Portia Doubleday on 'Fantasy Island' and Saying Goodbye to 'Mr. Robot'
[This interview contains spoilers for Mr. Robot season four.]
In October 2019, Portia Doubleday shocked Mr. Robot fans when she stated that it was her decision to leave the show earlier than expected. Even series creator Sam Esmail acknowledged that the early exit of Doubleday’s fan-favorite character, Angela Moss, was not the writers’ original plan. While the actor alludes to there being multiple reasons why she decided to retire her signature role well ahead of schedule, she still maintains that it fits the creative spirit of Mr. Robot.
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“A lot of factors went into that. I thought about it for months and months and months,” Doubleday tells The Hollywood Reporter. “At the end of the day, what was empowering about that ending is that Sam never does what you want him to do. … He’s unpredictable, and I think that’s what makes the show so special. Angela and Elliot (Rami Malek) had intimacy, but their relationship lacked so much sentimental intimacy that my shittier taste would want them to have. That’s not that show.”
As Mr. Robot’s final season began shooting in New York, Doubleday was already hard at work on Blumhouse’s Fantasy Island, her first post-Mr. Robot role. Despite shooting Fantasy Island on the island of Fiji, Doubleday still had Mr. Robot on her mind since she knew she’d have to shoot her final scenes once Fantasy Island wrapped.
“I was in Fiji, and I was texting them while they were in the dead of winter in New York,” Doubleday recalls. “So, a part of me was like, ‘Yeah, this is better.’ (Laughs.) No, that was my home. Mr. Robot was five years of my life. Angela is a character that I’m obsessed with. Ugh — fuck, man. You get it.”
In a conversation with THR, Doubleday opens up about her experience on Mr. Robot, shooting Fantasy Island in Fiji and her desire to follow in her father’s [actor Frank Doubleday] footsteps.
So, what’s running through Fiji at night like?
I hate when people say this when they go to beautiful places, and they’re like, “You have to go. It’s so beautiful,” because I’m now that person. Fiji is by far the most magical place I’ve ever been to on the planet. It is incredible. There’s no pollution. They have something called “Fiji time,” which means “no hurry, no worry.” It’s super slow-paced. Anyone is welcome into their homes. The weather is incredible, and talking to the locals about how beautiful it is fills them with gratitude. When you live in paradise, it affects you and the way that you live. It’s night and day from us Americans. (Laughs.)
That aside, running in heels is never fun, so that part was crazy. But, another cool thing about Fiji is that there are no insects or animals that can kill you. Albeit, there were spiders, but at least I knew that they weren’t going to poison me. So, that’s a plus. Also, it’s fun because this is a horror movie. Running like someone is trying to get you was actually pretty cool — minus the heels — and it’s something I pictured myself doing in scary movies since I was a kid.
Were you reminded of Drew Barrymore’s opening scene in Scream when you first read your opening scene in the script?
Yes! Definitely. That’s one of my favorite horror movies, and that’s such an iconic opening. It’s still etched in my memory.
Generally speaking, is it hard to say no to a beautiful location like Fiji when you’re deciding what to do next?
A location can sound amazing, but I have to want to do the project one hundred percent. I have to want to play the character.
You and your castmates seemed to have a lot of fun together during your off days. Does that usually help the product on the screen in your experience?
I think so, especially in those group scenes. It creates a sort of camaraderie. It’s like being a part of a sports team in that way. There’s just things that start to sync up that you don’t think about when you’re in a scene. Knowing that the people around you have your back can definitely change a scene. You don’t have to feel closed-down or concerned that you’re going to screw up. It becomes more of a team effort, and it changes the way we interact with each other as a unit. When you’re jumping off a waterfall that’s particularly dangerous with your fellow people, something changes. (Laughs.)
There’s a scene in the movie where your character, Sloane, regroups with a few other characters around a waterfall. Was that the same waterfall you guys jumped off of during your downtime?
