BY EMILY TANNENBAUM
When I sit down with Carly Chaikin in a cozy conference room at the ELLE.com offices, she's vibrant and energized, just having filmed a video with Mr. Robot co-star Portia Doubleday. "I love games," the 27-year-old exclaims. "When I first saw Celebrity Family Feud, I literally, in all caps, emailed my team and was like, 'WHY AM I NOT ON THIS?'"
Compared to someone who's skipped her morning coffee (me), she's downright peppy—although, actually, "peppy" is probably the last word anyone would use to describe Chaikin. Despite her genuinely warm, enthusiastic presence, there's something inherently laid-back about the actress. Maybe it's a character bleed; Chaikin plays Darlene, the sardonic, chain-smoking, sharp-tongued sister of protagonist Elliot Alderson (Rami Malek) on the Emmy-winning USA network series.
When we first meet Darlene, Elliot, a drug-addicted hacker hell-bent on taking down the giant, mysterious E Corp, is in the throes of a severe psychotic break. We don't discover that the hard-edged hacker is his sister until he attempts to kiss her on a bench in Coney Island, having forgotten all about her. That surprising moment was arguably a bigger shock to audiences than when Mr. Robot (Christian Slater) was revealed to be Elliot's alter ego, taking the form of his dead father. Now, Darlene's a reluctant informant for the FBI, torn between protecting her brother and family from them, while keeping them safe from the nefarious Dark Army, who murdered her boyfriend and crew of hackers in a slew of gunfire and twisted circumstances.
However, it's not just Darlene's moral ambiguity and devil-may-care attitude that solidify her as one of the show's most interesting characters. Darlene has gradually evolved from the most aloof, flighty character, verging on manic punk-rock dream girl (with heart-shaped sunglasses to match), to the emotional crux of the show, holding both her brother and close friend Angela (Portia Doubleday) together in the wake of the massive E Corp explosion, while falling apart herself.
Chaikin spoke to ELLE.com about just how much she knows about the show's twists, sexual harassment in Hollywood, and why the dystopian Mr. Robot is the last safe haven from Trump. Plus, watch Chaikin and co-star Portia Doubleday respond to some of the most absurd Mr. Robot fan theories below.
Have you read any fan theories that really blew your mind?
There's one that says Darlene is going to die in a plane crash. Someone tweeted it to me from Reddit—people were voting and that was one of the highest voted. But I was like, Where are they getting a plane from?
I saw that one! Apparently, you’re in one scene where a kid is playing with a plane. And when Darlene is confronting Cisco [Michael Drayer] in his apartment, there’s some sort of model plane over your head.
Holy shit. This is what’s so fascinating to me about our show. Everything’s that’s there is there for a reason, so it makes people observe and look at everything very closely. What other show are people like, “There was a plane in the background of this one scene and then this scene, so that must mean XYZ”? There are so many things that [Sam Esmail, the creator of Mr. Robot] does that I don’t even notice. Like in season one, Mr. Robot’s scarf was always on the back of Elliot’s door! I was like, “What?”
There are incredible twists and turns throughout the show: that you’re Elliot's sister, the jail twist. Do you always know where it’s going?
I knew I was Elliot's sister before we started, because otherwise I would be acting flirty with him or something. Only the main cast knew that. It’s funny because, at the table read [for the reveal], half of the table freaked out. I did know about the jail thing. Me, Chris[tian Slater], and Rami were the only ones who knew before the scripts came out, but ultimately none of us have any idea what’s going to happen next season, or the season after, or what this all means. I just know what happens in season three.
ULTIMATELY NONE OF US HAVE ANY IDEA WHAT’S GOING TO HAPPEN NEXT SEASON, OR THE SEASON AFTER, OR WHAT THIS ALL MEANS.
Speaking of season three, Darlene recently had a big confrontation with Angela, right before the E Corp explosion. How will that and her own confession to Elliot about talking to the FBI affect her two most important relationships?
I think her seeing Angela talking to Robot was what made her confess to Elliot. Seeing that betrayal made Darlene think, "I can’t do that too." So she’s fucking pissed off, obviously. Manipulating Elliot's delusions for your own agenda is the worst thing in the entire world that you could do. But I think Darlene’s a very loyal person and Angela is basically her family and sister, so there is a reason why she doesn’t just go and turn her in. I remember Dom (Grace Gummer)—the FBI Agent—says to Darlene, “Whoever you’re protecting, I sure as shit hope they’re worth it.” So she better be worth it.
For the most part, the characters have been on their own missions this season. Now that they know they've all been played by Whiterose (B.D. Wong), will they come together to fight back?
Yeah, from the beginning, all of these bumps in the road—I mean, you can’t even call them bumps in the road—land mines go off and they have to try and piece everything back together.
Before I move onto other topics, let's talk about that incredible one-shot episode, which was so complex and experimental. What was it like to film?
We've done a lot of oners on this show so, for my small part of that episode, I’ve done way harder one-shots than that. But I know for Portia, with all of the stuff in the office...it was psycho.
In episode one, actually, we had a big one-shot, from when Elliot and I start walking to the arcade up until after my panic attack...that was probably one of the hardest oners ever. You have a hundred extras too, who have to do the same thing, and you’re weaving in and out of people, and one person flubs a line or does something and you start all over again. I would always be so paranoid, like, Oh my God, I’m going to mess my line up. I was like, Okay, if you feel like you’re going to flub, just look away from the camera and they can fix it in ADR cause they can’t see your mouth. I'm pretty smart.
We’re in the middle of a huge reckoning in Hollywood in regards to sexual harassment. How has this affected you as a woman working on a television set all day?
All of this just makes me so grateful to be surrounded by the people that I’m surrounded by, and I think it’s so amazing that women are coming together and speaking out. It’s beyond incredible. Also, Sam is the most amazing human on the planet. I could not have been luckier to have him as a boss.
IT’S A DANGEROUS TIME TO BE A DANGEROUS MAN.
Does it make you feel safer as a woman working in this industry that people are talking about it so openly?
I tweeted that it’s a dangerous time to be a dangerous man. I just think the more support and people you have, the more it’s going to help. But things are changing, and I think it’s incredible the way the higher-ups have been responding to this, too.
They're saying, "Nope, we’re pulling this and pulling that," and taking action, instead of just being like, “Oh, I’m sorry.” So it’s really cool seeing all of this happen, especially in such a horrible year when so much shitty stuff has happened. The other night I was like, at least we have this movement, because that is awesome.
Well, the Trump era is something I'd be excited to see addressed on Mr. Robot,considering that hacking is relevant to the show and the news.
We’re still in 2015.
Yes, Trump has just announced his candidacy on Mr. Robot.
We’re never going to catch up to the present. So at least in the show, we’ll always be in a pre-Trump era.
We’re all like, let’s just stay here.
Whiterose was like, "Let’s get that guy elected."
When I read that in the script, I thought that was amazing. Trump was all the Dark Army’s plan.
If only we could just blame the Dark Army.
I know. I can’t get over the fact that two years ago our tagline was “Your democracy’s been hacked.” It’s just so crazy, because that’s literally what happened.
It’s like Sam saw something.
I feel like there was some article a while ago about how he’s just predicting the future. I'm like, you need to write an episode where all of a sudden we have world peace and everything is perfect.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.