BY DEBRA BIRNBAUM
Spoiler alert: Do not read until you’ve watched the Sept. 2 finale of “Mr. Robot.”
Fueled by the success of USA’s breakout summer hit, “Mr. Robot,” the show’s star, Rami Malek has become that mythical thing in Hollywood: the overnight success. He couldn’t be more different, though, than the character he plays. While computer hacker Elliot Alderson is sullen and guarded, in person, Malek is sunny and chatty — quick to crack jokes about the secrets he’s long been keeping about the famously twisty plot of “Mr. Robot.” “I feel so proud to be part of something that entertains as well as impacts our society,” he says.
Let’s start with the cemetery scene in episode 9, where it was revealed that Mr. Robot was your long-dead father. Did you know that was coming?
That had been weighing on me since after we shot the pilot, if not before. (Creator) Sam (Esmail) told me about that scene early on. It’s hard not to have that going through your subconscious, leading to that climactic moment. What’s good about it in a sense is that I thought about it so much it started to weigh less heavily on me. It allowed me the freedom to explore the scene the way I wanted to in a way that felt really honest.
So you knew from the beginning?
Sam sat me down and told me many things — and then he just tossed that one in and waited for me to react. And I didn’t react because a part of me didn’t believe him for a second. I was dumbfounded by that idea. It was cool that he trusted me with the knowledge. I kept it a tight secret for some time, and as a few of the cast members began to find out, I would ask them, “What do you know?” And then I began to ask myself, “What do I actually know?” I was so stubborn with the idea that I didn’t want to be deceived.
What plot twist surprised you the most?
I remember asking Sam early on about Darlene being so abrasive to me in my shower. “Why would Elliot let her do this?” After a while of me berating him, he finally told me (they were brother and sister). That was a huge surprise. When he told me the way episode 6 was going to end (with Shayla’s death), that one got me. I had already developed an affinity for Frances Shaw. As the show progressed, those moments hit me so much harder. I remember when I was about to shoot the scene with Carly Chaikin when I found out that she was my sister, we had gotten so much closer. I asked her what her favorite candy was, she said gummy bears. So I went and filled her trailer with gummy bears. It was pretty emotional heavy lifting there.
Moving on to the finale, what’s your theory on the missing three days?
I remember running around set asking Sam, what happened? I knew he wouldn’t tell me. But I just wanted to pester him enough so maybe he would give me a clue. My theory is that Elliot and Mr. Robot are capable of pretty heinous things. But I also know Sam, and whatever you think is the case is never the case. So for all the information I had going into the first season, I’m a little bit apprehensive as to how much I’ll be privy to in season 2.
Do you think Tyrell is alive?
I have to say while we were shooting, I had no doubt in my mind that Tyrell was dead. But now that I’ve had time to reflect I’ve begun to wonder whether that could actually be the case. I’ve begun to doubt my initial instincts. I’m so close to the show but I’m still an audience member.
Who do you think was knocking at the door at the end?
I wonder if the knock actually exists! (Laughs.) I’ll tell you this: I feel like Joanna is going to play a more pivotal role. I don’t know that she’s going to come knocking, but I feel like there’s going to be more of an interplay between her character and mine. But that’s utter speculation.
What’s in store for next season?
Sam and (girlfriend) Emmy (Rossum) just got engaged. I saw him the other night and congratulated him. I told him, “I couldn’t imagine what you were going to put Elliot through if she said no.” The truth of the matter is I have loved the weight of the emotional roller coaster that he threw me on. And I wouldn’t be upset to continue that. And Elliot of course has to evolve. And I’m interested to see how he evolves, how he faces life with all this devastating knowledge, how he carries himself, if he can get through it. How he’s going to get through it is going to be a major test for this young man. And as an actor I’m going to be challenged by it.
Has he figured out how to manage Mr. Robot? It was a neat trick calling 911.
I wouldn’t say that he knows how to summon him. It’s not like “I Dream of Jeannie” where he can just snap his fingers. It would be this comedic moment if he just had to call 911! (Laughs.) There must be a place where he comes to realize that he doesn’t need to summon him, that he realizes he just is him. Or he starts taking his meds. But something tells me that’s not going to be the case.
What was the hardest scene to film?
Some of the most difficult scenes are not the emotionally taxing ones. When Shayla comes back in the flashback with the fish and the cut bleeding hand and she’s doing a million different things in my apartment and I’m just standing there — not knowing what to do can be the toughest. The ones I most enjoy are running around with the city of New York as a backdrop. I feel like we’re doing something very iconic in those moments. We’re paying homage to great directors in the past who have been able to use the city as their backdrop and their canvas.
On that note, the finale had a fantastic scene in Times Square. How did you pull that off?
That was very difficult. When you’re in Times Square you know you’re going to be stretched for time. And there are lot of things that can wrong. That moment when you’re talking to a giant screen — it’s supposed to be my mother and my father and the younger version of me — and I’m talking to a giant Coke ad. Trying to have an emotional moment with a Big Mac combo meal is not always the most pleasant. We’re actors. We make believe. I’ve been very emotional throughout this series. I didn’t want Elliot to be this guy who wears his heart on his sleeve all this time. He’s very guarded. I had to pick and choose when I was going to fall to my knees, when that was going to happen. In the Times Square scene, I remember feeling like the most restrained performance was the strongest. And that was the hardest to do that day.