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The hacker group at the center of USA Network’s new drama Mr. Robot is squarely focused on exposing the truth. But the stars of the freshman breakout prefer to play it close to the vest.
“You know what’s hard about doing a TV show? You can’t say anything,” Portia Doubleday tells The Hollywood Reporter with a laugh. “I put an Instagram picture of me and [co-star] Carly [Chaiken] doing something silly and I got in a lot of trouble for it. So I have to pick my words and make sure that I don’t hint at anything.
It’s especially a problem on the already renewed freshman hacker drama, which has earned critical acclaim and big buzz for its fast-paced and extremely serialized brand of storytelling. “Each episode feels like its own movie,” says Doubleday. “There’s so much that goes on, especially with Angela, because I think she that she’s consistently transitioning, Even from the pilot until the fifth episode, so much changes.”
Indeed. In the most recent episodes of the series, Angela broke up with her philandering longtime boyfriend Ollie (Ben Rappaport), moved back in with her dad and, most importantly, infected her company, Allsafe, with a hacker’s CD so as to protect herself and her family. And that all came after she and childhood friend Elliot (Rami Malek) learned that Evil Corp was responsible for her mother and his father’s deaths — something she will begin to investigate in Wednesday’s episode.
“It was a struggle for me because I like to know everything that’s going to happen with my character. I like a lot of direction on working out who my character is, and what she’s going to do,” says Doubleday. “I can’t wait to get back and start it again for season two. I have no idea what’s going to happen.”
Doubleday spoke with THR about Angela’s “internal struggle,” her and Elliot’s surprising similarities and why her character “should not be underestimated.”
I have to say it’s been a surprising couple of episodes for your character, particularly when she uploaded the hacker’s CD to Allsafe.
Yeah, that was a big conversation before we actually shot. I remember sitting down with [creator] Sam [Esmail], because I had no idea what was going to go on with Angela’s arc. That’s one of many catalysts for where she’s going as a character.
What motivated her to do that?
I would say her internal struggle has so much to do with whether or not she’s validating herself by deciding whether that tradition of power in the corporate world is essentially bigger than maintaining her morals and her integrity. Sam and I talked about that a lot because I think in that moment, she realizes that this identity that she’s built for herself is delusional, that it’s basically counterfeit. They don’t care about her, no one’s really looking out for her and she’s not working toward something that she wants, she’s working toward an idea of what she thinks she should have. Coming from her background, she thinks if you do the right things, then you’ll be able to climb the corporate ladder, which I don’t really think she wants anymore.
It’s been really interesting researching what it’s like being a part of corporations like that. I think in that moment, it’s that moral dilemma of whether or not she should stick with this job and everything she’s worked for or protect her family. She ultimately makes the decision that it’s more important to protect her personal assets. Obviously, it’s not a choice that she makes easily. She goes to Elliot and can’t connect with him and then goes out with Shayla [Frankie Shaw] and then that moment when she puts her in front of the mirror and Shayla says to her, “The only person you have to worry about is yourself,” I think that that motivated her to inevitably make the decision to get rid of this delusion that she’s been living in through working for this company. … She has good intentions. She’s quite innocent in the beginning and hopeful. Out of everybody, her character in particular is not jaded yet but every single time she does the right thing, she’s reprimanded for it.
That was a huge part of her life, and her identity, to work up this corporate ladder. Now that she is looking out more for herself, what will we see from her now that her perspective has changed so much?
She should not be underestimated. I think you’re slowly starting to see her morph into a self-actualized person. Especially after realizing that even when she comes home, she cannot get away from the fact that this company — you find out in episode three — basically murdered her mother and murdered Elliot’s father. That’s a huge catalyst for the events that transpire for both characters and I think what links them. Their paths are actually a lot more linear than it would seem. They just deal with the mission of redemption in two completely different ways. I think at that crossroads, after she finds out that even her father is now drowning in debt from the company that she was working to protect, that there’s no safe haven for her. … She realizes from this point forward, she has to do whatever it takes in order to gain that respect and that power, which is going to pose a lot of more moral questions. … You see a change in her perception that is very unpredictable.
This next episode sees Angela starts looking into her mother’s death. What does that look like and what does that require of her?
She’s a lone wolf. She’s away from Elliot, which is pretty damaging to a certain degree. I think she’s on a completely different path that ties in with everything that’s going on with fsociety and everything that’s going on in the show later, but you start seeing how much she starts to take the power into her own hands and what the consequences will be.
What do you think her ultimate goal is and what does she want to get out of everything she is about to embark on?
I don’t think that she knows. I think that it speaks to what I was saying before: she was living in this illusion of who she should become and basically playing by the rules but she starts to notice that corrupt corporations and people that are corrupted, they don’t play by the rules and they’re successful. So she starts to realize that perhaps she needs to play dirty in order to get the redemption that she seeks. … I was talking to Sam and he was like, “Keep in mind that both of these characters grew up together hating corporate America, and just because she wants to be a part of it doesn’t necessarily mean she is the machine.” I think that’s important for us to note about her character because if anything, the momentum of her childhood and what happened with her boyfriend and what happened with her father, she’s left with the need for that validation and the need for that redemption. This is just the vehicle she’s utilizing to get there.
How will this shift in Angela change the dynamic between her and Elliot?
There are so many secrets between these characters, and I think that this is the first time that this has ever happened. You do see a glimpse of Angela finally saying something about that — about the separation between the two of them. … Again, those characters are aiming for the same objective; it’s just that their missions look so different. Elliot as a character also wants to change the way that society is running but he struggles as to whether or not he should protect the way that it is or whether or not he should compromise it. I think that stems from their desperate loneliness as characters. Both characters are truly lonely and truly trying to find their place in society. And she’s just using a different vehicle to establish that. She doesn’t know what’s going on in his world, but they have this undeniable bond that’s motivating them to do what they’re doing. … And you get a glimpse of what happens because of their separation.
Have we seen the last of Ollie?
You have not seen the last of Ollie.
We saw in one of the episodes that Elliot had this dream about being with Angela. What do you think Angela’s viewpoint is about Elliot, especially now that she’s not with Ollie?
She definitely has had those feelings. She cares about him deeply and loves him deeply and I think that he feels the same way about her. … I think that there’s this flame between them that persists throughout the series.
Mr. Robot airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on USA.
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