Aaron Paul thinks AI is scarier than any episode of “Black Mirror.”

Aaron Paul’s service is not that warm. After all, he’s currently in the wilds of Idaho for the summer, holed up in a small mountain town. We’ve got a cabin up at this place called McCall’s, so I’ll just be floating on the river, walking around the lake, that sort of thing all summer long, he says above the crackling line. Trying to be as secluded as possible, get away from the madness.

That madness could be a lot of political upheaval, the never-ending maelstrom of the news cycle, the slow creeping of artificial intelligence into our daily lives, but today it means a break from filming grueling projects like Beyond the Sea, a standout episode in the sixth season of Netflix Black mirror. That episode, which premiered earlier this month, tells the chilling story of two astronauts, Cliff (Paul) and David (Josh Hartnett), in a 1960s alternate reality where the astronauts have extremely realistic connections on Earth, which allow them to get around. their daily life between maintenance work. When David’s Link is destroyed by a Manson-style cult that also kills his entire family, Cliff, at his wife’s suggestion, allows David to use her, who resides on a remote farm not unlike where Paul currently lives. Predictably, things start to go awry when David falls in love with Cliff’s wife and begins to become entangled in their family, leading to a tragedy that mirrors the one that opens the episode and the two men alone in space.

Creator Charlie Brooker warned that this season of the hit sci-fi show would be its darkest yet, and he didn’t fail to deliver soulful nightmares, true-crime death stories, and the very real demons that populate the Netflix series. However, Beyond the Sea is definitely the most gloomy, and Paul knows it well. Rolling stone talked to the breaking Bad actor on the horrors and promises of space, unplugging, and why AI is more sinister than any other Black mirror episode.

What brought you to the screenplay? How have you been involved in this season?
Oh man, I’ve been wanting to be a part of this world for a while now. I made it very clear that my hand is raised if they ever want to approach me. I have been a fan of Black mirror since it aired in the UK and when they approached me years ago to do the little voiceover in USS. Callister, I begged them to come back to me with another role other than a small part of a scene. And Charlie was really excited that I was a huge fan of the show. We tried to make it last season, but only the scheduling didn’t allow it. And then this landed on my desk out of nowhere, and of course I instantly read it, and of course, here we are.

So what struck you about this episode?
Charlie said thinking of me for it, he wrote it during the lockdown. He seemed very inspired by the isolation. We’ve all been in a bit of isolation for way too long, and I’ve really been fighting back. I read it while in Ojai [California] on my farm, and I don’t know, it felt right.

Do you own a farm? Like a working farm?
Yes. It’s a nut farm. It has been a nut farm for years. But we don’t sell the nuts, we just give them to friends.

So could you actually step into that character’s shoes while living on a farm?
Yes. And I grew up going to farms. Both of my parents grew up on farms in Idaho. Black mirror it’s such a reminder of the dangers of technology. Of course we know this, but there is something about the simple life that I gravitate towards. I love it. The air is fresh, it’s clean. Live off the land, work. There’s just something about this that I love.

Of course, this episode also takes place in space. Were you a big fan of space as a kid?
Oh yeah. I don’t know anyone who isn’t. Growing up, I would go to the mountains and sit in camping chairs staring up at the sky, watching shooting stars and dreaming. And then, as an adult, I always look at the stars. My wife and I will open a bottle of wine and talk about the universe for hours, always trying and guessing and trying to figure out what the hell is going on, but you quickly realize that none of us really know anything, which is also pretty exciting.

Are you one of those people who would go to space if you could, or do you find it terrifying?
No, I’d go in a heartbeat as long as there was a guarantee of being able to return. I’m not one of those crazy people who would just sign up for a one way trip into space and try to colonize some other planet. But there’s something about space that’s just that I’d like to see the curvature of the Earth and see the place we call home from a different angle.

Kate Mara and Aaron Paul in the Black Mirror Beyond the Sea episode.


So the character you played, Cliff, what did you do to put yourself in his shoes? When you first read him on the page, how did you imagine yourself diving into him?
He’s a standoffish guy, so that was an interesting thing. I feel like every time I meet someone, I want to hug them and say hello. I don’t know, I’m a hug and a loving guy. It’s a bit textbook. This is definitely how he was raised. It’s a generational thing and he’s just trying to get into that mindset. Before diving into the on-set stuff, I loved revisiting some of my old favorite sci-fi movies, movies that take place in space and help deal with those kinds of otherworldly stories.

