'Mr. Robot' Showrunner Sam Esmail Recalls Rami Malek's Audition: "He Was Shaking"

"He literally said the script breeds anxiety. It was nerve-wracking. I was like, 'Is he gonna get through this audition?'"

“Most of my friends were coders, some were hackers," Mr. Robot creator Sam Esmail told THR during the Drama Showrunner Emmy Roundtable. "I even tried to dabble in it." Esmail drew inspiration from his real-life coding experience to develop Robot, saying, "I just ripped a lot of their characteristics off and put them in my characters. It got eerie a lot of times. Also," he noted, "there’s a fine line there, because there are real hackers out there, and if you don’t do that respectfully, they could retaliate.” Luckily for Esmail, "so far, [hackers] have actually liked the show.”

“The thing I’m scared about is, are we showing it in an authentic way? Is it going to land with people, or is it going to feel exploitive?" said the writer and director. He said he pushes through his fears in each episode, hoping his points will be received in the way he intended, but not letting apprehension diminish the audacity of Mr. Robot. "If you’re not saying something, then what’s the point?“ he asked.

Esmail discussed what went into finding his lead actor and breakout star Rami Malek, saying he was disheartened after seeing over a hundred actors before Malek auditioned. “The thing that Rami told me is that he loved all the jagged edges of his character. The other thing is, especially with TV, in particular with TV, you don’t want to cast an asshole. As good as they might be, if they’re an asshole, I really do not want to work with them.”

Esmail admits he draws more inspiration from film than television, but he chose Twin Peaks as one of the most influential TV shows because of "the mystery about it. There was just something about drawing out this mystery." He also singled out The Twilight Zone "because it just made you kind of lean into the TV. It’s the very definition of ‘I want to know what happens next.' "

More roundtables featuring comedy and drama actors and actresses, comedy showrunners, and reality hosts and producers will roll out throughout June in print and online. Tune in to new episodes of Close Up With The Hollywood Reporter starting June 26 on SundanceTV, with the premiere of the Drama Showrunners Roundtable on Sunday, July 24. And look for clips at THR.com/roundtables with full episodes on THR.com after broadcast.

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