'Mr. Robot' Actresses on Drama's Complex Female Roles: "We're Not Secondary Characters"

It's an equal playing field on the second season of USA's Mr. Robot.

Thanks to the promotion of Stephanie Corneliussen to series regular and the addition of new full-time castmember Grace Gummer, the cast of the hacker drama is now evenly split among between males and females. So it was only fitting that USA Network's presentation Wednesday at the Television Critics Association's summer press tour included an all-female panel also including Carly Chaikin, Portia Doubleday and Dawn Olmstead, executive vp development at Universal Cable Productions, which produces the series.

"I don’t think there was any mandate for [creator] Sam [Esmail]," Olmstead told reporters of the actresses's increased screen time. "I think Sam fell in love with all of his characters."

And it's not just their increased time on camera that has earned the show praise, but the substantial storylines the female characters have enjoyed in season two.

"They're so strong, they have so much ambition," continued Olmstead. "It's not based on being a woman or being someone's spouse or girlfriend."

Added Gummer: "We're not secondary characters. We drive the story as much as Rami [Malek] and Christian [Slater]."

Corneliussen, for example, has relished playing the ruthless, manipulative and unpredictable Joanna Wellick, who takes part in many watercooler moments, such as when she stabbed her own uterus with a fork to induce labor in the season one finale. "I was so mortified," the actress recalled of the scene. "I love that Joanna gets to push the limits. She gets to walk on the edge."

Doubleday, whose character began working for E Corp at the end of season one, has enjoyed exploring a different side of Angela as a result.

"There was such a change in the second season and I talked to Sam a lot about what that transition would look like," she said. "It was kind of tough. [Angela] is very different in the second season." 

The entire process has been especially eye-opening for Gummer, who first auditioned for the role of Dom without ever having seen the series. "I just went in there blindly without any sort of plan, except what I wanted to do for this character and what sort of weird edge I wanted to give her," the actress recalled. "it was a brand-new character, so I didn't know what to expect."

After her audition, however, Gummer binge-watched the entire first season. "I was so intrigued," she said. "To me, the show is important and this character is very special and I just felt so honored to be able to join the Robot family and I told Sam that on the phone."

The importance of her role and the series is something Chaikin said she has come to appreciate more with time as well. "I actually did a panel with girls who code and women in tech, and what's so interesting is that when we first started, I never thought about my role and my character as, 'Oh, I get to play a woman in tech and represent that, " she said. "It was brought to my attention and really made me that much more excited about my role, to be able to play that part and represent that."

It's a far cry from her previous series role as the dim-witted Dahlia on Suburgatory.

"My favorite story is Sam and [executive producer] Chad Hamilton refused me to see at first for this part. Our casting director Susie Farris really fought for me and was like, 'Trust me, she's not actually like that.' And so for me in my career, I couldn’t ask for a better job especially coming off of Suburgatory," said Chaikin. "Darlene is definitely more up my alley and is really a dream role that I always wanted to do."

"Of course, I love playing a smart person and not that blonde deadpan," she continued. "This is definitely a better representation of the work I want to do as an actor."

One of the other perks of the gig for Chaikin? The freedom to curse after being restricted for three seasons on a broadcast show. "It really honestly does help. To have the freedom to be able to speak how we all speak is great," she said.

Mr. Robot airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. ET/PT on USA.