Rami Malek: Elliot's Not Trying to Mislead; He's Trying to Interpret
“Elliot’s the most reliable person out there,” Emmy Award-winning actor Rami Malek said with a smile about his complicated Mr. Robot character Elliot Alderson. “He’s just constantly being fed with false information.”
Malek, and his co-stars Christian Slater, Portia Doubleday, Carly Chaikin, and Grace Gummer, attended a special 'For Your Consideration' panel for the Television Academy on Monday, Jun. 5, at Create Nightclub in Los Angeles to dish about season two of Mr. Robot. Among the topics of the moderated conversation were the pros of block-shooting the season like one long movie, how their characters changed from season one, and what to expect when Mr. Robot returns to USA Network this fall. Here's what we learned!
WARNING: Mr. Robot Season 2 Spoilers Ahead!
Elliot Needs Your Help Interpreting What’s Going On
“He’s not out there to mislead his ‘friend,’ so to speak," Malek explained when asked about the unreliable narration of Elliot, which continued in Mr. Robot season two. "It’s what he knows and he’s trying to interpret everything moment to moment and, as you see, it’s a very stressful, anxious situation that he’s in. Putting everything together without being able to rely on your senses in any given moment is a really difficult thing to do. You don’t where you’ve been half the time. Honestly, it’s a mental disorder, and so how reliable can someone be when they’re dealing with something as devastating as that? You’re just trying to piece it together and that’s what’s really cool about this show –- it’s that reliance on breaking that fourth wall to reach out and say, ‘Help me! I need help. This is really difficult to pinpoint."
Since the very first episode of Mr. Robot, Elliot has been reaching out for help. “I think that’s what’s makes this show sometimes as engaging as it has been," Malek posited. "When we started, Elliot says, ‘Hello, friend.’ Obviously, there’s that connection and to solve this puzzle, it’s going to rely on anyone’s help.”
The Actors Understood Season 2 Much Better
One of the biggest changes from Mr. Robot season one to season two was the switch to block shooting –- which meant that scenes were shot by location, rather than in order of how they appear in each episode. This also meant that the entire second season had to be written before production started.
“In between season one and season two, all the writers sat in a room for four or five months and wrote each and every script," explained Slater. "That way, when we came back, we had the opportunity to spend two days and everybody in the room read through each script. We did have a level of awareness [that we didn’t have in season one] where we got the scripts week to week and shot like a regular TV show. So, when we did episode 109, I didn’t know if I was coming back. ‘Here we are at the graveyard; it’s done.’"
That said, the initial table read is still different from what you see in the final product. “Things are also constantly changing,” Gummer, who joined this season as FBI agent Dominique "Dom" DiPierro, told the audience. “Sam and all the other writers get to hear everything that we’re doing and so they get to make changes and decide to keep what they want to keep or take away. There are a lot of rewrites, so it’s not set in the stone from the beginning; it’s constantly alive."
Carly Loved Doing That Scene
Chaikin's character Darlene went through one of the most shocking transformations in season two of Mr. Robot, including her surprising act of murdering E Corp executive Susan Jacobs.
“I think you have to have a lot of sympathy for the character you’re playing and understand why they do what they do," Chaikin said of Darlene's arc last year. "To me, [killing Susan Jacobs] was a decision that had to be made in the moment, where there was no other option. Also, coming face to face with this woman, who was the face of all evil for so long, and sitting right in front of her and saying, ‘You laughed when my dad died, my father’s dead, and I’ve been living with this,’ her response was like, ‘Okay, now what?’ It was in that moment where I was gauging her to see if she would respond with compassion or sympathy -– or any sort of human emotion –- and her response was the exact same as the news of my father. I think that made it more important to save us than saving you. I don’t look at Darlene as a murderer or a sociopath. I think she’s just doing what she can do."
Mr. Robot Is Pissed Off for Most of Season 2
Slater got a big laugh from the audience when he pointed out that in most of season two, Mr. Robot's trapped in a place he really doesn't want to be.
"It was definitely a frustrating second season for Mr. Robot in particular," Slater mused, "because here’s Elliot who knows that I’m not really there, so he’s going everything possible he can to put these parameters up and restrictions around me and this mission that I want to achieve. The fact that he creates this illusion of living in his mother’s house! You might as well put a bullet in my head! I mean, I am pissed off because that woman, that particular character, is not a character that I really liked. So I find it offensive and frustrating and I’m just furious the whole season!"
Even though season two was frustrating for Mr. Robot, Slater loved the struggle. "It’s this battle between the two of us," the Golden Globe winner explained, "which -– as an actor -– I love. I enjoyed the antagonism and the depth of it and the struggle that he has to go through. I’m struggling, [Elliot’s] struggling, I want to take over, I want to be in charge, and if he’s not going to do it, let me run with it. Eventually, at some point, the way Sam dealt with it and thought it through, they have to come to some sort of understanding. It does continue to get deeper and deeper. More and more does get revealed."
Portia Used the Affirmations Herself (And They Worked)
Angela finally starts to have a little bit of power for the first time in her life, which changes her in season two -- exactly how she changes is still ambiguous.
“Those positive affirmations –- and having listened to them myself –- they actually do work," Doubleday admitted, recalling her character's habit of listening to positive mantras on her headphones. "But that stems from, at least for me, something that is incredibly dark, which is the need to do that all the time -- or you’ll completely out of control. And that’s where I built her in that second season. When Sam told me that, at first, I was like, ‘What?’ but then listening to it and understanding that –- not that they’re bad -– they’re great! I brainwashed myself! I was super-happy on certain days of shooting –- but where that comes from, from a character standpoint … it’s incredibly easy for her to be manipulated."
There Was Just the Slightest Tease for Season 3 -– But We’ll Take It!
According to Doubleday, the narrative of Mr. Robot is in 2015 when the series returns this fall. In other words, we're still a year out from the election.
“Sam Esmail’s is definitely a very politically progressive show," she said about the themes of Mr. Robot. "Obviously, if it is realistic and it’s 2015, how did we get there? I think that there are pieces here and there. He’s doing certain things to get your attention, obviously, where you can have a bit of a laugh. But there’s a little bit [of real-world issues] trickled in there."
As for season three’s story, Chaikin teased the following: “Season one was very plot, season two was very character, and season three is both of those combined. Now that we know more about each of these characters, we really get to go back into the excitement of the show, having a better understanding of who everyone is."
Need to catch up on season_2.0 of Mr. Robot? Binge-watch on USANetwork.com and the USA app!