8:26pm PT by Josh Wigler
'Mr. Robot' Star Portia Doubleday on Season 2's "Completely Unpredictable" Twists and Turns
[Warning: This story contains spoilers for season two, episode two of USA Network's Mr. Robot.]
Remember what Thomas Wayne always told young Bruce about falling down so we can learn to pick ourselves back up again? Ray, the new Mr. Robot mystery man played by Craig Robinson, takes issue with that Batman Begins premise.
"The whole thing is a fall," he tells Elliot Alderson (Rami Malek) near the end of the sophomore season's second episode. "You can't help but be in a perpetual state of grasping in the dark. It's not about getting up. It's about stumbling — stumbling in the right direction. It's the only true way to move forward."
Ray's advice comes right at the height of Elliot spending nearly a full week awake, hopped up on Adderall in an attempt to get rid of Mr. Robot (Christian Slater) forever. It doesn't work, but Ray's outlook on life seemingly resonates with Elliot, as he begins to wonder whether or not it's best to go with the flow … or the fall, as it were.
Even though he's speaking with Elliot in the scene, Ray's words reflect the journey of a different player altogether: Angela Moss (Portia Doubleday), Elliot's childhood friend, who, like Elliot, lost a parent due to an E Corp cover-up long ago. Unlike Elliot, who formed rogue hacker group fsociety in order to take down the conglomerate, Angela traveled inside the belly of the beast, accepting a high-paying job within E Corp's PR department, working closely with CEO Phillip Price (Michael Cristofer).
Indeed, Angela is so close to Price that the two went out to dinner together at a high-scale restaurant famous for its semifreddo. Also attending the meal: two E Corp executives, pleasant enough on the surface, but secretly responsible for the cover-up that ended in Angela's mother's death. Price reveals this information after the two men have left the table, providing Angela with enough evidence of their insider trading to put them behind bars for years.
"Whatever you're doing," she tells Price, "I don't trust it."
"You're panicking right now," he responds, practically hissing in her ear. "I understand. It's a big decision you're making, because these men? Their lives will be destroyed. But the minute you remove emotion from this, you'll do just fine."
With that, Price provides his own outlook on life, illuminating the dark path that Angela's been walking ever since she joined the "evil" company's payroll. THR spoke with Portia Doubleday for more insight on Angela's current state of mind, whether or not she's still working against the company in her own calculated way, and what the back-to-back deaths of Allsafe boss Gideon Goddard (Michel Gill) and fsociety hacker Romero (Ron Cephas Jones) mean for the season moving forward.
Let's start with the most important question: how was the semifreddo, really?
It was delicious. (Laughs.) No, we didn't eat any of it. It took a lot of acting chops to get there and really believe it. That definitely was not on the table. I did have some juice in my wine glass, though. That was nice!
The dinner scene definitely stands out as a major moment for Angela, culminating in Price offering up two heads on a silver platter. What do you remember about approaching this scene?
I loved this sequence. I remember [creator Sam Esmail] and I were talking for a long time about that entry. We talked about that moment being very full. She's kind of brainwashed herself at that point before she goes, and she's living in this very weird dream. There's an element of… it's a fine line between how she's being seduced by Price. I think in her mind, she's definitely dressed differently, and she had a different idea of what that dinner was going to be like. I think she thought that maybe he's attracted to her. Not necessarily that she's attracted to him in that way, but there is this fine line that we're playing with on both sides.
Even the music comes to a halt when the camera pans around, and both the viewer and Angela sees that this isn't a one-on-one date with Price.
Right. Sam wanted to capture that moment of Angela's idea completely being shattered, what this would be like. That's why there's something very dangerous about the dynamic between Angela and Price. He's extremely unpredictable. She's still trying to figure him out. There's that push-pull game in the scene prior, when she walks into his office and she stands up for herself, after she's regained confidence in kind of reprogramming herself. She says: "Hey, I don't think that's a good decision. We should go with Bloomberg, and this is the reason why." And then he stops her, because he knows she's right, but it's this test. It's this push-pull, back and forth. He offers up this dinner that she never saw coming, and she probably questioned it a lot, and then inevitably went. She's very seduced by what he has. She's very seduced by what he can offer her in terms of power and respect. He believes in her. That makes her even more aggressive in terms of wanting to have what he has, or wanting to be influenced by him.
At the same time, the dinner is very frightening. I'll never forget it: I almost started laughing, because my entire body changed. I got the chills. It's when he comes up to my ear. It was terrifying. Terrifying! I keep using this word so many times, but there's something so seductive. At the same time, I was in complete fear of his ownership over me, of the fact that he knows that I'm probably going to make this decision, and Angela has to put up this front of not trusting him. There's this moral dilemma, too. She just spent this dinner with these gentlemen who she actually likes. They're normal, and he's talked about their accomplishments…
And their families…
Yeah. So what should she do? It's another test. He's giving her that decision. I think it goes in line with her theme throughout the entire show, whether she's going to do it or not, whether or not she'll turn them in. Will she pick her emotional values and her moral code and her sense of dignity and respect? Will she ruin these lives? I'm so interested in people's responses. What would you do in that situation? What would you do if you were faced with these people who were in the room when it was decided that [Angela's mom] should be killed? Would you offer them up? Would you turn them in?
