'Mr. Robot' Star Rami Malek on Elliot's Big Move: "His Belief System Is Altered"

"He really puts Elliot through the wringer," the actor says of Elliot's relationship with Mr. Robot.
David Giesbrecht/USA Network

[Warning: This story contains spoilers from the series premiere of Mr. Robot.]

The word is out about Mr. Robot.

Wednesday marked the hacker drama's official TV premiere, but it was hardly the first showing of USA's newest offering. The series has bowed at Tribeca Film Festival and SXSW – the latter where it won the coveted audience award – in addition to the nearly dozen websites that have had the pilot available to stream since May 27.

"The reaction from audiences who have seen it has been mind-blowing," star Rami Malek tells The Hollywood Reporter. "People are eager for more Mr. Robot."

USA Network appeased fans with an early season two renewal hours ahead of it's cable launch. Now that viewers have met antisocial cyber security technician/hacker Elliot (Malek) and his new acquaintance, fsociety leader Mr. Robot (Christian Slater), Malek spoke with THR about their characters' "love-hate" relationship, Elliot's "debilitating" backstory and why the series motivated him to see a shrink.

When you first got the part, what kind of research did you do to play Elliot and better understand him?

He's extremely complicated. I read as many books on that type of disorder as I could. I watched every documentary I could about computer hacking; they show a lot of these guys who you can tell are an entirely different breed. I also hired a psychologist to talk to because I really wanted to get everything right. I hate when I watch shows and things don’t feel accurate. … In between doing that and our executive producer hiring a tech advisor for us, it's been incredibly beneficial, just feeling free enough in the world where I can take the chances that I want to take because they're all rooted in truth. The response from audiences that have seen it, especially from the tech community and people who share Elliot's inability to be as socially, I guess, extroverted feel like we're getting it right. From the tech aspect, the community feels that we're nailing it so that's huge.

You had a quick turnaround for the project. The show was ordered in December, you're already on episode eight and you've been showing the pilot at various festivals. Were you ever about the timing and getting everything done?

Our scripts are so dense – in a good way, in a way where everything that is on paper is incredibly important but we jam a lot into an episode that is really fast-paced and filled with great energy and great information and incredible storytelling. But to wrap your head around everything that goes on can be a bit daunting. But when you watch those episodes, everything makes so much sense that you realize why everything is so precise. Coming from the pilot, I felt like I really honed in on who Elliot was and there was a part of me that wanted to continue shooting as soon as possible rather than doing a job in between because I didn't want to loose that. I felt like I had a good grasp of who he was and I wanted to jump into the next episode.

Speaking about his evolution, Elliot is very much a loner in the pilot. How will joining fsociety and working with them change him?

Elliot wants to change this bad world he's living in and the system, but he's not capable of doing that on his own. Then when he meets Christian Slater's character, he finds a way into being able to transcend what he's capable of doing on his own and he becomes empowered by this man and this society he joins and his belief system is altered. He feels that there now can be a way, that if he joins their efforts then that can lead to some incredible changes in the society that he lives in. Sometimes it just takes someone who has lived a little bit longer and has the ability and the authority to change your ethical and moral point of view in a way that you can step outside of yourself and be more than you thought you were capable of.

Mr. Robot is only briefly seen in the pilot. What can you say about his and Elliot's dynamic going forward and how they work together?

You get to see this love-hate relationship because as much as Mr. Robot can fill Elliot with a certain type of confidence that he may not have otherwise, he also asks him to do things at times that are against his moral code. He really puts Elliot through the ringer in terms of justifying whether the consequences of his actions are worth it for a greater good. There's this real love-hate relationship between the two of them. They're constantly arguing but they both have certain goals that they want to achieve and entirely different ways of going about them. There is definitely some conflict that arises between the two of them, but there's also a special bond where they really want to affect some type of change in the society that they are disenchanted with and that they find to be corrupt. They share those basics notions.

One of Elliot's most interesting relationships is his friendship with Angela. Why do you think he's let Angela in as close as he has when he keeps so many other people at arm's length?

Angela and Elliot go way back to a world where Elliot was a happier child. They've known each other for quite a bit and they've both gone through some tragic moments together in their lives as you'll come to find out. So there's a history there. This harkens back to a time where Elliot's life was a lot easier and he genuinely cares about her. Now he's entered a world where caring for people has become incredibly difficult thing for him to do. But in another sense, there's something about her. The love that he does have for her, no matter how hard it is, he has always got a special place for Angela because of their history with one another.

She knows how he can be with other people; he misses her birthday party in the premiere. Is he worried that if he remains so removed that he might loose her? What does he have to do to keep her in his life?

Elliot is so determined and focused on taking down the system and this corrupt society that we live that a lot of his relationships will fall by the wayside. As he gets more involved with fsociety and this plan that he and Mr. Robot and everyone at fsociety come up with, it definitely compromises his relationships that he's really striving to hold on to. That does get addressed down the line in future episodes. We really see the relationship be affected by his distance and a lot of moments on the show have that affect on him. He becomes so one-sided that he loses touch with the thing that I think he really wants the most, which is the human connectivity. The one person he really does have that with is Angela. … He's not able to see that in the moment because of what he's after.

You talked about an "easier time" in his life. What happened to Elliot that really made him the person he is today? Is there a specific turning point?

It wasn't just the loss of his father to leukemia but the way it happened which you'll discover down the line is really what definitely altered him in a certain way. … It was incredibly traumatic for him and that's something that I talked about with the therapist that I work with quite a bit. The effects of that happening to someone at a very tender young age of eight years old can be incredibly debilitating. Some of the only things you can really hang on to are what you had before those events so that is a friendship like he has with Angela. There are a lot of things Elliot is trying to rectify as he goes forth in his life and it's one thing that I love about him, is that he is so complicated and deals with so much trauma and tragedy and grief and loneliness on a daily basis. He sets out to alter this society that he feels compromises him, his privacy and the lives of those he loves, but its really complicated because in doing so, he ends up compromising the relationships he holds most dear in his life.

Mr. Robot airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on USA.