When you were playing Cliff, being in his Link and David being in the Cliff Link, how did you differentiate that? Have you studied Josh Hartnett’s mannerisms?
Yes of course. What I love is that their differences are quite obvious. It seems like David’s house is kind of a beautiful, picture-perfect house. You get an introduction of this guy and he’s drawing his kids sitting on the couch. It appears that he has a very loving and passionate relationship with his wife. Diametrically opposite to the relationship Cliff has with his parents. Not that they both don’t want it, but somewhere he’s started creeping away from them. And they need help with that part of their relationship, that’s for sure.

And then the relationship with him and his son, I think probably mirrors the relationship he had with his father. And I’m sure his father also had a much heavier hand when he raised Cliff. And so Cliff is doing his best, his personal best, but he’s just moving on. I think the difference is Cliff is a little standoffish, very closed off to the outside world, a little uncomfortable in social situations, and he just wants the conversations to end. Where David, he’s very charismatic and outgoing and loving and funny and charming, and that’s very Josh. So I’m just trying to mirror what I learned from that guy.

Were there any mannerisms or gestures you picked up from him? I’m thinking about how David dances with his wife at the beginning of the episode and then David dances with Cliff’s wife AS Cliff towards the end.
Dancing was a very specific thing. We took multiple dance lessons and were there together. Cliff is definitely not a dancer, nor would he ever step onto a dance floor. And so it was nice to be free in Cliff’s body with David pulling the strings.

Which one of you is the better dancer, you or Josh?
Oh, Josh is pretty good. Look, personally, I love being on the dance floor. I don’t shy away from the dance floor. I’m not saying I’m a great dancer by any means. I’m a terrible dancer, but I enjoy doing it. But yeah, it seems to me that we were picking up on the moves pretty soon, but if I’m being honest, maybe he was learning some moves a bit earlier than me.

Josh Hartnett, Aaron Paul and director John Crowley on the set of the Black Mirror episode Beyond the Sea.

Nick Wall/Netflix

So you said this episode was written during lockdown, but what do you think it has to say about what we were afraid of today?
Hate. This specific episode is kind of about the dangers of technology, it’s something that couldn’t be further from the natural world, and they say that in the script. I’m right there with them. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I would join that crazy cult that killed that family. Obviously not. But I feel like there are some really loud alarm bells going off in every direction, and we’ve been in a moment where we could hear them and maybe slow some things down. But we were almost at the point of no return. I think artificial intelligence and all that is very dangerous. Yes, you get great graphics, but when it starts to just take jobs away first and foremost it’s a slippery slope. Be careful what you wish for.

I can somehow understand what the Amish community is all about. You know what I mean? Work with your hands only, love those around you, protect those around you, and stay away from all noise. Every time I get to the mountains, where I am right now, and I breathe this clean air and just be in the middle of nature, there’s something about it.

As an actor, what do you think about artificial intelligence?
Yes, it’s scary. I want to go on set, I want to learn my lines, I want to work with the crew I slowly get to know throughout the season or series or movie. It’s really a collaborative effort to make a project happen.

It’s so hard to make a movie and it’s so hard to make a series. We work grueling hours and it really is a team effort. With AI, you can just slap anyone’s face on those roles, and then the computer will generate something for you. Right now, it’s sort of slapped together. But in a year, in two years, in five years, it will be crazy. None of us will be able to tell what is real and what is not. We’re almost there today. So our technology basically doubles every two years, so who knows what’s around the corner?

So, I don’t want to keep you too long your vacation, but I’m curious: what are your feelings about life on other planets?
I think it’s pretty narrow-minded to think we’re the end of everything, everything. It’s pretty crazy. But do I think we’ve been visited by aliens? Who knows? I wish it were like that, but I think our imagination is very big and our minds can play fun games with us.


There have been numerous times where I’ve told myself, it must be a UFO. So it’s a SpaceX rocket and it’s not. Or I’m like, Oh, that’s a UFO, and that’s the satellite that Elon is launching into space. I certainly don’t think we are alone. With the new James Webb Telescope, they have just discovered a black hole that is 40 times the size of the sun. It’s crazy to think about it.

You weren’t kidding about being some kind of space nerd, were you?
Oh yeah. Come on, everyone should put their phones down and look up.

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