When the cast of Mr. Robot first started filming the show, even they were a little confused about their characters and the storylines. The USA Network series has about as many twists and turns as a Coney Island coaster, and the cast can relate to how fans felt watching the show.
“How many times in the beginning last season would we be like, ‘What? This doesn’t make sense!’ ” said Carly Chaikin, who along with co-stars Rami Malek, Portia Doubleday and Christian Slater spoke at the Vulture Festival in New York City on May 21 in a panel moderated by Vulture associate editor Abraham Riesman.
But Chaikin, who plays Darlene, credits the show’s creator and executive producer Sam Esmail with keeping everyone on track. “He knew everything,” she said.
But when the cast returned for season two, which premieres July 13, some of the actors had to do research to remember what happened during the first season. “I have to Wikipedia our own show!” Doubleday, who plays Angela, admitted at the fest.
Esmail originally conceived the show as a film. It follows Elliot (Malek), a hacker struggling with social anxiety and clinical depression who works for a cybersecurity firm by day and hacks at night. When he meets a mysterious anarchist, Mr. Robot (Slater), he’s persuaded to join a group of hacktivists who call themselves the fsociety and want to hack into E Corp, one of the largest corporations, which also happens to be the biggest client of the firm where Elliot works.
“He’s thought it all the way through,” said Slater of Esmail, who wasn’t present at the panel because he was working on post-production for season two. “If you pull on one thread, it will unravel the whole thing.”
But Slater definitely knew there was something up with his character, as Esmail told him at an initial meeting that Mr. Robot was just a figment of character Elliot’s imagination. “I was ecstatic that I picked up on that, so that put us on the same page from day one,” Slater said, adding that he loved the amount of creative freedom this trait gave him as an actor: “If I’m created out of his subconscious of his brain, I can just do whatever I want!”
Doubleday said she was initially attracted to the series because of the strong female roles. She wanted to audition for both Angela and Darlene, though she ended up only auditioning for Angela (Chaikin auditioned for both).
“It’s such a gift to be able to not play a romantic interest,” said Doubleday. “Often there’s so many scripts that I get and in the breakdown, that’s what I get. Oh, you’re funny and cute, and you’re a romantic interest.”
Both Chaikin and Doubleday were intrigued by their characters’ friendship and revealed there will be more to explore in season two. “What’s so interesting working on this show is how much we discover as it goes. I love our friendship onscreen and off-screen,” Chaikin said, as the crowd aww-ed.
Riesman asked Malek and Slater about the physicality of their characters, particularly in a scene in the season one finale where Elliot chokes Mr. Robot and throws him against a wall. “We just knew how far we can go with one another,” Malek said. “And in between takes, we were laughing all through that thing.”
The first scene Malek and Slater filmed together was on the Ferris wheel in Coney Island, where the fsociety’s headquarters are located. Every time they made a mistake, the Ferris wheel would have to go all the way around to reset the scene, allowing the two time to bond and get to know each other.
Ultimately, the cast joked, they just wanted to impress Esmail, who is directing all 10 episodes of season two.
“I know that he will yell at me if it’s not right,” Doubleday said.
“The other day, I walked in and I was like, ‘How was that?’ And he was like, ‘Fucking terrible!’ ” Chaikin said with a laugh. “It’s an open relationship,” she explained of the cast’s relationship with Esmail, adding that they feel very free to ask questions and give input.
One area where the cast really had input initially was in creating the costumes and visual look of the show. Slater wears his own glasses and hat in the series, and Malek remembered trying on countless pairs of black skinny jeans before shooting started. He wanted the pants to have a thicker material because his character suffers from social anxiety and doesn’t like to be touched. Meanwhile, Chaikin admitted she just wished she could dress like Darlene.
“Just wait for this season!” Chaikin said about Darlene’s wardrobe. “I wish I was cool enough to dress like her, or had the time or cared enough to put that effort in.”
During the panel, Malek also shared that the voiceover device has been particularly helpful to him for getting into the character. While shooting a scene, Malek has an earpiece with someone else reading the voiceover in his ear, and he records the narration himself a few days after wrapping an episode.
“From an actor’s perspective, you’re always trying to figure out what your subconscious is doing in every scene, and I got it,” said Malek. “It’s great to have that and then play against it. What can I do in the scene that is opposite of what is going on in my head?”
The show has enjoyed critical success, winning a Golden Globe for TV drama and the Critics’ Choice Award for drama series. The cast had to leave the Vulture Fest early to attend the Peabody Awards, where the series is receiving an award.
Before leaving, they answered some audience questions. One guest mentioned that she had skipped her senior prom to attend the event. “If we weren’t going to the Peabodys, Christian would take you!” Malek said, before answering her question: What would your character wear to prom?
“I don’t see Elliot going to prom,” he said.