8:45am PT by Josh Wigler
'Mr. Robot': Grace Gummer on Filming Mass Shooting Scene and How 'Real Housewives' Inspired Dom
Everything goes south in the blink of an eye — or at least in the blink of a pedestrian crossing signal.
Dominique "Dom" DiPierro, the tenacious federal agent at the heart of Mr. Robot's second season, has tracked two persons of interest to a West Village restaurant. She radios for backup, breathes deep, crosses the street, and enters the restaurant, immediately engaging in a tense conversation that viewers are not allowed to hear. Seconds later, two men on a motorcycle roll by. One of them hops off, crosses the street, and — just as the crossing signal counts down to zero — unloads an automatic weapon on the restaurant's inhabitants. Gunfire is exchanged. Dom tags the shooter. The cops arrive. The shooter shoots himself rather than be taken alive. Dom bursts through the restaurant doors, flashes her badge, surveys the damage, and breathes, blood and panic all over her face.
"That was a very hard scene to shoot, because it was a oner," Grace Gummer, the actress who plays DiPierro, tells THR about the 20th episode of the USA Network drama's intense cliffhanger. "It was the middle of the night. We closed down Sixth Avenue and Spring Street. I did about 50-100 burpees before each take to get myself all revved up and sweaty, as if I had been running for a block. There was so much going on, with the timing of the cop cars and then the Dark Army pulling up and me running in and going outside with the blood splattered… so we really had to get it right. We did a lot of rehearsals, and that was the last one we did, just as the sun was coming up, and it was the best one."
The harrowing scene, presented in one uninterrupted shot by Mr. Robot creator-writer-director Sam Esmail, stands out as one of the most haunting images of the show's run, let alone its second season. It also summarizes DiPierro, the new kid on the block this season.
"My character, Dom, lives and breathes this job — just how Sam lives and breathes Mr. Robot," says Gummer, describing the relentless way in which Agent DiPierro focuses on the task at hand and forges her way forward in the investigation into fsociety.
Although she certainly represents an antagonistic force barreling toward Elliot Alderson (Rami Malek) and the hackers at the heart of the tale, Dom herself comes across as one of the show's few "white hats," purely motivated in her pursuit of the parties responsible for the show's 5/9 Hack, an event that's thrown the global economy into utter chaos. But looks can be deceiving, as someone like Elliot knows all too well — and perhaps Dom knows it, too.
"I still feel like I'm finding out who this person is," says Gummer. "She has so many layers to her and so many secrets, that I don't think she even faces herself. I think she puts her entire self into her work, sort of in fear of or distraction from discovering who she really is. She has no life, so she puts all of herself into this case."
Not that viewers don't know anything about Dom. Really, they know quite a lot: she's a born and raised New Jersey native (Gummer says she watched The Real Housewives of New Jersey and conjured up memories of New Jersey classmates in preparing for the role), with very little time for beating around the bush, and all the time in the world for lollipops.
"That is a Sam thing," Gummer laughs, talking about Dom's snacking habits. "The turkey sandwiches, the eating, the oral fixations she has — that's all Sam's idea. But I do think those sort of eccentricities add to the specificity of who she is. It makes her so different from everyone on the show."
Differences aside, Dom shares at least one common thread with virtually everyone on the show: her sense of loneliness. Few ideas are so central to the premise of Mr. Robot than the isolation that occurs in the modern digital era. Viewers witnessed Dom's solitary existence firsthand at multiple points early in the season, through her insomnia and her bleak conversations with Alexa, one of Dom's few friendly sounding boards — a sounding board that just so happens to be an Amazon app.
"When you think you know who someone is, you're completely wrong," Gummer says about Dom's personal life. "You think she's earnest, friendly, nice… and she is all of those things, but then she goes home, and she has no one to go home to. She listens to weird country music, puts on a bunch of makeup, falls asleep to reality TV, and masturbates to fall asleep. There's this whole other side to people that we don't know, that we think we know through social media and their online profile, but you don't know this person."
Indeed, Gummer teases that there's even more about Dom's personal life waiting to be revealed: "You'll see more in the next couple of episodes that will reveal more about her, and marry her personal life with her work."
For her part, Gummer felt she finally started understanding DiPierro during an early season two exchange with BD Wong, the veteran actor who plays Dark Army hacker Whiterose. The scene takes place in China, with DiPierro disclosing details about her past — why she became a federal agent, a decision rooted in romance gone wrong — in an unexpected moment of openness with Wong's enigmatic character. She remembers: "That was the first scene where Sam and I first looked at each other and said, 'Okay, this is what we're working with. This is who she is.'"
The morning following her intimate 10 minutes with Whiterose, DiPierro is plunged into the thick of a firefight with Dark Army operatives ("Sam likes those action oners," says Gummer), and in the ensuing weeks, she's hot on the heels of Elliot's colleagues, friends and family, bringing her right up to the moment where yet another masked gunman unloads his weapon on a group of individuals that may or may not include Dark Army hacker Cisco (Michael Drayer) and fsociety lieutenant Darlene (Carly Chaikin), Elliot's sister.
"She knows that someone got away," Gummer teases about what's coming next. "She knows that she maybe f—ed up. She doesn't know what happened. I think she's incredibly exhausted, like I was when I got home from finishing that scene."
But exhaustion won't stand between Dom DiPierro and the work that needs to be done, at least not for long.
"I don't think she gives a shit if people are doubting her, or if she's not going in the right direction. She's just not going to give up," says Gummer. "Maybe that's why Sam made her a true Jersey girl. I definitely connect to her in that way, being a New Yorker. That fearlessness, that toughness that gets her up in the morning and helps her do her job very well. I think she thrives on that challenge. She uses that challenge as fuel for her to not give up and to keep going, in a Jodi Foster, Silence of the Lambs sort of the way. She's the only one who truly believes in it, so she's going to go for it."
Follow THR's Mr. Robot coverage all season long for interviews, news and theories.