BY LAURA BEESTON
Christian Slater isn’t allowed to talk about the Virginia shootings.
A promotions handler, quick to interrupt a question about the delayed American season finale of Mr. Robot – which finally premiers in Canada on Showcase Sept. 4 – explains that the intention of this press junket is to discuss the first few episodes.
But everyone in the room knows how the Internet works. If you wanted to see the “runaway hacker hit of the summer” before it officially rolled out on Canadian cable television, you could find a way – without requiring the deft computer skills of Slater’s character in the series.
Regardless, Slater keeps smiling; he will concede that Mr. Robot is art imitating life.
“Sometimes we’re holding a mirror up to the world, and sometimes the world is holding a mirror up to us. It’s been kind of surreal,” Slater says. He thinks the Sony hack, followed by the Ashley Madison hack, brought the subject to the forefront of everybody’s mind.
“It certainly made it a much more relevant. And the next thing you know, it’s in the President’s State of the Union address and in story after story…”
But closing out the first season with a plotline that eerily echoed the recent shooting deaths of a reporter and a cameraman on live television is not the kind of buzz anyone was expecting or willing to talk about, apparently.
Slater admits he’s become a bit paranoid. Taking on the role of the mysterious (and arguably evil) Mr. Robot has not only raised his level of awareness about hacktivist culture and the recesses of the dark Web, but inspired him to change his passwords.
“I try to stay as on top of [this culture] as I possibly can, absolutely,” he says. He’s also become a fan of Anonymous, and seems to have a hard time distinguishing who he thinks the good guys are.
“Come on, we’re anarchists. It’s a rebellious group,” says Slater, referring to a line from the series. “Look, I think that if you’re a government or a corporation that is doing things that are questionable, it’s important in society to question that and stand up against it.
“But it’s going to be interesting in Season 2 to see what the aftermath is.”
Slater, who took on the title character in the show but cedes the lead to Rami Malek – who is stunning as the socially anxious and drug-addled Elliot – believes the cable format has allowed for this kind of anti-establishment storytelling.
“USA Network has been phenomenal for this particular show and for allowing [creator] Sam [Esmail] all the freedoms he needed to make the story he wanted to make,” he says. “It’s allowed him to make it as authentic and true to hacker culture, make it as real of a depiction as he possibly could.”
He doesn’t believe this is something that network television would have been as comfortable with. “They tend to do those things where, you know, they zoom in to the computer and do those CGI effects down the point of view of the wire or whatever, but this show is more about storytelling. About a character.”
Certainly, this type of project has the power to reinvigorate Slater’s brand and blow up the career of Malek, too. Slater calls his co-star “just astonishing … just one of the most deeply committed and professional people I have come across,” but won’t volunteer any guidance about what this level of fame or acclaim can do to a guy.
He would know. Exploding as an A-list celebrity in the ’90s after his starring, breakthrough role in the cult hit Heathers, Slater had some highly publicized successes and struggles with fame, as well as brushes with the law. Since 2000, his portfolio has mixed television projects with voice work and lower-budget films. He got married, got divorced, got sober, got remarried. He seems to have lived through a lot in his career.
“You know, I’m not like a really great advice giver,” Slater says with a laugh. “First of all, it would be unsolicited advice, which is always obnoxious … but we have similar attitudes about all this stuff. And we’re not taking it all too seriously.”
Still, there is something about Mr. Robot that he, and his audience, can’t help but find intriguing. “I had so many questions about this guy, and was very suspicious from the beginning about who he was and what he was after,” Slater says. “But I love this character. You know, he’s kind of the Messiah, and Elliot is playing God.”
As for the Canadian fans who haven’t illegally binged on the series just yet, Slater cautions that this isn’t a show to watch while multitasking. “It’s important that you do pay attention,” he says. “It’s been fun to see people’s jaws drop.”
Mr. Robot airs Fridays on Showcase at 10 p.m.