BY ORIANA SCHWINDT
Spoilers ahead for those who haven't seen the August 19 Mr. Robot.
It'll be hard for USA's tech thriller Mr. Robot to top the reveals of the last two episodes: The titular Mr. Robot (Christian Slater) is not only the father of hacker vigilante Elliot Alderson (Rami Malek)—and Darlene (Carly Chaiken) is Elliot's sister—he's also very much a delusion conjured up by poor Elliot, as the real Elder Alderson died years ago. But the season finale isn't until next week, so there's bound to be more delirious twistedness in store. Will the reeling Elliot be able to bring down Evil Corp, the massive Enron-like conglomerate with tentacles in just about every financial pie around the globe? Even if their efforts prove less than successful, Elliot and Co. will have another chance, given that a second season is forthcoming. Malek and Slater called us up to talk Elliot's trauma, musical theater and what not to use as a password.
How far ahead did you guys know about the Tyler Durden-ish deal?
Slater: For me, I sat down with [creator] Sam Esmail at our first meeting, and I asked him straight-out, look, just from the pilot, I was suspicious of this being a possibility. And he confirmed it, and I kind of threw my hands up in the air and was like, "YES! THANK GOD!" That was exactly what I wanted it to be, I wanted to be right. And I was so happy he was going in that same direction. And then he told me more stuff that I didn't see—what the whole journey was going to be—and that got me even more excited.
Rami, did that change the way you interacted with the Mr. Robot character?
Malek: It did and it didn't. That's a vague answer, but there's an aspect of Elliot not realizing it, so I thought, why pay any attention to it in the first place? Why not make it as real as anything else, and have that come back to haunt him later on? That would make the most impact on his evolution as a character, and what would be most surprising and dangerous for him, would be the shattering thought or realization that something so vibrant and visceral was just a figment of his imagination.
Slater: Yeah, based on a total delusion. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
What was your first meeting like?
Malek: We met maybe 24 to 48 hours before shooting our first scene, where we ride the Ferris wheel at Coney Island. I’ve always had an affinity for his work, and when I first saw him, I was like, “Man, he hasn’t changed at all!”
Slater: The next time we saw each other, they threw us both in the [Wonder Wheel] cage with the camera, and we ended up spending eight hours with each other.
In an age of so many TV antiheroes, it’s nice to see that Elliot and Mr. Robot are a little more Robin Hood than Walter White.
Slater: Though, like Breaking Bad, Mr. Robot certainly provides that kind of character exploration. You get to go deeply into Elliot’s psyche, his loneliness and despair, and the pain he’s gone through. And you can see how it manifests. But the Walter White story was very dark. I think ours is a little more of an uplifting journey. Elliot’s gotta recover.
The mechanics of hacking on the show are surprisingly accurate, but that’s not the only reflection of the real world.
Slater: You see an episode and then watch the news and see these things are actually taking place. It’s weird when you look at the real world and see, say, what’s happening in Greece or Wall Street being hacked and the New York Stock Exchange is shut down.
Malek: I feel like it’s giving people a voice. They feel this weight they have to carry, these massive student loans or other debt. It’s become alienating for a lot of people, and the show allows some of us to stand up and say, “Maybe we can do something about this. Maybe now is the time.”
Have you become more tech-savvy as a result of playing these characters?
Slater: A little bit! I have teenagers, and while the Internet is a powerful tool, it’s a parent’s responsibility to pay close attention to what your kids are doing. We’re living in a very exposed society. Everything that gets typed and photographed is downloaded onto some database, and anybody at any time can look at it anywhere. Like the show says: Privacy is a myth.
Malek: It blows my mind how willing we are as a society to just float some of our most personal effects out into the ether. “Here are pictures of me and my father when I was a baby!”—for the entire world to see! I wonder if people are going to regret that one day.
Slater: Also, update your passwords as often as possible. Do not use your pets’ names. That’s the kiss of death.
This is a pretty intense series; have you been doing anything to unwind before starting Season 2?
Malek: People have been asking, “What film are you going to do in between?” And I’m like, “I’ve finished about 10 of them!”
Slater: I just did Spamalot at the Hollywood Bowl, and the opportunity to do that—as intense as it was, since you’ve only got eight to 10 days to put it together—was such a phenomenally different tone to what Rami and I had been doing. It was a good break.
Rami, have you ever done musical theater? Will we be getting a musical episode next season?
Malek: Oh, no. No, no. [Laughs]
Slater: Well, Sam did come to see the show, and he got a kick out of the whole experience! I could see the wheels turning. If I get the opportunity to sing to Rami, “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” would be pretty fun, no doubt about it.
Malek: In between takes at least.
Slater: I've actually set it as my alarm ringtone. It was so great and uplifting I was like, "This is how I want to wake up in the morning." And now I hear that and I wake up feeling pretty good. It's very helpful. I recommend it.
Malek: I used to wake up next to this girl I was dating, and her alarm was, "Every day I'm hustlin', hustlin'"...
Is that what ended the relationship?
Malek: It may have played a small part… [Laughs]
Rami, I know you've done your share of on-set pranks, like Vaseline-ing Portia Doubleday's dressing room phone. Did you ever mess with Christian?
Malek: Did I ever screw with Christian? Noooooo.
Slater: [Laughs] He couldn't get into my dressing room because Fish was there.
Malek: Christian has a dog named Fish that takes about 20 meetings before he'll even think about coming near you. Great guard dog.
Slater: Fish would not allow anybody in there. So none of that stuff ever occurred.
Christian, you’ve had some bad luck in recent years with other TV series. How does it feel to be on one that looks to have a longer life?
Slater: I loved all those other experiences and those people, but it’s definitely preferable. [Laughs] Getting the opportunity to shoot the pilot in New York and being in Coney Island and these locations was fantastic. But there was no guarantee that we were going to shoot there for good, so when they said, “No, we’ll continue in New York,” I couldn’t believe it. And then when they picked it up for a second season before the pilot even aired, I said to Rami, “This doesn’t happen! This is unbelievable!”
Malek: I remember you saying that. That stuck with me for a while. And, I think it was the next day, we were doing a scene where I hold you out a window, and I thought about everything that had to happen to get to that moment, and I just felt really fortunate.
Mr. Robot, Season finale, Wednesday, August 26, 10/9c, USA