No, the other waterfall was way higher. I just remember when I jumped off, it was the first time I felt that falling feeling like you feel in a dream. Usually, when you jump into a pool, you just hold your breath and a couple seconds later, you’re in the water. This was absolutely terrifying because you’re holding your breath and you’re conscious of it for a lot longer until you hit the water. The waterfall in the movie was beautiful, too. We had to hike an hour to get to that, and people got sick on the way. Crewmembers hiked an hour up the mountain with equipment, and a lot of the places we shot didn’t have a path to get there. We just had to make one, especially with my running scenes. They made a path in the middle of a mountain; it was not there. That’s just how Fiji is. There weren’t trailers or bathrooms. The bathroom was the mountain; you were one with the planet. (Laughs.) It was really, really hardcore. In terms of physicality and resources, it was definitely the most difficult project I’ve done. We had to actually walk through that waterfall, but they cut it off early. It was so incredible; you want to drink the water.
Your character bullied Lucy Hale’s character, Melanie, when they were in high school, and it’s plagued Melanie ever since. Whether you’re playing the bully or the bullied, is it virtually impossible to not channel your own experiences since most people have bullied and/or been bullied to varying degrees?
Of course. I think more people have been bullied than we think. When I talk about it with my friends, they’ve all been bullied at one point in their lives. It’s incredibly common. So, I identify with that. I also identify with the fantasy of getting back at somebody, especially if it’s that kind of teen justice or vengeance. … So, I understand that fantasy and why other people would have that fantasy, especially when you’re thinking of high school boys. … I had a high school bully, and as you get older, it continues in a different way. You’re just not pressured to be around the same people in an institution for four years. Sloane was awful to Melanie, and she knows that.
As far as the torture scene that dumps water all over Sloane, were you able to get that done without too many takes?
No, I was just doing commentary with the director, Jeff Wadlow, and he was like, “Yeah, we only did it like twice!” And I was like, “No, no. No, we didn’t.” (Laughs.) It was confusing because we had to do one with the electric shock, but we could do that one multiple times because I had already gotten wet. It was just hard to get me dry again, and I think we had to do that once. I had to stay wet the whole time. So, there was dunking and what they would call “minor dunks.” I was soaking wet the entire day, and they had to constantly soak me. It was a torture chair; that’s for sure.
Was the water temperature favorable at least?
Some people had warmer buckets of water… (Laughs.) Not the water that they dropped, though. At least it was 80 degrees in Fiji — and it wasn’t toilet water like in the movie. So, it could’ve been worse.
Michael Pena told me that you guys shot in a real cave after I assumed it was a soundstage. Was that another trek for the cast and crew?
Oh, man, it was, and it was incredible. There are pictures that I have of Fiji that don’t look real; they look Photoshopped. When you watch the movie, what you are seeing is real; that’s really what it looks like including that cave. When we were filming, there were bats in the cave that flew over our head — tons of them.
Much like the aforementioned heels, I presume that Sloane’s dress was not ideal island attire. Did you get to burn one of the dresses at the wrap party?
I wanted to! I’m still waiting for them to send it to me. That dress was my biggest nemesis. I hated it. They had to sew me into it every single time I put it on, and since they made it, it didn’t fit in the front. There were a bunch of different versions of that dress because when you’re in one outfit for an entire movie, there are different stages of getting it dirty. Yes, you heard me correctly. It was terrible. When I did any running scenes, it would rip apart so they’d have to sew it again. I’m still waiting for them to send it to me so I can sit by myself like a total weirdo in my backyard and burn it. (Laughs.)
Was playing your own doppelgänger for a scene or two as fun as it looked?
Super cool. That was an added scene. We actually reshot that in New Orleans. Your head goes to “how can I make this super crazy and different?” What made her scary and weird was her being so similar to Sloane. We worked out the choreography with Jeff, where I wondered, “Am I looking in a mirror?” She’s being presented as deteriorated and the worst part of this character. It’s so cool. It’s also tough because you have to memorize all of your movements perfectly. It has to look completely in sync. It brought me back to my acting workshop days of mirroring. And I was working with a really great actress which made it so much easier. She was mimicking things I was doing when I was doing my sides, and that was a really cool experience. That was an add that we did a couple months prior to release.
You delivered an impressive monologue when Sloane called her husband. When you know you have an intense scene to shoot on the day, do you manage your energy rather carefully to ensure it all goes into the scene?
