'Mr. Robot' Actress Talks Joanna's Next Moves and the Tyrell Mystery

"I think we already have the answer of how far she's willing to go," Stephanie Corneliussen tells THR about her character's killer instincts.
Nadav Kander/USA Network

[Warning: This story contains spoilers from Wednesday's episode of Mr. Robot.]

Elliot Alderson (Rami Malek) isn't the only troubled individual fighting for his own existence.

In the latest episode of the Emmy-nominated Mr. Robot, several other characters beyond the computer savvy protagonist battle for self-preservation... including Joanna (Stephanie Corneliussen), the Lady Macbeth to Martin Wallström's missing-in-action Tyrell Wellick. The fourth hour of the show's second season sees Joanna paying hush money to parking lot attendants and begging old enemies for further funds, once she learns that her financial resources are thinning out — just like virtually everybody else in the aftermath of the 5/9 Hack.

Throughout the first season of the series, Joanna's husband Tyrell gradually lost his grasp on power, spinning so far out of control that he impulsively murdered his business rival's wife during a rooftop rendezvous. Now, Tyrell's face and name are connected to the fsociety movement, and his whereabouts are unknown. Four episodes into the second season, it's Joanna's turn to navigate the lows of power loss, a challenge she's struggling with for perhaps the first time in her life.

Stephanie Corneliussen spoke with THR to further explore Joanna's current state of mind, how far she's willing to go to protect her own interests, the impact of her past life on her present and future actions, and why she's just as in the dark about the Tyrell mystery as everyone else.

When we catch up with Joanna in this episode, we see that she's been paying money to Kareem, the attendant at the parking lot where Elliot woke up in Tyrell's car at the end of last season...

It's an interesting thing, right? Kareem shows up in Joanna's car, and they have this... I want to call it an odd conversation. He's obviously very worried about something involving the FBI. But from Joanna's point of view, we have no idea what her particular deal is in this scene. We don't know who she's protecting. Is she protecting him? Is she protecting herself? Is she protecting Elliot? Is she protecting Tyrell? To me, playing this scene was so, so odd, because all of the sudden, the link between her and Elliot and Tyrell's disappearance is starting to mush in together. How does she even know who this guy is? It's mystifying. And we also see [Joanna's bodyguard] Sutherland (Jeremy Holm) telling Joanna that they're in a great deal of money trouble. I think this is the first time in Joanna's life that she's been put into that predicament. 

Joanna's funds are dwindling, but late in the episode, she tells her lover that she actually likes that he's not wealthy — that she's had lots of wealth in her life, and it never brought her happiness, and this is why she loves him. Should we believe her?

Right now, I think in Joanna's life, she has no idea where Tyrell is, right? She's receiving these odd gifts and she hasn't heard from him. In part two of the season two premiere, she's sitting by this burner phone, and it rings, and she misses the call. Obviously, she's in a state of turmoil. With someone like Joanna... let's call her a fox. When a fox like Joanna is caught somewhere, she has, like foxes do, an escape route. They always dig two holes. They have one to exit and one to enter from. Right now, Joanna is sort of frantically digging up other exits as to where she's standing right now. I think for the first time in her life, she feels caught. Her husband is missing. The world is exploding and in turmoil with the hacks. So she's digging escape routes and planning alternate exits for whatever outcome will come from her scheming this season. Maybe this man is one of them — maybe there's an agenda here — or maybe it's actual love. We don't know. 

Much of the episode focuses on Elliot's decision to battle Mr. Robot in a chess match for his soul. Elliot says he's playing for his "existence." In her own way, is that what Joanna is playing for this season, too?

She is, and she isn't, because I don't think Joanna would ever participate in a game of chess. (Laughs.) I think she would be there punching the timer, trying to control the entire board at once, resenting the fact that she even has to manually move the pieces herself. In fact, it makes it a little harder when you're playing yourself, when you're playing both sides of the board. She's trying to control the game, and it's becoming increasingly hard for her. And we do see some emotion from her this episode. We see actual frustration, which isn't normal for her cool and calm appearance.

Joanna was a standout character in season one for that very reason: her cool and calm exterior, and her willingness to do whatever was necessary to protect her interests -- for example, when she self-induces labor when the police arrive to interrogate Tyrell. But in this episode, we do see some other sides of her. Sutherland all but explicitly tells Joanna that they should kill Kareem, and she's having none of it. Is murder a line that Joanna isn't willing to cross?

