Mind Awake, Body Asleep – A Mr Robot Conversation With Sam Esmail And Courtney Looney

  Photo: Danielle Mick

Photo: Danielle Mick

BY DANIELLE MICK & RICH JOHNSTON

[Adult Language Warning]

I arrived at book con at 12:07 for the 3:30 Mr. Robot panel and I was surprisingly not alone. What I loved most about standing in that line with my new mom and dad (love you guys!) and entire line of siblings was the fact that this show kept us entertained for the three-something hours we were all there together. We became a little fsociety family, happily discussing plot points, characterization, and any behind the scenes information we managed get our hands on. Needless to say, we commandeered the front row from others, freaked out about our free fsociety t-shirts, and took pictures of absolutely everything.

However, there ARE spoilers from the first and second seasons of Mr. Robot ahead, so read with caution if you are not up to date. Actually, no. What are you doing? Stop reading this. Go watch!

Sam Esmail and Courtney Looney (who looked absolutely beautiful) sat down in their chairs and provided no spoilers for the upcoming season. Minus one little tidbit of information involving Leon, a character who is “one to look out for in season three.” The pair made sure that the conversation was focused on the release of the book, Red Wheelbarrow. The title of the book derives from a William Carlos Williams poem of the same name, which has been mentioned subtly in the first season, and upfront in the second during the final moments with Tyrell, who is very much not dead. The book explores the 30 day period between the first and second seasons of Mr. Robot, with a little overlap into the prison-centric episodes in the latter. Sam Esmail assured us that the book is not necessary for the show. They are linked, but one does not require the other. However, he did give us advice: “read the book and rewatch season two.”

Red Wheelbarrow is not just the ramblings of an insane man– okay, it absolutely is, but there’s more than just that. There is a real, developed story written in the pages, complete with NSFW drawings, tucked away papers, and the actual handwriting of both Rami Malek and Christian Slater. We know for a fact that nothing on Mr. Robot is accidental. We know that his journal was tossed into Hot Carla’s fire. How is it in our possession now? We have Hot Carla to thank for that. When asked about the relationship between Carla and Elliot, both guests informed us that we will discover that within Red Wheelbarrow from both perspectives. Courtney Looney was absolutely thrilled to be able to write for the character once again: “I have a bit of a soft spot for Hot Carla. She is in awe of Elliot, but she is under no delusion that he is perfect. She has such great respect for Elliot and wants him to find what it is he’s searching for.” The actress who played Hot Carla, Eve Lindey, will actually be doing voice work for the audiobook, which is information that Esmail might have dropped too early, as he frantically looked at his team and questioned, “Am I allowed to say that?”

We all know that Mr. Robot is an enigma. Watching the show is like standing an inch from a painting and slowly taking steps back to reveal the full picture. You can make guesses and write theories, but the final product isn’t always what you expect. The fans of the show are determined to figure out everything, though, which is something that creator/head writer Sam Esmail applauds. “We didn’t think you’d figure it [the prison twist] out that fast.  Like damn, it was the first episode. This is f-cking cool, man. You’re taking screenshots and analyzing shit and writing a whole f-cking thesis on it. We definitely invite that.”

As Elliot’s friend, we have a real relationship with the character. It’s not just a gimmick. Esmail said it best himself, “There are half-truths, there are going to be lies, there are going to be complications, especially with him feeling betrayed in the first season.” During the second season, we were told everything that he wanted to tell us. In Red Wheelbarrow, we are getting an unfiltered version of Elliot Alderson. We are really in his head. We aren’t getting the reprogrammed version. We are getting streams of consciousness (and co-consciousness) and long diatribes of thought, including more than one character. Rami and Christian couldn’t be there, but they did record the pair of them reading a bit of the book, which was absolutely fascinating. When asked if they feel like they know Elliot better now that they’ve dived into his mind, Esmail responded with a hearty chuckle and a “well, he’s f-cked up, Josh.”

  Photo: Danielle Mick

Photo: Danielle Mick

When it was time to let the fans take the reigns, questions quickly turned show-centered. The question that was given the longest answer was one of setting. Everyone seemed to be in agreement that New York City is it’s own character and there was a huge amount of pressure to “get it right” because there is nothing worse than skyline shots and “going somewhere cheaper. I’m sorry, Toronto just doesn’t have crazy people like New York.” All scenes that were set in the city were filmed in the city. That means, yes, they actually filmed in Coney Island, a notable pain in the ass to get to, but Esmail believe the travel time added something to it. The fsociety headquarters is actually Eldorado, a part of Coney Island that is rich in history. Romero (RIP) touched on it briefly in the beginning of an episode in season two.

Unbeknownst to me, Mr. Robot started originally as a feature length film. When he began writing the supporting characters, however, he fell in love with them. (First with Darlene, then Tyrell, Angela followed). He wanted a chance to flesh them all out. In season two, we had an entire episode that was dedicated to these “secondary” characters, without Mr. Robot or Elliot. In other character related news, the Dominique DiPierro we know and love is not the original idea. She was initially much older, nearing retirement. It was the open call of the audition where Grace Gummer blew it out of the water and changed Dom’s course in the show. Looney was asked if it was hard to get back into the swing of writing Tyrell due to his lack of physical action in the majority of the second season. Her response? “Tyrell is always kind of looming and it was nice to bring him back, just like it was nice, hopefully, for him to come back.”

There were a few other quotable moments that I just have to mention:

[about Justice for Flipper]Fan: “What happened to Flipper?”Esmail: “That bastard took Flipper back.”

[about the fiasco at Lupe’s]Esmail: “I’m a huge fan of long takes because you can just do it and move on. If the first take is amazing, we can go home, and that’s crazy.”

[about his first “real” hack]Esmail: “You know what you should care about? Not caring.”

[about the show in general]Fan: “Is there anything more subtle that we haven’t picked up on?”Esmail: “Yes.”Fan: “Is that all we get?”Esmail: “Yeah.”Fan: “Do you have an endgame in mind?”Esmail: “For the whole series?”Fan: “Yes.”Esmail: “Yes.”Fan: “Thank you.”Fan: “Will we ever see Fernando Vera again?”Esmail: “Do you really think I’m going to answer that question?”

The intimacy of the venue and the down-to-Earth personalities of Courtney Looney and Sam Esmail made this panel my absolute favorite thus far. It’ll be a hard one to beat.

That being said, I was one of the first 150 people in line and I had the opportunity to get a copy of Red Wheelbarrow a whole month in advance. I’ve only flipped through the book, but I plan on settling down and reading it all in one setting as soon as comic con is over. I’ll report back with new information and potential spoilers as soon as I can.

http://www.bleedingcool.com/2016/10/08/mind-awake-body-asleep-a-mr-robot-conversation-with-sam-esmail-and-courtney-looney/