10 Cool Secrets We Learned from the Mr. Robot SAG Panel
Sam Esmail and the cast of Mr. Robot spoke to the Screen Actors Guild last week with Hacking Robot host Andy Greenwald. We had previously reported on the cast's wildest scenes from season_2.0, and now we have more fun tidbits from Esmail, Rami Malek, Christian Slater, Portia Doubleday, Carly Chaikin, Stephanie Corneliussen, and Grace Gummer.
Though the SAG event was geard toward its members, you don’t need to be an actor to appreciate how the Mr. Robot cast is doing some next-level work -- everyone wants to know how they do it! Here are 10 cool behind-the-scenes stories from the panel.
[Warning: Contains spoilers for season_2.0 of Mr. Robot.]
1. Sam Esmail shared a clue for season_3.0.
During the panel, Esmail gave the audience one clue about season three. In fact, only one word: “Disintegration.”
Elliot probably won’t literally disintegrate from a gunshot wound, but perhaps his previous beliefs will. “There’s a new path for him, as there always is,” Malek told USA before the panel.
Esmail hinted during the panel at where season_3.0 might find Elliot in dealing with his dissociative disorder, the very one that created Mr. Robot.
“Every season is a different stage of this disorder,” Esmail said. “Every season that character, the Mr. Robot character, has to reflect what stage Elliot is handling this disorder. The second season was about the battle. Elliot didn’t want to have him in his existence anymore. That of course just made Mr. Robot this f***ing ***hole.”
2. Doubleday’s audition changed; Chaikin’s didn’t.
While discussing their initial auditions for Mr. Robot, Chaikin revealed a change she saw Doubleday make at the producers’ request. “I remember Portia was there that day too and she went to the audition with her hair slicked back,” Chaikin said. “I remember they made her walk out and change her hair.”
On her own audition, Chaikin said she got through it the way she’d planned to. “My mentality with auditions, if I can impart any sort of wisdom, is I just know what I’m going to do. I go in there and do it and then whatever happens happens. I felt like I just knew who she was and was ready to do it. I’m so glad they responded the way they did."
3. Dom was originally a veteran agent.
To show just how much casting can change things, Esmail’s original idea for Dom was an older woman, close to retirement. But he wanted Gummer to audition anyway and we’re all as glad as he is that she did!
“Every time I do a casting call, this drives my casting director nuts, but I always say just open casting call,” Esmail said. “That’s quadruple our work but I don’t care. I want to be surprised. I want to come in here and I don’t want to see what I expected in my head. I don’t know if that’s a normal thing or not. The one thing I value the most in every audition is the unexpected, the surprise, the choice, the boldness. That it’s not just to be different but there’s an honesty behind it. That to me is what resonates more than anything.”
Gummer got a little psyched out by some of her competition, but she had what Esmail was looking for all along. “I also ran into an actress at the audition who I really, really admire,” Gummer said. “I love her work and I got so nervous because I went in there and I was so confident. Then I saw her and I was like, ‘F***! It’s f***ing over. This is done.’ She’s so this Jersey person. I think that weirdly lit a fire under me. I said, ‘I’m just going to do better.’”
4. Malek studied psychology more than technology.
Asked how much he studied the computer aspects of Mr. Robot, Malek said he did a little but not nearly as much as he explored Elliot’s psychology.
“The thing I was more concerned with was just who he was at his core, dealing with the mental aspects,” Malek said. “Getting further into that story -- the story, of course, with the family and my father -- these universal things that we toil with daily are loneliness and grief and everything we’ve dug deep down underneath. I figured those were the most important things, and this idea of solitude and trying to get in touch with your friends... and some kind of hope for the way you saw the world. That was way more important to me than typing class but you have to get into all of that essentially to round out the character.”
5. Doubleday sings on the set.
We heard Angela perform a devastating karaoke rendition of Tears for Fears’ “Everybody Wants to Rule the World,” but her costars outed her for singing every day on set to get into character.
“She’s always singing too,” Gummer began.
