'Mr. Robot' Star Reflects on His Unusual Audition and Most Challenging Scene
"Ending up on a show like this, it's very fortunate, and of course kind of it raises the bar for reading other projects," Martin Wallstrom tells THR.
After nearly 20 years in the business overseas acting in Swedish projects like the TV series The Hundred Code and the Oscar-nominated film Simple Simon, Martin Wallstrom entered the American TV scene with a bang as part of the core ensemble of the USA Network hacker drama Mr. Robot. As Tyrell Wellick, the Machiavellian-like senior vice president of technology at Evil Corp, the Swedish native was behind many of the first season's most jaw-dropping moments, most notable when Tyrell strangled his business rival's wife to death in the heat of the moment. The season ended with Tyrell's whereabouts unknown.
Behind the scenes, things are only looking up for Wallstrom now that Mr. Robot has won Golden Globe and Critics Choice awards for best drama series and is poised to break into the upcoming Emmys race in a big way.
Wallstrom spoke with THR about his unique audition, his most challenging scene and President Obama's search for Tyrell in the recently released season two trailer.
How did the role come about? What was that part of the process like?
I actually self-taped for the part and my first scene was Tyrell's pep talk when he's slapping himself in the face. The funny thing was that I could easily distinguish that this was at least a special part because then I hadn't read anything of the script. I did the scene, and I did it basically the way it is in episode three. Then I think I did like three self-tapes and then I landed the part which was amazing.
Without seeing the pilot script, how did you know that this would be something that you would want to do?
I kind of figured because after a while they started sending more scenes and I started to understand it was quite a complex character. By then I had no idea it was going to be a journey that Tyrell has, but I mean I could see that he was complex, and it was basically the part that got me hooked first of all, and then I got to read the pilot and then I understood it was, you know, something else.
What were those early conversations with Sam Esmail were like about the show? How much did he tell you about what was to come for your character?
We talked more about the character's back story because he's not in the pilot so much so we talked more about the character before we shot the pilot. Then after we were picked up, Sam gave me an overall explanation of the character's arc, and basically the first season. Basically you know the most of season one and Tyrell, but there's always going to be like surprises and not really knowing what's going to happen in the next episode. Sometimes you're in the dark, but I kind of like that.
Can you expand on that? How did you figure out your preferences for that part of it were?
I remember I could ask Sam like, "Am I lying here or am I telling the truth?" He would say, "Well, it doesn't matter," you know, wink, wink. It struck me that as an actor sometimes we tend to take so much responsibility for the character's arc. "I have to be here when we start, and I want to be there when we finish," but actually when you do a TV series it's kind of nice just being in that world and letting all these brilliant writers and directors, and like let them just decide where it's going to take you. If you do a movie you have to be more like, "Okay, I want to end up here. I want to be there in the middle," and all that, but I found that it's kind of nice sometimes being in the dark.
Was there one surprise or reveal that shocked you the most during the first season?
Yeah. At a table read at episode eight with the whole cast, when it's revealed that Darlene is actually Elliot's sister, that was like a "holy f---" moment around that table. I remember we talked after the table read because everyone was kind of shocked by it, and we talked about, "Wow, imagine that we're responding like this when we read it, I wonder how people are going to react when they see it?"
Were there specific things or people that you pulled inspiration from for Tyrell?
I tried to hang around in the corporate world. I attended some corporate meetings, they had to sign like non-disclosure agreements for me just to be in that environment. What I found was most interesting is that Tyrell is so driven by fear, he is so afraid to loose everything and that combined with being ambitious -- it's a lethal combination.
Looking back at the first season, is there a particular scene that stands out as your most challenging of the season?
I think the most challenging scene by far was the start of episode two. Tyrell has invited Elliot to propose that he wants him to work with Evil Corp, and I have this monologue which I think before they cut it down was like three and a half minutes. I remember that day, because that was the first day that we started the whole like the nine episodes after the pilot, and that was my first day and I just remember standing on the top of Trump SoHo looking out over New York and just feeling that, "If I don't make this, this character is not going to be believable. If he's not going to be threatening, funny and scary, and all those things that I wanted him to be, this is just going to be chaos." It was very tough then, but it worked out.
Throughout the first season your character seems to really be drawn to Elliot, even though on the outside they're very different people. What do you think is the reason behind that?
There's a lot of things. I think one of them is that I don’t think Tyrell is used to not being able to control people and to know where they are and what he can do with them. Elliot's not responsive in that way and you can't manipulate him in that way. And for some people, whatever you can't have is what you want to have the most, and I think that's the case with Elliot and Tyrell. He knows that he can't have him in a sense and that makes him want to have him even more.
One big scene for your character is when he confronts his rival's wife and he ends up killing her. What was it like preparing for that shoot and actually filming it?
The funny thing is that we we were doing that up on the roof, and we didn't have that much time. When he strangled her, I think we only had like one or two takes on that, and in a good way because I didn't know we were short on time before we started. It was like, "Okay, I got to nail it." I liked it because that's a big, big turning point for him, and he is actually just losing all of his control. That was actually one of my favorite scenes.
One dynamic that was really interesting was between Tyrell and his wife. How did you and Stephanie Corneliussen figure out the relationship between these two people during season one?
First of all, it's so well-written. In episode three, we think that Tyrell is like the alpha male at home and he's the one in charge, but at the end of the episode we understand that she is the one in charge. As soon as people talk to me about this show it's that, "Oh, your character, he's so sick," but the next sentence is always, "But your wife…." … Also the fact that she's Danish, I'm Swedish and we talked about that. She is actually speaking Danish to me and I speak Swedish to her – we thought it created a back story that they've been together for a while and that's also something that a Swede or a Dane would do. For us that was kind of a back story too.
The finale leaves Tyrell's fate in question. What was it like to shoot that final episode and not know what was going to come next or have these kind of questions about what was coming up?
That was brilliant; being left in the dark like that. I mean the way the episode that it starts with Elliot waking up in the car, and I think it's like three days or two days has passed. It's such a good way to end like the first season. Yeah, I was just thrilled about it. I think it's brave and it's a great cliffhanger.
What anything you can kind of say about the second season of the show?
I can only quote Sam, that it's going to be a lot darker. Regarding Tyrell, the audience will see the after effect of what happened, I mean what the hack cost. I think the audience will see a lot of that, and I guess that's all I can say. Because I heard that even [President] Obama is looking for himself and can't say that much.
What was it like watching the season two trailer and see President Obama talking about your character?
They always use some real material, which I think is so good. I think I'm always surprised at how clever like the PR [team] and Sam and everyone is. It's like most of the times when I spend time with the people on Mr. Robot, and like Sam or script writers, I tend to be silent because anything I would say it would just sound stupid. I think it's so cool that they used Obama. I was surprised.
How do you think Mr. Robot has affected how you pick other projects? How do you think maybe it's changed you as an actor?
Ending up on a show like this, it's very fortunate, and of course kind of it raises the bar for reading other projects. On the other hand, I'm always up to doing like new different characters and I don't think I would want to fall into always playing Tyrell. If anything it's almost the first time I've played a character like this and this was a lot of fun. Instead of doing like brother or like the love interest or someone, so of course that has changed.
Have you been approached about playing characters like Tyrell now that you've done the show?
No. I think there's been some interesting projects and interesting parts. Some you could see that, "Okay, this could be Tyrell," but some have been different. Hopefully I'm going to have the chance to show a lot of different sides. … Of course it's a change that I'm being offered things internationally now. I'd say that's the biggest change.