The Circle boss explains how they got two Spice Girls to play as catfish
Warning: This article contains spoilers about Wednesday's season 4 premiere of The Circle.
At the end of the season 4 premiere of Netflix's social media reality competition series, two Spice Girls legends, Emma Bunton and Melanie "Mel B" Brown, strutted down the neon-lit hallway to enter their own isolated apartment and play the game together. But they're not going into The Circle as a celebrity profile like last season's Lance Bass catfish. Instead, they're entering the game as an unassuming catfish profile under the name Jared, and have no intention of actually playing to win. Their secret mission within the game is to fool the majority of their fellow players into thinking they're not a catfish, and as a result, the prize money will increase to $150,000.
"When the [season 4 trailer] went out, everyone started speculating, and I'm really excited for everyone to find out they're actually playing the game," The Circle executive producer Toni Ireland tells EW. "We were so lucky to get them because they're just absolute icons that transcend generations. They're worldwide superstars and they're so much fun, and that's what the show's all about. And they were totally up for the game."
Below, EW got Ireland to spill all the details on how they got the Spice Girls to join The Circle as catfish, as well as what goes into assembling the perfect cast of social media experts.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Where did the idea come from to have Emma and Mel B enter The Circle?
TONI IRELAND: Obviously it's season 4 now, and we want to go bigger and better every year. It's always fun to have a big season opener, and we did something similar a few years ago on the U.K. Circle where we had a celebrity guest, but we took it bigger and better for this one. We started brainstorming ideas, and we loved the idea of a pair playing the game. It gives you so much more. And then genuinely, the first people that came to mind [were] Mel and Emma. We knew that Emma had posted on Instagram before that she liked show, so we thought, "Perfect, let's reach out to her," and then we spoke to Mel. It was so exciting because they instantly wanted to hear more, and Mel was the fan of the show as well. We wanted to explain a bit more and pitch the show to them and they didn't take much convincing. They were both up for it straight away, really. We couldn't believe our luck.
How did you pitch their role on the show to them?
We just said, "Would you like to come on and play the game?", which they were up for. They really wanted to come in as players and wanted the immersive experience of being in The Circle. We explained how they would be a catfish. We loved that idea that a celebrity or celebrities could have complete anonymity in The Circle and they could play along without anybody knowing that they were there. The Circle is all about fun and warmth and humor, and having them involved would just be brilliant. We knew that we wanted to reveal them to the other players at a certain point and we'd have a really fun game and twist worked out for them. The whole plan was that they would never stay for the duration, and they didn't want to be in the chance of winning or anything like that. They were just special guests there to create a bit of mischief, which is exactly what they did. And actually, it coincided with the fact that it turned out we had a cast of Spice Girls fans. We honestly couldn't believe it. We were watching the stories unfold like "hashtag spicy" and we were all like, "This is so perfect."
Why did you have them play as catfish and not as themselves, like the opposite of last season's celebrity profile Lance Bass who turned out to be a catfish?
We knew from the start. We thought it would be much more fun. We wanted them to be tested as well and they were totally up for that. What other show can you go on and celebrities can pretend to be someone else and nobody knows? They're hidden behind a screen, and they wanted the challenge. They loved the challenge of creating a character and what was so brilliant, which I love watching, is that Emma might make a decision that Mel disagreed with about the character or vice versa, so it was watching them work out how to create this character and how to play the game in order to be successful.
I definitely got a kick out of seeing two of the Spice Girls just living together in an apartment. That was so surreal.
What was so wonderful is that you got to see two Spice Girls in a domestic setting as well, which was just brilliant to begin with, and then you have them also playing the game. They got on so well. They were a pleasure to have on the show. Everything you see is exactly how it was. They were just a joy. They were so much fun and they had such a laugh together and it was great to hear all the tour stories that they were talking about. It felt really special, didn't it? And as a Spice Girls fan myself, I was like, "I can't believe I'm watching this."
Did they get any special treatment in their Circle apartment?
They were treated exactly the same as everybody else. That's what they wanted and that's what we wanted as well. They cooked for themselves. They had their time on the roof — because I'm sure as you're aware, moving all the contestants around that building is like a military operation so nobody ever bumps into each other. They all have different times when they can go to the roof and enjoy that time, and they were exactly the same. There was no special treatment.
What do you look for when you cast the rest of the contestants? What makes someone a great Circle player?
We always pride ourselves on a really inclusive cast and we want to have a cast from all different walks of life and different backgrounds, different ages. That's what we're always looking for. It's a tough gig being a contestant on The Circle sometimes — you're in a room on your own, so you've got to be able to entertain yourself. A perfect Circle contestant is a master communicator, because the whole game is about communication that's via text message, so it's slightly different because people can't take social cues, body language. It's all about having that brilliant chat on text and speaking to lots of different people and connecting with lots of different people, and that's what we look for within our cast.
When you're in the casting process, do you have potential contestants have sample text conversations with you to gauge how they'd communicate in the game?
Sometimes we do, yes, when we get to our casting finals. We have a brilliant casting team and it's about three or four months that we spend casting the show. Lots of people apply to the show. We also do outreach to people. We make sure that we're representing all across the United States and we suggest people apply, and then we have an audition process where we audition them and we meet them and find out what they're about.
How do you go about picking catfish?
We try to get a good balance because we have a pool of contestants that we choose from. We bring more contestants to the U.K. [where The Circle films] than we use, because we never know who's going to be blocked from the show. We always have a pool of contestants ready to go in depending on who's been blocked so we like to get a good mix of people. You can't start the show with too many catfish because it could be totally confusing to someone watching if there's eight catfish in there. If everyone's got dual personalities, then that's even more difficult to track. We try and get a good balance of maybe like a third [of the cast] is catfish or something like that.
What makes someone a good catfish to add to the cast?
The catfish we put in, we always like to try and make sure that they're going to be good at it, because it's a lot of pressure being a catfish. You are constantly lying and hiding behind a fake persona. I do think that some of the best catfish can be rooted in someone that they know. That can always be a good place to start, but some of our most successful have completely invented the character and they've been brilliant at it. Keeping notes is always a good tip for catfish so they don't get caught and forget what they said to one person and then people put the clues together and then they get busted.
Have you ever had someone apply as a catfish and you convinced them to play as themselves, or vice versa?
No, it's always down to them to play the game how they want to play it because ultimately they're going to have to do that in the room. It's entirely up to them how they choose to play it.
Once the season is cast and the game begins, do you try and predict who is going to win?
I have never called the correct winner in my entire time on the show. You have no idea how things are going to go and how well people are going to do. Some people that you think are really good and really outgoing and bubbly and great in social situations might not be able to connect across a screen, and other people are just absolutely natural at it. So you can never call it.
What are you most excited for people to see from this season?
There's a very good catfish in this season who did really, really well. It's anyone's game. You presume sometimes there can be this sort of OG mentality of the opening cast, but actually you can do just as well being a late arrival too. There [are] some brilliant characters and brilliant surprises and twists and excellent game players in there. It's a great ride.
This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.
The first four episodes of The Circle season 4 are now streaming on Netflix, with new episodes debuting each week before the finale on Wednesday, May 25.
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