BY SHARON CLOTT KANTER
Mr. Robot is one of the best shows of the summer. It’s rare that this hot season delivers such an insane drama, but here it is. The USA network show focuses on Elliot Alderson (hauntingly played by Rami Malek), a mentally unstable and ridiculously talented cyber-security tech by day and morphine-addicted hacker by night, and what happens when he gets roped into a hacking community that's plotting to take down one of the biggest corporate conglomerates in the world. Christian Slater stars as the titular character, Mr. Robot. You question who he is and his motives throughout the season, and by episode nine, you finally find out. It’s a slow, steady burn full of twists and revelations. The payoff is worth it.
This show is made for people who love TV. It’s like Breaking Bad, but with tech being the threat and the danger. It’s smart and perfect for anyone who likes to dissect each scene and figure out what certain interactions mean. (No wonder it has a 97% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.) You’ll be surprised to find yourself sympathizing with a delusional hacker, and you’ll root for him, too. The same goes for the auxiliary characters—people who are just trying to make ends meet, like the loveable drug dealer named Shayla (Frankie Shaw), the aspiring career girl Angela (Portia Doubleday), the attitude-filled hacker Darlene (Carly Chaikin), the legit out-of-his-mind wannabe corporate CTO Tyrell (Martin Wallström).
On Thursday night, Malek and Slater convened at the Crosby Street Hotel in New York City to discuss the show at a screening and Q&A for the Screen Actors Guild Foundation. Malek talks and fidgets the way his character does, we noticed. Slater was as engaging and convincing as Mr. Robot. No wonder their performances are so resounding.
Scroll down to see what they revealed about the show, their methods, and what you can expect from the season finale, airing Wednesday, August 26 at 10 pm EST on USA.
So, this is why Rami Malek took the role…
“I read the opening monologue and I connected with [Elliot],” Malek said. “I connected with what he had to say and the feelings he was having. I felt like he could be really relatable and there was a number of things going on with Elliot that scared me, and things that surprised me. I knew we had a piece of art on our hands that could transcend entertainment.”
Slater is compelled by the overarching themes of the show.
“The Sony hack definitely brought [hacking] to people’s attention certainly brought it much more to the forefront,” said Slater. “You could really see what a small group of people could do to a huge corporation conglomerate. The next thing you know, the President was talking about it at the State of the Union and it is becoming more and more prevalent. A show like this brings even more attention to the dangers of what a small group of people can do.”
Malek is drawn to the social media, cyber attack, and classicism themes in the series.
“This [show] is so relevant to what is happening, especially the idea of this tension between great connectivity and great loneliness. Are these things driving us apart? Is being on Facebook actually allowing us to access human beings in a more connected way? Or is it distancing us? Also, the next attack people think is going to be not one of human warfare but a cyber attack. We also address issues like classicism, monetary debts and the amounting debt that we all have. As enthralling and engaging as this show is, and as special and entertaining as it is and keeps your mind bending, it is also addressing things that we all have gripes with and maybe hopefully calling us to some sort of social action.”
Malek hired a typing tutor and a psychologist to prep.
“I got a typing tutor because I wanted to be as quick as possible and nimble with the fingers, as tedious as it was,” Malek noted. “Also, I like preparing from a psychological standpoint identifying with the guy, learning about him. I actually hired a psychologist to talk to. I told [creator Sam Esmail] and he ended up hiring one for the show. We are trying to be as accurate as possible. We are trying to bring that to every aspect of the show and that is very much part of the psychology and Mr. Robot’s as well.”
To film the scenes when Elliot’s listening to a voice in his head, Malek listens to a girl.
“I have an ear wig in, which feels like a spying device,” Malek explained. “I’ll get the voiceover [fed to me in my ear]. For the pilot, I memorized all of the voice-overs. I had never been in that situation before so I knew it backwards and forwards. At first, Sam tried speaking in my ear those lines. I was like this could be perfect but right now it sucks. Instead, there is a production assistant named Sarah who was magnetic. I had always envisioned the voice in my head to be a female voice. So when I asked her about it, she lit up and said yes. She’s been terrific. There is a moment where I asked her to yell into my ear because it was a particularly different type of voiceover, which you will come to find out. I took the ear wig out and it was covered in blood and I was like okay maybe I am taking this too far.”
Malek has learned how to turn Elliot on and off.
“There is a pleasure in turning him off because he is so different from me that when I turn him off it is easier to shut off in a way because there is a big discrepancy,” said Malek. “For me, it is like that guy is very entirely different human being and because he is so different, I can walk away from it a little bit easier.”
Slater said filming the season finale was emotionally taxing.
“In this episode, we are going to unnamed location that I was particularly nervous about in the city,” said Slater. “I was scared to death about that one. It was one where you just feel the fear but you do it anyway. So I went to that location every day until we shot that scene. I wanted to get comfortable. That was difficult.”
Malek chimed in: “I remember the scene that he was talking about. I found myself gravitating to the monitor to watch what he was doing because it was like why wait until it airs when I can watch it right now?”