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When it comes to processing the Mr. Robot final season premiere’s devastating first scene, perhaps it’s best to remember a certain phrase: “You’re panicking right now. Remove all emotion, and you will do just fine.”
In her closing moments on Earth, Angela Moss (Portia Doubleday) utters those words to Phillip Price (Michael Cristofer), one of the most powerful men in the world — but not powerful enough to stop what’s coming. It’s ironic that one of Angela’s final lines is one that Price, her biological father, uttered all the way back in season two under very different circumstances. Back then, Angela wasn’t in immediate risk of receiving two bullets to the back of the head — though perhaps she was on a collision course with such a brutal demise the entire time.
The final season premiere launches into action with Angela’s death, a continuation of the character’s final scene in season three. According to creator Sam Esmail, the writers’ room quickly determined that Angela’s execution was the right way to start season four, and in fact catalyzed the decision to end Mr. Robot after only four seasons.
“Unless we pulled punches,” he told The Hollywood Reporter, “there was no way Whiterose (BD Wong) was going to let her continue living and going out in the wild to figure out the machine, with what Whiterose had divulged to her. We felt that if we were being honest, it was the only end to her character.”
As Portia Doubleday explains it, she was a champion of the decision to kill Angela, saying it felt true to the spirit of what she represented since the first episode of Mr. Robot. Ahead, Doubleday speaks with THR about bringing her time with the USA Network thriller to such an abrupt and shocking end.
Portia, it’s hard to know where to begin, other than: No! Why?
I know. (Laughs.) I was able to watch it before the premiere, my death, and it was even startling for me! I felt an out-of-body experience. I’ve died in a movie prior to this experience, but leave it to Sam Esmail to make it really uncomfortable, real and awful. (Laughs.) Even my own reaction to the gunshot … oh, god. It was so uncomfortable to watch.
They showed the premiere in New York City, with several fans in the theater. Even though her death feels inevitable once Price starts walking away, the actual moment — the gunshot — caused a huge reaction: a simultaneous gasp.
That makes me feel good. I talked to Sam so much, at great length, about that moment. I think there’s so much power in it. Something that happens when you have been on a show for a long time, you start to get in sync with every department and in sync with the style. Even before we shot it, I knew Sam was going to do this as a wide, with Price walking away. I knew it was going to be a wide. I think that adds to how disturbing it is. It’s so real, having it in the [background] as opposed to having it in your face. The subtlety of it happening in the wide is what got me. It was so unsettling. I know it’s kind of weird to say, that I’m speaking about this like I’m an audience member, even though it’s me! But I’m still watching a girl get shot! It’s so unsettling.
When did you find out about Angela’s fate? Was it something you knew for a while, or only a little while before filming?
I actually spoke with Sam about doing it. We spoke after the third season. I can’t say this enough about Sam Esmail, even though I hate gushing — I could gush about him endlessly for a plethora of reasons — but the creative freedom he gives everyone, the range of everyone in each department to follow their own inspiration, is what makes everything he touches gold. That’s such a big compliment, and I don’t even want to compliment him that much! (Laughs.) But I really mean it. There’s so much I can say about who he is as a person and how that leaks into a working environment, and how that makes something so special. The collaborative effort is unlike any other experience I’ve had. But it means he almost expects you to know your character better than he does. So we had a very fruitful conversation, and we changed things, because it is very abrupt.
I went through each season, and it made sense, when you looked at the character. In the first season, she’s still trying to discover her identity. There’s a sense of self-hatred that has always been with her because of the loss of her mother. Throughout each season, she was seduced by the idea of having this power that was stolen from her at such a young age. That was her driving force. But that in itself becomes a compulsion, an obsession. I never would have thought Angela would go from who she was in the first season to who she became by the fourth season. Never. I don’t think it was all planned. I know it wasn’t. Looking at who she started out as and who she was in this ending, and this stretch and the movement… it was one of the best acting experiences of my life, obviously, for a number of reasons.
Angela was on a quest. When you look at each season, she was always going to end up in this situation. She was kidnapped in season two! She was in a black room, and still, that doesn’t stop her from pushing the lines. That’s what Price even says to her: “It’s a ridiculous obsession. You have to stop.” And she can’t, especially after she’s lost her mind. There’s no identity in its place. She hasn’t had a normal upbringing. She hasn’t had a normal life. Hence her relationship with Elliot, and why she had that relationship with Elliot. She’s not a vanilla character. I think you could have assumed she would take on that projected idea that you see in so much film and TV. She was the antithesis of that.
How did you want to play Angela’s final moments?
