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“Where’s Tyrell?” Don’t take a drink every time Elliot Alderson (Rami Malek) asks a version of this question over the course of Mr. Robot season two; it’s a surefire way to lose consciousness.
Indeed, Elliot’s uncertainty about the fate of hotshot E Corp executive Tyrell Wellick (Martin Wallström), the man the world believes organized the 5/9 Hack, has been at the core of the USA Network drama all season long. Did Elliot as Mr. Robot (Christian Slater) kill Tyrell to preserve fsociety’s secret? Or is Tyrell still alive, secretly working with Elliot’s father figure of an alter ego toward some unknown agenda? Recent episodes leaned in the direction of the second possibility, and the season’s penultimate installment seemingly confirmed it: Tyrell is back in the mix, on the cusp of realizing “Stage Two,” one of Elliot’s secret master plans — a secret even to Elliot.
But is Tyrell actually alive and well? As soon as the sharp-dressed man enters his taxi cab, Elliot openly questions Tyrell’s existence, asking the driver if he sees another man in the car besides Elliot. Whether he’s a figment of Elliot’s imagination or a flesh-and-blood mover-and-shaker living in the post 5/9 world, Tyrell is once again an active force in Elliot’s life and Mr. Robot at large… although there’s almost nothing Martin Wallström can say about it.
“It’s so tricky to talk about these things,” Wallström tells THR when asked about the new aura surrounding the returned Tyrell. “You never want to give anything away.”
With that in mind, Wallström keeps his lips sealed on what Tyrell has been up to and where he’s going next (except for one twist that’s Shumway out there), but happily discloses his philosophy toward spending the vast majority of season two on the sidelines, his conversations with creator Sam Esmail going into the season, and his take on Tyrell’s increasingly mythical quality.
What has this entire experience been like — essentially being locked in the trunk of a car, sometimes literally, and not being able to say anything about Tyrell?
I think it’s been kind of cool. I know people have been wondering. There have been questions and theories about the character. But I’ve been sort of enjoying being in the trunk, watching from the outside. What I like about the show is that it’s very brave in the sense that I always get surprised. The choice they made, keeping the character out of it and that mysterious sense, I think it’s been great to watch. Even though Tyrell isn’t always near or in the show, he’s always there, because everybody’s talking about him and wondering where he is. That’s kind of exciting. Sometimes, that’s even more exciting than being on!
It’s an interesting point, in that Tyrell’s time away from the show only further builds the mythology around him. Was there a different energy when you returned to Tyrell, coming back to the show after so long, after spending so much of the season as something of a boogeyman for Elliot?
Yeah. As you say, he’s this boogeyman, or an x-factor… that’s what I had seen him as, even in season one. That’s the way he interacts with Elliot. If you’re going to be practical about it, I shot most of this entire season at once. To me, as an experience, I didn’t experience that coming back, being here and being there. It’s more in seeing it now, the absence of him. I can see that when I see the series, but I couldn’t feel it when I shot the scenes.
How much did you end up shooting this season? Of course we saw Tyrell in some sequences here and there, but few and far between…
Well, it’s hard to compare. This season was block shot, instead of episode for episode. So it was actually more intense for me, this season, than last year. It was just more compressed.
What were your conversations with Sam Esmail like as you two discussed Tyrell’s story in season two?
We have conversations about character and what’s coming. I kind of knew the overall arc, but what I feel is so great is that even when we shot season one, sometimes we wouldn’t know what was going to happen in the next episode. You have to play the scenes anyway, not knowing what’s coming. I think that’s the beauty of this show. You just lean back and enjoy the ride, and trust that whatever’s going to happen is going to happen. Not knowing too much in advance, sometimes, is a blessing. At least it is for me. It makes me very relaxed, feeling that I’m a part of this, and let’s just go for this ride.
So much involved with Tyrell remains enigmatic, but to speak about it broadly, what was your reaction when you learned where his story was heading? Were you surprised?
To be honest, I’m always surprised, and never surprised. These writers are so good. They’re very, very good. You just trust in what they’re doing. I always expect to be surprised.
At the end of season one, Tyrell was still reeling from having killed Sharon Knowles, dangling from a proverbial edge, without knowing which way he was going to drop. Now that he’s back, Tyrell seems to have a cause that he’s invested in. How different is he from when we last saw him?
It’s so tricky to talk about these things! You never want to give away anything. How should I put this… he’s as unreliable as always. (Laughs.) I think the beauty of him is that you’re never quite sure on where you have him. Even if you think he’s telling the truth, maybe he’s not. But it’s so hard to talk about before you know more. He’s on his way to something exciting, if I want to give a boring answer. (Laughs.)
What do you remember about shooting the scene in the cab, as Elliot begins to openly question Tyrell’s existence?
That was actually something we shot on the last day of the season. We were in Greenpoint, and it was four or five in the morning. I did most of my work with Rami this season, and it was such a pleasure. He’s this very gifted actor, and very generous in the sense that he makes everyone else better. Being in the cab with him and doing that scene was joyful.
Duality is such an important theme throughout the show, whether it’s Whiterose pitted opposite Phillip Price, Elliot against Mr. Robot, or Elliot against Tyrell. How do you view the dynamic between your character and Elliot, after two seasons of fleshing these characters out?
I remember me, Rami and Sam had one of our first rehearsals before the scene in episode two of season one, when Tyrell has this big speech where he’s trying to involve Elliot in Evil Corp. That kind of set the tone for how we wanted to play this out and portray this. It’s this love story — an unanswered love, which I think is very interesting. There’s a lot to discover there, I think.
The episode closes with Tyrell repeating the final line of Casablanca: “Louie, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.” How did you interpret that moment… just Tyrell and the show having a laugh, or something deeper?
You’re right; there’s the show, and he’s getting a laugh, and it’s also something deeper. I think it’s an homage to that movie. There are a lot of layers in it.
Another great line from Tyrell: “I know you’re under a lot of stress. I’m under a lot of stress, too. Can you even begin to imagine what it’s been like for me?” It feels like you can relate.
Yeah. (Laughs.) I remember shooting that downtown in New York, and there were so many people standing on the other side of the sidewalk watching us. It’s supposed to be this very intimate moment. It was great fun.
Digging back earlier into the season, how was your experience shooting the sitcom vision? Carly Chaikin said it was a difficult shoot, so one can only imagine how hard it was on the man locked in the trunk.
I remember reading the script. When I got the script, I thought it was genius. When I saw it, I thought it played out very well. But meeting ALF? To me, that was the best. Sometimes you get starstruck, but I’ve never been as starstruck as when I saw ALF. To me, that was a direct relationship back to 1990 or 1991, when that show was on TV back in Sweden, when I was seven years old. It’s like it drew a line for me, from seven to 33. Meeting ALF, that was the moment of the season for me.
Is that the secret behind Tyrell? Has he been covertly working with ALF toward destroying the world?
I can’t say so… but yes.
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