BY ROB MARVIN
USA drama Mr. Robot had an up-and-down sophomore season that expanded the scope of the show in the wake of the historic E Corp hack, and added several new layers to the larger mysteries driving the technological thriller. Showrunner Sam Esmail got a lot more creative freedom in the second season which led to plenty of inventive high points—like Elliot’s ‘90s sitcom dream sequence featuring a murderous Alf—and a few misfires as well, like the drawn out prison reveal and a few episodes that dragged a bit too long.
Filming is well underway for Season Three, but the main cast assembled this week at the Metrograph Theater on Manhattan’s Lower East Side for a “For Your Consideration” event in advance of awards show season. Stars Rami Malek (Elliot Alderson), Christian Slater (Mr. Robot), Carly Chaikin (Darlene), Portia Doubleday (Angela Moss), and Grace Gummer (Agent Dominique DiPierro) dissected the second season, shared on-set stories, and talked about where the show is going.
Mr. Robot also took over the Metrograph theater for the event, complete with decorations, themed drinks, and costumes and props from the set. Check out the slideshow at the bottom of this story for a closer look.
1. Chaikin Really Enjoyed Killing Susan Jacobs
One of Darlene’s most powerful scenes in Season Two was, after kidnapping E Corp lawyer Susan Jacobs, she makes a split-second decision to tase her and push her into a pool, killing her. Chaikin talked about shooting that scene.
Chaikin: Before season two, [Sam] walked me through my story and was like…you kill someone.
That scene with Susan Jacobs was my favorite scene I’ve ever gotten to do and one I had so much fun with. I was really excited about everything I got to do, and it was a really interesting part to play and juggle between this young girl who literally has the world on her shoulders. Her brother isn’t there, she’s all on her own, and she’s so desperate to fix this and do something. That scene was fun because she made the decision in the moment. Darlene walked down knowing it was a possibility, and then Susan reacted with no empathy or compassion or remorse, so Darlene just…does it.
2. Dissecting Angela’s “Positive Affirmations”
Angela is struggling with an identity crisis in season two, where she’s both working for E-Corp and trying to take it down. Doubleday talked about how Angela’s repeated positive affirmations played into the psychology behind that.
Doubleday: “I talked to [creator] Sam [Esmail] about where Angela was going to go, and he kept talking about her positive affirmations. I was like, “Oh no, she’s just going to become this brainwashed crazy person.” But it felt relevant for our generation.
Once I had that, I realized the complexities of needing that much control. Having to memorize those things and constantly say “I am successful.” What does that mean to brainwash yourself? It was hiding this really deep, tortured struggle, and that was the hook for me this season. At any point in time, you constantly have to correct yourself to feel adequate. Like you’re enough.
3. The Cast All Got Their Own Amazon Echos
Amazon’s Alexa digital assistant was almost a supporting character on the show this past season. Gummer’s Agent DiPierro has several late night conversations with her Amazon Echo, which acts as the character’s de facto therapist as she unravels the E-Corp hack. It turns out the whole cast got complimentary Echos.
Gummer: We all got Amazon Echos from USA as like a press gift. So I went home and did my entire scene with Alexa with my Alexa. I asked Alexa, “when is the end of the world?” and she responded “In x thousand years’ time, the earth will collide with the sun…it was exactly the same as the show. It was very creepy.
4. Everybody Loves Sam Esmail
Creator Sam Esmail was away on his honeymoon (he just married actress Emmy Rossum) and couldn’t make the panel, but the cast talked at length about the showrunner’s fingerprints on every single aspect of the show.
Malek: He knows everything about these characters and this show, but he’s always willing to listen to your input. He told me early on that “you’re going to know this character better than me at a certain point, and you will take over.”
He allows you to speak up and elevate yourself and have your own position on your character, and he wants to listen to it. Sometimes he doesn’t, but we can inform the trajectory of our character and I think that has happened a lot for all of us. I think I can speak for all of us when I say we’ve come to him and said this would be a more interesting storyline or aspect we can dig into with this character. In a way that I don’t think many other directors, writers, or executive producers would be, Sam is extremely collaborative when you have something as specific as his story is, and as detailed a vision as he has.
Chaikin: There’s also a lot he won’t tell us.
Doubleday: But knowing some of those things, at least for me, I could’ve never predicted what was going to happen with Angela this season. If I had known, it might have changed my performance…even though I beg him for every detail because I really, really want to know.
Gummer: He knows we need a lot of time to prepare, so he does this thing where he calls us all months before the season starts and gives us like an hour on the phone of everything we’re going to be doing. As an actor, it feels like such a luxury to have that knowledge and time and voice. If we have anything to say, we can always call and tell him. He cares.
5. New York Is a Main Character
Mr. Robot shoots largely on location in New York City. Elliot’s Chinatown apartment is featured prominently, as are dramatic meetings and conversations on subway trains, and even flashier stunts like burning a pile of money in Battery Park. The cast explained why shooting in New York is so important for the show.
Chaikin: It smells like fish.
But seriously, a lot of us are from L.A., and we could never do this show in L.A. We’d be on the 405 freeway having deep discussions.
It really is its own character. The vibe of being here in the dirty streets.
Gummer: People always ask “what studio do you shoot in?” We actually shoot very few scenes in studio.
Malek: I remember watching the pilot, and we were shooting outside Elliot’s apartment not far from where we are now, and there was this bike rack with 120 bikes where every bike was missing something. I thought to myself, to do that on a stage or in any other city would probably cost us hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Then I looked at that bike rack and thought, “yeah, we’re gonna shoot the fuck out of that bike rack.”
6. Slater Didn’t Know If He’d Even Be Back for Season Two
In the penultimate episode of Season One, it’s finally revealed that Christian Slater’s Mr. Robot character is actually a split personality in Elliot’s head taking the form of his dead father. After that big reveal, Slater explained that he didn’t know whether there was a place for him in the show going forward.
Slater: The relationship [between Elliot and Mr. Robot] has definitely shifted in a lot of ways. The interesting journey of this for me, certainly doing the first season after episode nine I really didn’t know if I was coming back. I thought once we were in the graveyard, I was going to say my swan song, and that was it.
So I had no idea where Sam was going to take the character. I didn’t know I was going to get that Times Square moment, which was exciting on every level. To shoot a scene in Times Square…I think I had just seen Birdman with Michael Keaton and I remember feeling so envious of him running through Times Square. To get the opportunity to do something there was thrilling.
With Season Two, I didn’t know where Mr. Robot was going to go. Quite honestly, Season Two was frustrating for Mr. Robot. I have a particular mission and goal I want to achieve, and I want to keep this train moving at a nice pace…and this guy [points to Rami] is slowing me down! Imagining he’s living at home with his mother, that was really pissing me off.
7. What We Can Expect From Season 3
The cast predictably didn’t provide any specifics on what we can expect from Season Three (which they’re in the middle of filming), but we got a few tidbits about where the characters are going and how the tone of the show will change.
Malek: It’s charged. It’s electric. It really takes you from one person to the other with such stealth, but it’s understandable in a way that’s really accessible. We have that same kind of smart elevated story but in a way that has that same urgency of the first season.
Slater: Season Two was a season of anger and frustration and combativeness that led to Elliot getting put in an extraordinarily precarious situation. Now Season Three will continue from that point and…what can I say? More will be revealed.
I asked Sam what he felt about Season Three, and he threw out the word “disintegration.” That’s the word between Mr. Robot and Elliot. Then I asked one of the other writers, and he said “it’s like a swift kick right to the nuts.