BY JAMES HIBBERD
The feds are going to shake up Mr. Robot’s second season. With the recent casting of Grace Gummer as a federal agent in USA’s Golden Globe-winning drama, showrunner Sam Esmail told an audience of fans at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas on Sunday that one of the biggest shifts going into the new season was opening up a storyline focused on law enforcement reaction to Elliot’s (Rami Malek) hack of Evil Corp.
“Elliot committed a crime and we’re going to see the ramifications of that this season,” said Esmail, who was on a panel with stars Malek and Christian Slater. “That’s why you see that introduction of law enforcement, which you deliberately didn’t see the first season.”
The added angle could seem particularly timely given recent headlines about the FBI’s battle with Apple over encryption. “What’s weird is — and I’m not trying to say I’m a fortune teller — we were going into [season 2] talking thematically a lot about privacy, and this whole thing with Apple and Tim Cook happened,” Esmail said. “I think it’s a really important issue, and I’m not sure people really understand the nuances about it. it’s an interesting public discourse it brings up the right to privacy: Do we have it or not.”
More highlights from the panel, which was moderated by EW’s Kevin Sullivan:
- Usually computer scenes in TV and movies are done with code or graphics digitally inserted onto a screen after shooting. But Malek had to type every line of code his character was typing to keep his performance authentic, and the code is vetted with tech experts. “Everyone who shoots a computer screen, it’s always using green screen,” Esmail said. “On top of that, they put bulls— in the screen which doesn’t make any sense.”
- Elliot’s voiceover to the audience was partly inspired by Esmail’s own self-chatter. “I’m going to reveal something personally about myself — I talk to myself,” Esmail said. “I don’t know how many people do that … and I love [voiceover in movies]. The cardinal rule rule of screenwriting for is never write [voiceover] and it’s a dumb rule. I came up with he idea that Elliott has a relationship with us.”
- Esmail is directing all 10 episodes in season 2, something the cast approves of. “I felt like I was doing my best work when he was around, and I think that goes for the rest of the cast and the crew,” Malek said. “He has such a distinct tone and vision. Nobody knows what’s going to happen in this [show] except Sam. You can bring in a guest director every week, but ultimately they can’t know as much as he does.”
- Though Slater, who won a Golden Globe for his supporting role on the show, was signed on for a second season, he began to worry while shooting the first round that he wasn’t going to return — particularly after filming the scene in a graveyard near after he’s revealed to be Elliot’s dead father. “[Slater] pulls me aside and asked, ‘Are you sure? Because I read this and it kinda feels like I’m done,’” Esmail recalls. Slater also recalled how traveling with Malek to the festival got rather amused reactions from fans, who sometimes shout “Mr. Robot!” or joke about whether he’s really there or not.
The hacker drama’s panel marked a triumphant return to the festival where it had its premiere screening last year and won an audience award. This time, USA erected a 100-foot high Mr. Robot-themed Ferris wheel in downtown Austin to promote the show. “They let us bring a Ferris wheel here so we must be doing something right,” Malek quipped.