So, I have a story about that. I was really afraid about that scene. There are other takes where it was way over the top, but I knew Jeff wouldn’t use them. It’s also tough because we were on a time crunch, and you gotta do what you gotta do to get where you need to go. I definitely had my headphones on the whole day. It was also my audition scene, and usually, I get in my head when I do the first of my auditions. So, I do crazy, physical things in the bathroom before I go into my casting. That way, I can get more into my body because as soon as I get into my head, it’s harder to connect with the person that you’re reading with. Jeff Wadlow gave me such a great note, and it completely changed the experience for me when I did it again. I love when directors give you permission to work. So, that was really cool. We tried different stuff and then pulled it in. You just hope it lands when you have scenes like that. I never know what’s going to happen, and the best way to go into it is to have no expectations for what’s going to happen. Working with Lucy made my life a lot easier. She is a pro and such a machine. Michael Scott from The Office says, “Sometimes, I’ll start a sentence, and I don’t even know where it’s going.” Anyway, that was me with that scene. (Laughs.)
[Below contains major spoilers for Mr. Robot season four.]
Since your time on Mr. Robot was about to come to an end, was it helpful to be this far away from the show since Sam Esmail and co. started to shoot the final season while you were still in Fiji?
Yes and no. I texted them from Fiji a lot. To be honest, I think there were other things that were tough about that experience. I knew; I had made the decision to leave, and I worked with Sam on that. There was such a long hiatus — like two years. It was interesting because when I went back to set, it was different. It was a different crew, and because so much time had passed, it felt like a different set to me, which was really interesting. I was definitely gutted that last day. I mean, I love these people. So, that was tough. But, I was in Fiji, and I was texting them while they were in the dead of winter in New York. So, a part of me was like, “Yeah, this is better.” (Laughs.) No, that was my home. Mr. Robot was five years of my life. Angela is a character that I’m obsessed with. Ugh — fuck, man. You get it.
Angela was my favorite character on the show by a wide margin. So, when I got the episodes a few weeks early, I was pretty upset about the premiere, especially since I couldn’t vent to anyone about it. I just always felt that some form of revenge against Whiterose (BD Wong) belonged to Angela because she loved her mother throughout the series. Conversely, Elliot’s feelings for his parents only got more complicated as the series progressed. Plus, Whiterose manipulated Angela into facilitating a terrorist attack so payback was warranted in that regard, too. Once the premiere finally aired, I read Sam’s interview — as well as your exit interview — and you revealed that you were the one who requested Angela’s exit from the show. [Editor’s note: Esmail’s interview did not acknowledge Doubleday’s request to leave the show.] So, what made you decide that it was time for you and Angela to go?
(Sighs.) A lot of factors went into that. I thought about it for months and months and months. At the end of the day, what was empowering about that ending is that Sam never does what you want him to do. Of course, he’ll wrap up some things and give you some sort of satisfaction. He’s unpredictable, and I think that’s what makes the show so special. Angela and Elliot had intimacy, but their relationship lacked so much sentimental intimacy that my shittier taste would want them to have. That’s not that show. Every time we’d lean into that, Sam would go, “TM!” which means too much. To have it be her taking down Whiterose, sure, but I think what’s weirder, more interesting and semi-realistic is what happens between Price (Michael Cristofer) and Angela in that moment. When she’s talking to Price about the hypocrisy in that moment, that’s the big win. Her father, who basically turned her into a monster, is a hypocrite because it’s all bullshit. So, in the end, I find her to be the most woken up and the most courageous in that act to not give a shit because it literally does not matter anymore. Also, you still don’t know what Whiterose showed her; that will always be a secret. You don’t know what she knows. I don’t know if that was a good enough answer, but I haven’t thought about the show for a minute.
Did you shoot that Skype scene when you were in New York for your death scene, or did you do that later once you were back in Los Angeles?
