BY ALICIA LUTES
So—we’re all watching and loving Mr. Robot, right? Sam Esmail’s brilliant thriller series has had the whole of the Internet talking since its premiere, and last Wednesday night’s episode blew open the gates on not only the possibility, but interconnectivity of the show’s storylines. Naturally, we all sort of lost our gourds over it and knew we had to debrief with the cast immediately—especially Darlene (Carly Chaikin) and Angela (Portia Doubleday), who’ve come so far in a scant eight episodes. Luckily, the ladies were more than willing to spend some time chatting with us about the resonance of the show’s themes, the very real threat of hacking, and just how WTFOMGHOLYCATS that particular reveal from “eps1.7_wh1ter0se.m4v” was when it happened. Needless to say, if you’re not caught up run away from this post now because it contains seriously major spoilers.
For the rest of you? Fall down the rabbit hole with us, won’t you?
Nerdist: Okay so Mr. Robot‘s world is one that’s not only crazy and labyrinthine but also so resonant with the times.
Portia Doubleday: Yeah, that’s the response we’ve been getting a lot. One of the things I really gravitate to when we’re shooting is the stuff about society today and technology. We’re so dependent on technology for instant gratification and I don’t know if that makes us more lonely or more connected as people. I remember being in New York City on the subway and looking around realizing 90% of people are on their phones. Like you’re within two inches of someone and yet you don’t have any connections with any of these people.
I mean, Elliot is basically invisible and yet he’s around people constantly, and that dichotomy was really interesting to me when I was reading the script. All of that stuff—the therapy scenes and the counterfeit heroes and constantly wanting to escape reality—I can identify with that and I think so many others do, too. And then you start thinking about Facebook and Instagram and you realize that basically we get to create an image of ourselves that’s not real. People get to watch our lives but we get to control what people watch and see. And it makes it seem intimate. So when I read the script I immediately thought, “Wow, this guy is really onto something.”
When we were shooting the episodes we kind of felt we were ahead of the time. Like, it’s dealing with a lot of the issues we’re going to have in the next 10 years—like the societal and warfare issues. We spend more time with our phones than we do other human beings. And what’s so cool about the hacking stuff on the show is that everything is real. Everything is happening as you watch it. There’s no green screen, we actually have someone doing it exactly how it would happen as it happens. Sam kept everything pretty realistic.
Nerdist: Speaking of controlled vision: the reveal in “White Rose” had everyone I know going “wait whaaaaaaaa—”!
Carly Chaikin: Well I knew from the beginning that I was his sister. From the very, very beginning Rami [Malek, who plays Elliot] and I both knew—Christian [Slater], Portia [Doubleday] and I all knew, pretty much. All I knew, though, was that Sam [told me], “Yeah he tries to kiss you and then you’re like, ‘I’m your sister.'” So I didn’t know how that was going to play out, or any details or anything, so I’d been waiting for episode 8 to see how it happened. It was exciting to see it, for real, in the script. There’s so much craziness that happens and it’s so hard to keep it in. Especially with something like that. People would say to me, “OK how do you fit into the show? Why are you so weird?” and all I could say was, “Well, you’ll see.”
Nerdist: Was it hard to navigate that—leaving clues but not projecting that you knew the twist—while still bringing a fully realized Darlene to the scene?
CC: Really, the way I played it is like he’s my brother and he knows it. Because how could he not know it, you know? It was just a natural brother/sister relationship. Like in episode two when we’re on the subway and Elliot says, “How do you know where I live?” And I gave him a look like, “Why wouldn’t I know where you live?” But because nobody knew and were seeing it through a different set of eyes, it wasn’t something that necessarily read as that.
Nerdist: What was it like getting into this project in the beginning?
PD: When we were making it, I think all of us kinda knew. Every week would continually blow our minds because a lot of it is so unpredictable and last week can attest to that. [laughs] It’s been so exciting to see how engaged people are and how they’re responding to it, because some of it’s quite dense—especially the hacking aspect of it. But I think that what’s been so exciting is how much people relate to the material and the the themes in the show, which I think is so relevant especially to our generation.
CC: It was absolutely insane. After [reading] Elliot’s opening monologue my jaw just dropped and I was like, “Holy shit!” After I finished reading the pilot I slammed my computer shut and screamed, “What happens?!” I was freaking out. They sent it to me originally to read for Angela, actually, so I was reading it with that in mind, ‘cuz Darlene only had like two lines in the pilot. So when they asked me to read for her, too, they sent me some scenes from episode two, but it was hard and kinda scary going into something with zero idea of what the character was going to be like, because I only saw the tiniest snippet of her. But this project is just so unbelievably incredible that I didn’t care—I just wanted to be a part of it in any way. I was just so beyond excited and knew that what we had was something incredibly special.
Nerdist: And Darlene has developed in such an interesting way; there’s something so electric about her, which is a huge departure from what most people know you for—your character on Suburgatory.
CC: Actually, my favorite story is that Sam had watched Suburgatory and Susie Farris [who did casting], gave Sam the name of people she thought should come in and I was on the list. And Sam was like, “Absolutely not, are you kidding? She’s so not right for this character that’s not what I want, no way!” He was trying to get her to take me off the list but she was like, “Just trust me and watch her.” And then I came in and that was it. Sam told me that story later while we were at South By Southwest and I loved it.
