BY ETHAN ALTER
It was the mask that did it. Before donning the plastic Monopoly man-esque visage that serves as the signature symbol for rebel hacker outfit FSociety (as in F–k Society), Mr. Robot star Christian Slater had only a vague inkling that his latest TV venture might prove to be something special. Certainly, the fact that Mr. Robot’s feature-length pilot episode picked up an Audience Award at the South by Southwest Film Festival in March — three months before the show’s premiere on USA — immediately set it apart from some of the actor’s previous, less-celebrated, and short-lived forays into television like Mind Games and My Own Worst Enemy. The fact that the network ordered a second season before that pilot even aired was another vote of confidence.
But it took dressing up as the smirking personification of cyber-terrorism in the show’s sophomore episode to really convince Slater that Mr. Robot was bound for bigger and better things. “I remember being in the wardrobe fitting before filming that particular moment,” the actor tells Yahoo TV. “Sam [Esmail, Mr. Robot’s creator] had been working on the mask and what it would look like. When I put it on, along with the tuxedo and hat, I thought: ‘This is different. This is unique.’ I had a twinge of excitement I hadn’t experienced before.”
Viewers at home experienced that same twinge multiple times during the course of Mr. Robot’s breakout first season, which embedded viewers in the unstable brain of conspiracy-minded computer genius Elliot Aldeson (Rami Malek). As crafted by Esmail and his crack team of writers and directors, each of the 10 freshman year episodes contained at least one moment — and often many more — that excited, entertained, and enlightened. Take your pick: Elliot’s extended hallucination from Episode 4; the prison break from Episode 6; the rooftop murder from Episode 7; and, of course, the Star Wars-like “I’m your sister” and “I’m your father” moments in Episode 8. And if you think those scenes blew your mind, they made an equally big impression on the Mr. Robot cast. Catching up with the ensemble at New York Comic Con earlier this year, the actors raved about the show’s twists and turns, particularly in the eighth hour, when Elliot’s paranoid vision of the world started to crumble in on itself.
“We were at a table read for that episode and everyone was freaking out,” remembered Martin Wallström, who plays ambitious Evil Corp executive Tyrell Wellick. “I was so excited, because people finally knew!” echoed Carly Chaikin, who had spent the entire season having to hide the fact that her character, Darlene, was more, much more than Elliot’s partner-in-hacking. “It was so hard to talk about her, and what she was doing. So filming that scene was interesting and scary.” Malek, meanwhile, revealed that he loved any scene that he got to shoot on location at Coney Island — including his meeting with Slater’s mysterious Mr. Robot aboard the historic Wonder Wheel in the pilot. Portia Doubleday enthused over Elliot’s graveyard scene in the ninth episode, an intense, exhausting day of shooting that she described as “really surreal.”
As for Slater, he points to the sixth episode prison break, when Elliot had to use his hacking skills to spring a drug dealer from jail in order to save his supplier (and kinda-sorta girlfriend) Shayla, as being one of his favorite moments as a Mr. Robot fan, not simply a cast member. “It was so intense and crazy; it put me on the edge of my seat,” he says. “I loved how Elliot had to talk his way out of being killed. And the sad ending of that episode was handled very well.” Slater confesses that he didn’t experience that tragic ending in real time: Instead, he binged Mr. Robot over two days after the series wrapped up its run in September. “I had seen the pilot, but I didn’t watch any of the other episodes while they were airing. I was watching the second episode when I got a text. I thought, ‘Do I want to respond to this text right now? No, not really!’ The show has this magnetizing effect; it just continued to pull me in, and I wound up doing a full-on binge watch.”