No, I shot that Skype scene when I was in New York. I hated that scene because it was my first scene when I got there, and I was expecting A and B cam. I don’t know why I was thinking about that; obviously, it’d just be on a computer. But, I wasn’t looking at anyone so it just sucked. I was looking into this computer, and I realized it was more difficult than I thought it was going to be. It’s not a scene that you work out. It’s just like, “And go!” And I’m like, “Who am I looking at? Nobody.” So, it was tough. That pink room was Sam’s choice, so that was funny.
I’m pretty sure you didn’t do the running shots in the wedding dress, but....
Yes, I did! (Laughs.) I’m so sick of running in heels. I’m never doing it again. Running in that wedding dress was all me on the pier.
Please forgive me. I could tell that you did the wide shot in front of the Ferris wheel, but since the camera went out of its way to not show your face during the running sequence, I wrongfully assumed you had a double for that.
Yeah, it was all me. I didn’t do any double stuff on Mr. Robot. All of the oners and stunt stuff — I’ve always done my own stuff. I didn't have crazy stunts on the show, but it was all me.
Have you worn the Pradas that Sam gave you as a wrap gift, or are you bronzing them and putting them on display?
I’m bronzing them and putting them on display in a glass case. I have all of my Mr. Robot stuff all together. Oof, God, it always makes me cry. It was such a big time. Talking about it makes me so sad, but, yeah, I’ll keep them forever.
Did you have a plan going into most of your scenes as Angela, or did you feel your way through most of them in response to what Sam, [DP] Tod [Campbell] and your scene partners were doing?
I was so lucky with Sam Esmail. There were multiple times where I knew what he wanted me to do, and that was a bad thing. As soon as I knew what he wanted, my body just would not do it. There were multiple times, recently, when we went and shot. I would freak out and be like, “I know exactly what you want, but it’s not going to happen.” (Laughs.) Once I get messy and I get out of my head, then something finds its own way. Sometimes, I have a rough roadmap, but if I could not get a scene, Sam would be like, “Okay, we’ll just turn around and turn back around.” That doesn’t happen. I’m sensitive, and it’s annoying as hell because I have to be really protected. I can’t force it, and if I try and force it, my body is going to fight back even harder. It just becomes so frustrating, but when you have someone like Sam who’s super chill and goes, “I got your back... We’ll just turn around...” that’s what made me get there, literally. That permission, that level of respect and consideration from a great director is what allowed me to get there. For other scenes, I’ll have a roadmap of stuff that I want to do. For more difficult scenes, I’ll have a plan B in mind. And then, you have brilliant actors that you’re working with, and they’ll completely change anything that you ever thought. I remember working with Grace Gummer, and I forgot my line because I was so sucked into what she was talking about. It depends on so many factors. Also, there’s that scene between Angela and Elliot with the door between them. I think I’m lit up by white light, and he’s in red light. That shot was incredible, and when you’re working with people like Tod Campbell, Sam Esmail, the writers of Mr. Robot and a great cast, imagine what that scene would’ve been like if Angela was standing in front of Elliot in her apartment. It just wouldn’t have been the same. Tod Campbell’s lighting really took on a character in itself. It all just depends on so many factors. That’s why it’s really important to like who you’re working with and know who you’re working with. All of your ideas can change once you get to set. Anything that’s in my brain just doesn’t work for super vulnerable moments. So, I have to find ways to trick myself into getting into those scenes.
Lastly, you’ve done a lot in this business, but what’s something you’re still hoping to do, genre-wise?
My dad [actor Frank Doubleday] passed away a couple years ago…
It’s alright; I appreciate that. He played Romero in Escape From New York, so I’m just going to put this out into the zeitgeist: I want to play Romero. I know they’re going to remake it; I actually know that they’re remaking it. Somebody has the rights to remaking it; I don’t know where they’re at in their process, but I want to play Romero in Escape From New York really badly. His performance is stupid great, but that’s something I’ve been thinking about.
Well, as heartbreaking as it was to see Angela leave Mr. Robot earlier than expected, I still want to thank you for your work as the character. There’s something really cool about a character who finally discovers their power like she did towards the end of season one, be it the Terry Colby scenes or the famous Prada moment.
I’m not going to forget that you said that. You just made me cry. You better put that in the interview.
Fantasy Island is now available on digital HD and will be on VOD/Blu-ray on May 12.
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