her in the office world is having to swallow a lot of resentment and anger, keep her head down and do her job to not be harassed," Milioti explains. "I think the Nanette in the space world is actually her best self. It's life or death for her and it unleashes this tiger within her and she is going to survive at all costs."
That duality has Milioi in contention for a Leading Actress in a TV Movie Emmy this year — especially when Nanette reaches her breaking point within the game after she realizes that Robert has erased her from existing. "Stealing my pussy is a red f--king line," Nanette says through gritted teeth. It's a major turning point for the character and something Milioti was determined to get right.
"I think that line is the line in the sand," she says. "It's the beginning of her gritting her teeth and going for the jugular."
The role isn't just about playing meek or determined, though. Milioti is able to showcase another side of the "strong female character" archetype with Nanette's intelligence, which is something that greatly inspired the actress while playing the computer coder.
"Nanette uses her intelligence to hack into this system because she is the best coder. That's also very rare. You're seeing this character with such bravery and such rage, but she's also the smartest person in the room," she says. "It's an incredible role. It was incredible to play but I think that was inspiring that she was able to assess this very bleak situation and start problem solving. I would probably lay down on the floor and start crying."
We probably would too, Cristin.
Black Mirror Season 4 is currently streaming on Netflix.
Emmy nominations will be announced on July 12 with the ceremony airing Monday, Sept. 17 hosted by Colin Jost and Michael Che.