BY STEVE DOLLAR
He plays the title role of “Mr. Robot,” but at the end of the cybernetic psychodrama’s debut season, Christian Slater wasn’t sure he would be invited back for a second round. He was, after all, revealed to be an imaginary character who doubled as the dead father of the show’s bedeviled would-be revolutionary, über-hacker Elliot Alderson.
Instead, Slater’s role deepened in Season 2, fighting back as Elliot struggled to shut him down. “We push each other to deliver the strongest, most surprising performances,” said Rami Malek, who plays Elliot, of his costar. “One tool sharpens another.”
Slater spoke recently about the show’s intense dynamic, the intricacies of playing Mr. Robot and where his relationship with Elliot may be headed.
In Season 2, Mr. Robot is much darker and antagonistic. Do you think he’s there to help Elliot or to hurt him?
Going from Season 1 to Season 2, my interpretation is that Mr. Robot is really very angry and upset. Elliot does everything he can to control and manage that part of him, much to the chagrin and anger of Mr. Robot. Inevitably, it becomes an antagonistic relationship. I want Elliot to be the leader he was meant to be and to take charge and lead this revolution, and he’s doing everything he possibly can to keep himself locked up and put away. When he’s locked up, the same thing’s happening to me.
Where do you find inspiration to play someone who doesn’t exist?
I just thought, Elliot is a genius and he’s part of the generation that’s been raised with Wikipedia and Google and having information right there. I wanted to incorporate that element into the Mr. Robot character. I started to look at great quotes from history, from people like Winston Churchill and Albert Einstein. Even Jesse Jackson had some great quotes I found, that I’m always trying to incorporate into the show. They’re things Elliot would have stumbled across and would be deeply layered into his subconscious and come out at appropriate times. I wanted Mr. Robot to be a walking Google search.
How does the relationship with Elliot evolve in the new season? Series creator Sam Esmail has offered up the word “disintegration” as a teaser.
Now we get all the scripts ahead of time. We sit down over two days and we read through them like a long movie. Once again, I found myself shocked, surprised and going, ‘How did you come up with this? I did not see this coming.’ It’s really that kind of show. You mention the word ‘disintegration’; that’s a word that was presented to me as well. I would also say that there’s a quickness to it. We shot a scene yesterday that had a very frenetic, chaotic energy to it, and I feel like that is something that is consistent with Season 3. This is going to be a fast-paced kind of season.
A little less conversation, a little more action?
It definitely has its cerebral qualities. But there is a lot more danger that Elliot is having to face. We also have some wonderful additions. Bobby Cannavale, a phenomenal actor, has a character that he’s created, is hilarious and wonderful. I just love the fact that Sam, and all the writers, take the time to examine and flesh out each one of the characters. Everybody really has to go through a lot of questionable things in Season 3.
Looking back at last season, did you have a favorite episode?
The sitcom episode. For me, that was so outrageous and so wild. To put the show on its head like that was very exciting, and tricky. Sitcom dialogue … I had the hardest time just trying to get the rhythm of that dialogue into my head. There’s something so static and unnatural about it, and it’s not the way that I am comfortable communicating. But I loved the whole journey of that episode. You start with this loving but phony-esque relationship between Elliot and his dad, and you go on the journey to the end of the episode and [there’s] a beautiful scene between me and young Elliot, and I was extraordinarily passionate about that scene and wanting to get the tone right. I can play this smooth-talking, swaggering kind of character, who is this image of who Elliot would have liked his father to be, and then I get the opportunity to play Edward, quirky, insecure, klutzy at times, just a very genuine, sensitive person with his young son.