BY LIZ SHANNON MILLER
[Editor’s note: Spoilers for “Mr. Robot” Season 3, Episode 1, “eps3.0_power-saver-mode.h” follow.]
Portia Doubleday loves the fact that her character Angela, the enigmatic young woman whose lifelong friendship with Elliot (Rami Malek) has ensnared her in a global hacker conspiracy, is defined by more than her relationship with the show’s lead.
“I have read countless, countless breakdowns where instead of explaining in the character description who this woman is, it’s explaining how they function in relation to a man,” Doubleday said. “You know, ‘So and So’s best friend who’s always there, who really cares about him.’ There’s some kind of asterisk about describing a woman and how they function in relation to a man in countless breakdowns.”
But while she was initially unsure how Angela might develop at the beginning, a conversation with creator/writer/director Sam Esmail proved reassuring. “It’s given me the opportunity to actually build a whole person that doesn’t need to function based off another male character,” she said. “She has a lot to do with Elliot this season, but I actually find her to be very specific to herself and what her motives are. What her dreams and aspirations are and that that’s actually what drives her throughout the series.”
Of course, as we saw in the premiere episode, her motives don’t align with Elliot’s conflicted ones, and she’s clearly manipulating him for, at the very least, her own purposes. It’s a twist which sets up the character as perhaps a bad guy down the line — though, of course, in the world of “Mr. Robot” nothing is so simply defined.
“One of the things that I got worried about with Angela is that it’s a very fine line in what she’s doing in terms of a villain,” she said. “I was worried she would become villainized as opposed to human, if that makes any sense. I didn’t want her to be put in the slot of, ‘Oh, she’s the villain.’ She’s in a very compromising situation throughout the season, and you kind of find out a little bit more as to why she’s doing these things.”
A big factor in understanding her was her final monologue at the end of Episode 1, a scene which brought with it an interesting twist to its production. “I remember on the day I had talked to Sam a lot about that moment and what that meant and kind of struggled a little bit about what was important to come across in that moment. I was nervous and I tried some things,” she said.
But then, Esmail moved onto filming Slater’s coverage… or so she thought. “It was funny, because I just remember Tod [Campbell, the show’s director of photography] coming in and saying, ‘No, like no. Into her. Into her face.’ And I was like, ‘Dammit.’ Because I didn’t think that they were filming me. I’m not sure that they used that take. I think that they did, based on the little bits that I’ve seen in ADR, but that day I actually didn’t know that he was filming that take.”
While Doubleday acknowledges that Angela is definitely manipulating Elliot, she also still thinks that the character is “inherently good. I think that you constantly see that when you think she’s going to take down E Corp, or you think she’s going to work her way up the system, she actually ends up hacking E Corp on behalf of getting justice for her mother, so I think that that theme works throughout her character arc each season.”
There’s a new dynamic in play as well, because now Angela and Mr. Robot are talking face-to-face — something that’s never happened before on screen. And the new shift in that dynamic did prove to be a challenge. “I love Christian and he’s an actor that I feel so incredibly safe with. It was fascinating for me because I have to keep imagining for myself over and over again that I’m not talking to Christian,” Doubleday said. “And Christian is so charismatic, so in this weird way, I constantly had to keep reminding myself, ‘You’re talking to Elliot. You’re talking to Elliot. And he isn’t this charismatic. And you’re watching him act this way for the first time very openly to you.’ That was kind of difficult for me, but also fascinating.”
And that was a part of the process from Day 1 of Season 3, when Doubleday said that they were “excited to explore what these scenes might be like.”
Working with Slater, Doubleday noted, was a very interesting experience. “Christian is such an intense, brilliant actor. There’s so many moments — he’s like a teddy bear and cracks me up throughout takes and cracks jokes, and then in two seconds, is incredibly serious and kind of aggressive and volatile bubbling underneath the surface. So, that was an interesting surprise for me in working with him. Just feeling that presence and understanding the complexities of this Elliot character,” she said.
Meanwhile, the fact that Esmail directed every episode of Season 3 himself had a major impact as well. “There’s something incredibly magical about having a singular person that knows everything that’s going on,” Doubleday said. “Because there’s a certain amount of trust that starts to happen, especially over time, and I’m not afraid to make mistakes and that freedom is priceless. Because it gives me room to create while we’re working. It reminds me of being on a film, and being on a journey with somebody kind of guiding you along. It’s just such a privilege to be able to work with somebody like this because Sam is brilliant, obviously, but he’s also incredibly humble and interested in your opinion and genuinely wants everyone to kind of have a part in creating this, and I think that that makes for an incredible environment.”
Added Doubleday, “I come to work and I want to rise to the occasion of the people around me, so I think being able to have that kind of creative freedom with somebody that you trust allows for these really magical moments that you wouldn’t necessarily have if you were working with another director.”
“Mr. Robot” Season 3 airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. ET on USA Network.