You've used the words "brainwashed" and "reprogamming" to describe Angela. We've seen her recite affirmations for herself in both episodes this seasons. Does she have to talk herself into this deal with the devil — into this relationship with E Corp?
Definitely. After what happened in season one… when you watch someone kill themselves on national television, and you actually make the decision to work in an environment like this… she's carrying a lot of shame and guilt. What she's basically being told, and I think this is key in the scene: "Get rid of your emotions, and you'll know what to do." That's essentially what she's trying to do. She's trying to suppress any emotional reactions to her decisions, because she finds that maybe she'll be more productive that way. I think that there's something incredibly troubling about needing to constantly confirm to yourself that you have the confidence when you have all of these feelings telling you the opposite: "You shouldn't do this. You shouldn't go to dinner with him. You shouldn't be working there." Those feelings are also being confirmed by everyone around her. Her best friends would not approve. She does not have her family's support. So I think it's a tool for her to be able to survive in an environment that's as dangerous as it is — especially with Price.
Earlier in the episode, Angela stares at the newspaper clipping on Price's wall about the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. Price says: "A man can change the whole world with a bullet in the right place." One of Angela's affirmations in the season premiere is: "I am confident." In that same episode, Price says: "You can't have a 'con' without the 'confidence.'" We know that Angela, through season one, was aiming at E Corp. She was trying to take down the people who changed her life for the worse. Is that still on the board? Is Terry Colby's advice from the first season, to try and change things from within, still in the mix for Angela?
Definitely, and Sam was talking about this as well. What makes this character so compelling is how layered she is. That's what's real. That's what I can identify with. I think being compromised over time looks like this. It's never one way. There are no absolutes. It's not like, she drank the kool-aid, and that's the reality. I don't want to give anything away, but I will say that that kind of white light still persists within Angela. That's why she's so troubled. That's why she constantly has to confirm these things with herself. Whether or not she's going either way, you'll have to find out! (Laughs.) But you definitely get glimpses of both worlds, I would say. I think she definitely still believes that if she stays… she has to accommodate her environment. She has to learn how to play the game. She has to learn how to have a relationship with Price. She has to confront that she's being incredibly seduced by the fact that she's never had this kind of validation before. She's never had power or respect, especially after having all of those things so stripped away at such a young age in her childhood. I thought about that so much in preparing this character. What are our real motivations as people? Are we really doing things for the right reasons, or does it come from a place of trying to fill some gap, or some need — the need to be validated and respected, the need to have power because your power was stripped and taken away from you? That can be very dangerous. So I think that's a huge theme, back and forth, throughout the season. The reason Angela and Elliot had such a special connection is that they both wanted to change the world. She actually thought she could. She says it in the first season: "I have an idea that's going to change the world." I think she's still motivated by the idea that if she's able to own and understand this environment, she'll be able to slip in somehow, and make the changes that will alter this company for the better. That shows up over and over again. Whether or not she'll have to make terrible decisions along the way? I think that's how you get slowly compromised without knowing it, without understanding what's happening to you, even when you feel you have so much control.
Price offers condolences for the death of Angela's ex-boss, Gideon. She deadpans in response: "Thank you, sir. I've been pretty broken up about it." It's interesting, when you view that in the context of removing emotion from the equation. How is Gideon's death sitting with Angela? Is she really broken up by it?
Well, that's the other thing. I think it comes from that same place in her. She can't be affected by one thing without being affected by everything else that she feels terrible about. I think that's a result of… not that she doesn't feel it, but that she's not allowing herself to be affected by it. She's certainly not going to allow Price to see her reaction, because he wouldn't approve of it. I think that's part of this process of understanding that those qualities don't work in this environment, especially in the first episode, when she's in the office and on the phone and making deals. There's no room for emotion. There's no room for taking things personally. That's what she's being taught by [Price]. I think with Gideon, there's a lot of fear coming from that. She doesn't know what happened. She has no idea her involvement in that, or what happened with her boss. I think she carries that home with her. Later, you see the detriment of her doing this to herself. You see what it's like when you start to repress everything, and how obsessive that becomes. That's essentially your lifeline, not being able to feel, through any of the actions that you're doing. She found that that's the best way to survive this environment that she's in.
Gideon died in the premiere, and Romero died in the latest episode. That's two major characters off the board, two weeks in a row. What should we be taking away from the fact that the show is executing such important characters so early on in the season? What is that telling us about Mr. Robot this year?
I think it's a dangerous world. It's a completely different world than season one. It's completely unpredictable. Now you're starting to see the consequences of everything happening. All of the unanswered questions are starting to get answers this season. I would say you should expect to be very surprised. There's an element of this show that's incredibly dangerous, and it was a big surprise to us when we were all reading these scripts. We actually read the last four together. I would say that with this season and where it's heading… I don't think people will be able to predict where it's heading. I've been reading Reddit, and what they're saying about the show, and they're reaching some interesting conclusions, but what's incredible about Sam's writing is that it's never quite what you think it's going to be… so stay tuned. (Laughs.)
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