Nerdist: It must be fun to subvert people’s expectations like that.
CC: This is totally a character I’ve always wanted to play: to play someone who’s so free gives you a lot of freedom, but at the same time we did have to find the balance between her being loud and abrasive and not really giving a shit, and her —as you see in the season’s progress—a more grounded and real side than what we saw in the beginning.
Nerdist: I’ve loved Angela’s evolution, too, and how her involvement’s grown in this situation. She’s sort of the White Knight of the show. At least for now.
PD: It’s been a very slow progression. There’s been so many moments where, in the beginning, she was naive and hopeful. What Elliot and her share is this idea that they can change the course of society—they just go about it in very different ways. At first we meet her and she’s innocent, but slowly she’s compromised by going after what she wants. And we see it in that scene with Shayla when she says, “You need to start worrying about you instead of everyone else.” So she emancipates herself from this image and illusion and goes rogue—and you slowly see that. And it’s totally not done by the way, there’s a lot more to come.
Nerdist: And I have a sneaking suspicion that all of this means it’s not going to end the way she wants it to be.
PD: Well, she doesn’t think about the consequences of those actions on Allsafe and Gideon, and in a way she’s compromising their lives because of what she thinks is right. To me, what’s most exciting, is putting it into the audience’s hands and asking them what they would do. Like, would you go after Evil Corp if it meant compromising all of these people’s jobs? I think that’s what the show does really well, is proposing those question for all of the characters. What is the best alternative? Whether or not they’re selfish or altruistic—those questions really intrigue me about everyone’s arc and inevitably how they all weave together at the end.
Nerdist: There is always going to be something great about vigilante justice and the hacking does just that, but what Angela’s doing, going after Evil Corp, is perhaps the more logical path.
PD: One of my favorite moments from the show is the scene between Angela and Terry Colby when he completely devalues her and she comes back with the response of, basically, “You can go through with not taking this deal but inevitably you won’t have what you want most, which is respect and power.” Because that’s what she can identify with—and inevitably that changes his mind. Those two characters are very analogous though, which is interesting because he’s monstrous. In the next scene when she talks about her mother’s death, though, he has a moment of reflection and is humanized—[which is] interesting because we’re humanizing evil.
Nerdist: And when I see those twists and the full scale of the unreliability of the narrator, I find myself falling down speculative rabbit holes.
PD: That’s so funny, I was talking to Carly about this last night and she said, “I don’t want to know what happens,” but I can’t help but think about it. And your guess is as good as mine: I don’t know what’s going to come out of Sam’s head. I was just going to text Sam today and say, “I have a couple hypothesis and theories about what he’s going to do,” but I have no idea. No idea. The show is so unpredictable but it always lands, and it’s not that far-fetched, which makes it even more tantalizing. I go on spells for 30 minutes and say, “Well maybe I’m his…daughter” or something. I don’t know!
N: It’s the perfect time for something like this to come out, too. Darlene’s line about there not being a middle class anymore and how corporations function within our society makes it so extra-relevant. And it makes the realities of what hacking does all the more present.
PD: I mean, not that I have enough information to theorize that this is what’s going to happen, but I think that in the next 10 years, it’s going to be a very prevalent issue. Because you can hack anything, I mean you can hack into the navy. And being able to do that, I think warfare’s going to be completely compromised because we’re owned by technology. If you can hack someone’s privacy, you own them—I think there’s something very frightening about that.
Nerdist: It’s a terrifying game-changer in the same way as the atomic bomb was in ’45.
PD: And we’re already seeing it! Even though it was a studio—the Sony hack—someone was in their system for a year. We spoke to this hacker before doing the show and he was sort of explaining what that world was like and he said that hacker was in there for a year before they even know. And you can’t get rid of them once they’re in. There’s no way to know if they’re completely gone. And what happens if someone’s able to harness that information? That’s pretty scary.
Nerdist: And it’s so easy.
PD: So easy! And the other thing that’s so unpredictable about hacking is it’s not like you can study it. It’s not like, “this is how you hack.” It starts with one person’s email and then you find someone else’s and then you have ten others. But you just collect information. That’s why used hard drives are more expensive than new ones, because there’s information you can’t get rid of on them and hackers just want to accumulate as much information as possible. I definitely bought a new computer—even though I know that’s not going to do anything—because I was pretty freaked out during the show. But supposedly 60% of people are hacked and they can watch you from your computer.
Nerdist: God I would be so paranoid after working on this show.
PD: I was really paranoid for awhile because that’s the thing: we don’t really have privacy anymore. So after I realized that, it was like, “OK, I need to be more careful about what I choose to record, what I put into my computer.” And there’s something sad about that—that we can’t be as private as we want to be anymore. It’s too easy for people to access your information.
Honestly, I was hacked a lot since the show started and I don’t get it, because a lot of my stuff is really boring. But hey if you want to look at pictures of my dog, have at it. There’s something really unnerving and unsettling about someone being able to be in your personal space. It’s so invasive, them being able to watch you.
Nerdist: It’s as unnerving as watching the show itself.
PD: Well just keep watching these last two episodes. You won’t be able to predict anything, especially with my character. She’s still very much progressing. She’s still changing, kind of drastically. And there’s definitely more answers.
Are you watching Mr. Robot? Let us know your thoughts about that big reveal in the comments!
Image Credit: USA Network