It’s funny. Right before the scene, Sam and I were walking up to [the set], and I said, “I’m nervous.” And he said, “Really?” It had been two years since I had been here! I was jumping into a moment that I created years ago, and that moment was created by five months of being in the headspace of being this person for so long and the progression of where I was and where she was, and the things I had been thinking about at the time that influenced all of what happens when you’re working and creating. I had to jump back into that. It was very hard. It was harder than I assumed it would be. I would do a take, and then felt like, “Wait, that wasn’t…” And Sam would jump in: “Remember where you were!” It was really tricky, trying to figure out what those levels were. But what Sam and I talked about, and what I stressed — because there were different versions of what this was going to be — was, at least from my standpoint, the scene is about Angela and Price. There’s a hypocrisy of who he is. It’s so reflective of everything this show touches upon, and what we criticize in our society today. This person who is obsessed with power and likes to play god, he criticizes her for sentimentalizing in the restaurant [in season two].
That’s when he says what Angela says back to him here: “Remove all emotion, and you’ll do just fine.”
Right. There’s so much hypocrisy in what he’s groomed her to become. For her, it was always a question of vengeance and justice. You can get power from both. If misused, you become someone like Price. I don’t think Angela was ever a full villain. She was on the line, choosing to maintain her integrity and morality. What destroyed her was the battle between both. When she looks at him, she wins the argument for the first time. She’s won the dance for the first time since he brought her over to E Corp. In this quest, she’s finally got her answer. That’s what I think is beautiful about her.
What were some of the other versions of this scene you mentioned?
I never wanted Angela to run, but I did have a weird idea that he quickly shot down… (Laughs.) That’s one of the things with Sam. He’ll shout at me: “TM!” Which means, “too much!” After working with him for many years, you learn the different levels of that. I already know after a take what Sam is going to say. Now we can just communicate in syllables: “Yeah, do the thing, do that, we got it.” Certain secondhand languages.
Angela’s endgame quest was about reuniting with her mother. In the end, she’s reunited with the father she never knew she had — for all of five minutes, before her death. Did you feel it was a victory in its own way, or a tragedy?
It just feels like a Sam Esmail ending. It’s super tragic, but at this point, it’s so in alignment with Sam that I don’t think it’s a shocking tragedy. I don’t think Sam makes a mess of any emotional moments. There’s a straightforward flatness to it, which is what makes it interesting. It reminds me a lot of David Fincher. For me, of course she’s going to get shot in the back after finding out this man who she’s had this weird, boiling relationship with — who she has dressed up for, who basically tortured her mother and was the only part of herself she loved — and he finds out he’s a liar, has betrayed her, and is a blasphemous hypocrite, and then she gets shot in the back? That seems very Sam Esmail to me. (Laughs.) That seems right!
Did you do anything special on your final day on set? A death dinner, or anything along those lines?
The last day was really rough for me. It was a difficult scene to just jump into. I got so nervous during the sendoff. How can you encapsulate and thank a group of people who have actively changed your life for five years, that you have relied on for so long? After being hysterical in that scene, I was worn out, but I was crying harder, and I said, “We should have done this first! It would have been good to have this for the scene!” (Laughs.) I was deeply sad. It’s just so strange. Thank god there were two years in the gap between shooting [seasons three and four], because you say goodbye to certain memories along the way, knowing you’re going to close this chapter of your life. Sam gave me my Prada shoes as a wrap gift, which was amazing and I’ll cherish them forever. I thought that was pretty classic. After my sendoff, I just laid in the grass with blood all over me. It felt right.
What did your time on Mr. Robot mean for you? What will you take away from Angela?
Oh my god, I just got so sad. Damn it, you’re making me cry in the middle of my day. I already said goodbye! (Laughs.) The reason why I chose this profession is because I hope to connect with other people. I hope people connect with whatever I show through the characters I play. I loved Angela because she’s … (Pauses.) Oh, Carly better cry whenever you interview her, or I’m going to talk so much shit to her.
The goal is to make Christian Slater cry before we’re done here.
Okay, good. (Laughs.) I chose to do this to make people feel like they can empathize with my characters, so they don’t feel alone. It’s what I love about cinema. It’s what I love about television shows. There are moments that can be captured in a scene without any dialogue that gives you the lexicon for your own experience, that you can be alone with these characters who are especially tragic. This character taught me so much about me and myself and my own journey. She was an incredibly strong woman in a man’s world. She didn’t give in in order to please those around her. She stuck to her own compass, while also dealing with the internal conflict that she had with her childhood and what she stood for and what she believed in. She didn’t sacrifice any of that in her journey.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Listen to Sam Esmail talk about Angela’s death and much more in the latest Series Regular podcast:
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