Doubleday copped to it. “‘Lemonade’ was pretty epic,” Doubleday said. “I used ‘Lemonade’ in the bar scene actually. Made me feel drunk and crazy. I ain’t sorry. We did that the entire season. I think music is an incredible tool. It immediately immerses me into a different world. It’s a trick. It’s real. I feel like we all have this experience with art. I also use pictures. I love pictures to depict certain scenes to make my physicality different.”
6. Rami Malek is prank-proof.
For such a serious show, the Mr. Robot cast gets into plenty of mischief. Chaikin revealed that Malek once covered her trailer in gummi bears, which sounds yummy. Doubleday came up with a plan to prank Malek, but hasn’t tried it yet.
“Can I tell you a prank that we were going to do?” Doubleday said. “I’m just going to give this away because even if I do do it to him, he won’t even remember that I said this right now. What me and Carly wanted to do is Rami, on a particular day, where he had a huge day, we wanted to change his sides in the morning to completely different scenes. I’ve had moments like that where I checked the night before, and I’d been working all week and there might be one scene the next day that I didn’t expect and it’s literally the worst heart attack. Sorry, so we wanted to make him feel that way.”
Malek said this wouldn’t work though. “I don’t bring my sides to set or read them in the chair anyway so it wouldn’t have made a difference,” Malek said. “I come prepared.” Then he literally dropped his mic on the stage floor!
7. Joanna was always dangerous; season_2.0 only proved it.
We all had suspicions when we met Joanna in season_1.0, playing the submissive in bondage games with Tyrell, that she could be the one in charge. With Tyrell missing, season_2.0 just gave Joanna the opportunity to show her true power.
“I don’t know if she’s changed,” Corneliussen said. “I think we’ve just gotten to know her a little better. I think after season one and that infamous lobster fork scene, the question was where is she willing to go? After the scene in season two with Sutherland acting as her henchman, we saw exactly where she’s willing to go. I think we just got a very, very clear perspective of who we’re dealing with. Joanna is ruthless in some sense. We use the Macbeth reference a lot but I started looking into seeing her more like a Catherine the Great.”
8. The actors are more alone than you think.
We already know the actors do a lot of scenes by themselves, like Elliot in his head or Dom talking to Alexa. Sometimes they don’t even have the complete props to react to, as Chaikin revealed.
“A lot of times we’re acting to nothing,” she said. “The last scene of mine when I’m looking at the whole board, when we’re actually shooting it, I was looking at a blank thing with pieces of tape around it. A lot of the times we really don’t even have props or anything to do it. I think having Sam is the most helpful thing ever because I’ll be having a hard time going somewhere or doing something and you just talk about it and have a straight conversation about what’s really going on in a true and honest way that it just naturally gets you to that place of what they’re feeling.”
9. The plot doesn’t matter that much.
Of course we’re following the plot of fsociety hacking E Corp, which keeps us guessing, and we want to know what’s going to happen now that Tyrell is back. But what keeps us coming back to Mr. Robot are the characters. They are Esmail’s focus too.
“A TV show is only as great as its characters,” Esmail said. “I don’t really give a sh*t about plot. We’ve seen all the plot machinations we’re probably ever going to see. Who cares? It’s about the characters, how they make those choices, how interesting they are, what their worldview is like. That to me is what’s really fascinating. The first season was kind of, in my opinion, a little burdened by the fact that we have to initiate this hack, take down Evil Corp, etc. The second season let us breathe a little bit and let us widen the base. For me, this is the fun part. The fun part is getting to explore these characters and they’re all so different.”
10. Even the crew was blown away by Darlene’s murder.
One of the darkest moments in season_2.0 was when Darlene decided to kill Susan Jacobs in her own basement. It was difficult for Chaikin.
“I never expected that scene and that moment to turn into what it was,” Chaikin said. “I didn’t think about it that much. It just kind of became that. When we were doing it, that was honestly one of the darkest places I went to all season -- having that moment of total detachment from myself into that. I remember that was the hardest day because after I did that scene, we had to go back to being frantic.”
Esmail backed Chaikin up, sharing how even the crew, working late-night overtime, got fully invested in her performance. “It’s her face after Susan falls into the water,” Esmail said. “That makes the whole scene. The entire crew that night, when it was 3AM or whatever and everybody just went into the 14th hour and everyone just wanted to go home, [stopped to] go over to her and say, ‘You are amazing.’”