I think it's all in how you read into the line. With Joanna, you always have to remember that when she says one thing, it can mean a thousand things. When she says she's done with that topic, is she done with the conversation, or is she done with the topic of Kareem? We don't know. Joanna isn't as loose of a cannon as, for example, Tyrell. He lost it all over the place in season one, when he strangled Sharon Knowles. I think Joanna will do anything to protect herself in the right way. Getting rid of Kareem... I think she wants to explore all options. I think she wants to see how far she can take it before having to make that ultimate decision. It's like this: Joanna will always follow plan A and B all the way down to plan C before she takes the final way out. She'll always try to control and manipulate the situation to her own benefit before she does anything drastic. You see her doing something very drastic in season one, when she's standing in the kitchen and the NYPD detectives are interrogating Tyrell, and her only option out of that right there is to induce her own labor. She knows that. To some extent, I think we already have the answer of how far she's willing to go — the question is, will she do it?

You mentioned Sharon Knowles, and in this episode, Joanna meets up with Scott Knowles (Brian Stokes Mitchell), asking him to release Tyrell's severance package. When they meet, Scott is in bad shape, power-drinking the red wine he loves so much. Joanna and Scott seem like interesting mirrors of each other right now. For instance, both have lost their spouses, even if one of them has a shot at their loved one returning...

I so agree with you. And can I just say I absolutely love Brian Stokes Mitchell? He's such a great actor. It's a privilege to get to work with someone like him. He's so f---ing fantastic, and so sweet and helpful. But the dynamic between them... I love the storyline between Scott Knowles and Joanna this season. You're exactly right: they are in some ways very equal right now, in more than one way. Like you said, they've lost their spouses, their lifestyles are both impacted by the hack, and they are in some ways in equal positions of power — at least mentally and internally. They're very strong people who are having this very civilized exchange, even if the words exchanged between them aren't. It's this very civilized knife match right here, which is such an interesting thing. What you're seeing is two alpha lions getting ready to attack each other, but in their own conniving ways, they both just stab each other a little bit, enough so that they bleed — not that it's fatal, but just enough so it bleeds. I think the balls of Joanna to show up to this man's house, admitting that she knows that her husband killed his wife and in some ways is agreeing to testify to that if he gives her what she needs, I think it's such a ballsy thing to do. It's not a very nice thing to do! (Laughs.) It definitely shows her character and her moral compass, that she's just not a normal person. There's just no empathy there. There's no sympathy. This man has just lost his wife, and you're coming here begging for money? But obviously, begging and bartering for her financial lifestyle is something she's used to, so it is dragging her into some extremes.

We learned some information about Joanna's backstory in season one, that she had a child previously and gave the baby up for adoption. How much does Joanna's past inform her actions in the present and future? 

I think there's a lot. I think I've said this before, but when she was talking about the adoption, it shows that she comes from a family where a teen pregnancy is not accepted. She leaves that behind and comes into this life, so I think we can put the pieces together and see that she comes from a very privileged lifestyle. You wonder if a lot of her personality is maybe more by nurture than it is by nature. Does she come from a place and a family and have the social inheritance that makes her into this cold and power-lusting human being? If she comes from a family where she was very privileged and her parents forced her to give up her child for adoption, well, then we have to wonder if she's not a product of her past, and now taking things to a further level.

Tyrell remains missing in action. Without revealing the outcome, do you think fans will be satisfied when they learn the answer about his whereabouts?

You know what, I'll tell you something funny. Joanna obviously doesn't know, but I don't know either. In the beginning, [the writers] tried to keep the twists hidden, and they certainly did that in season one. This time around, I actually asked not to get the scripts, and only to get my sides. I wanted to be surprised as well. So I don't know yet. That's all I can tell you.

So you're waiting on that answer as much as anyone else?

I'm waiting. I'm watching every Wednesday with everybody else. I'm super excited to see what happens. Tyrell is such a f---ing great character, so as an audience member and as a fan of the show, I'm sure he must turn up again somewhere, some way.

 

Follow THR's Mr. Robot coverage all season long for interviews, news and theories.

comments powered by Disqus