BY BILL BRIOUX
Warning: there are no robots in Mr. Robot, the cyberpunk thriller that made its Canadian premiere Friday on Showcase.
Or are there? Christian Slater stars as the title character, “Mr. Robot,” the head of a shadowy team of hacktivists known as “fsociety.” They’re out to hack and destroy the bad guys: greedy multinational corporations the group believes are ruining the world.
Slater’s character recruits Elliot Alderson (Rami Malek), a top gun at a cyber-protection agency. Elliot, already somewhat paranoid and delusional, hates some of the very companies he is tasked to protect and is thus pretty open to working for the other side.
Portia Doubleday, Carly Chaikin and Martin Wallstrom also star in the series, as does Canadian-born Gloria Reuben (ER), who is effective and vulnerable as Elliot’s compassionate shrink.
Already renewed for a second season, the series takes many twists and turns in Season 1 and viewers eventually get to learn a stunning truth about Slater’s complex, cyber-cloaked character.
In Toronto to promote the series debut on Showcase, Slater admitted he’s no brainiac when it comes to cyber science.
“I know enough not to do certain things,” he says, such as using a pet’s name for a password. He’s never been hacked as far as he knows but has had his credit card stolen and found “weird charges on it.”
Life is full of risk, says Slater. Take television, for instance. The 46-year-old actor has had his share of successes and failures in a film, TV and theatre career that dates back before his teens.
His first big job was singing and dancing opposite Dick Van Dyke in the 1980 Broadway revival of The Music Man.
“He was the greatest,” he says of Van Dyke, still spry at 89. “I was 8, 9 years old, really a little kid who had no idea what he was doing. Experts had to be brought in to help me.”
Slater scratched his musical theatre itch again this summer performing in Spamalot at the Hollywood Bowl. Jesse Tyler Ferguson (Modern Family) and original Python Eric Idle were also in the cast.
“It was incredible,” Slater said of the three-night experience. “Definitely a highlight of my life.”
Where Slater has struggled in recent years is in finding a steady job in series television. Attempts such as My Own Worst Enemy (2008), The Forgotten (2009), Breaking In (2011-12) and Mind Games (2014) all flopped. Critics came to expect a new “Christian Slater project” to be pencilled into every fall launch.
“Each time it’s a leap of faith,” says Slater. “You just never know how people are going to respond.”
He says he takes the Babe Ruth approach to picking TV shows.
“Just keep swinging,” he says. “Eventually, the odds are you’ll hit a few.”
He took a little extra batting practice heading into Mr. Robot.
“I was sent the pilot script and I did find it rather intriguing,” he says.
After seeing other projects fizzle, however, Slater had questions. He wanted to know more about Mr. Robot’s character and where the story was going. He sat down with creator/writer Sam Esmail, seen as a Hollywood up-and-comer but still unproven as a showrunner.
Esmail originally envisioned the project as a feature. When he got past the 300 page mark — about triple what a feature would typically demand — he started seeing it more as a series. The USA Network embraced his vision and an order was given.
Slater found Esmail, “very open and forthright about where it was going to go and who this guy was. He made me feel very safe that he had thought it through.”
So far, critics seem to agree.
“Damn near perfect,” raved Cinema Blend. “A modern classic,” said Forbes.
Slater is enjoying working in his native New York, especially when it comes to shooting scenes at the secret fsociety headquarters, tucked into a dingy corner of Coney Island. Having a fabled old amusement park as your workplace has its advantages, says Slater.
“I get to ride the Cyclone in between takes,” he says. “How cool is that?”