From visionary director Sam Esmail (the creator of Mr. Robot) and Eli Horowitz & Micah Bloomberg, the creators of the critically acclaimed podcast of the same name, the psychological thriller Homecoming follows Heidi Bergman (Julia Roberts, in her first starring role in television), a caseworker at the Homecoming Transitional Support Center who helps soldiers deal with returning home from war. As she works with a young veteran named Walter Cruz (Stephan James) and they bond over his desire to rejoin civilian life, the two also develop a complex relationship while working through his experiences. Four years later, when a Department of Defense auditor (Shea Whigham) finds Heidi working as a waitress and living with her mother (Sissy Spacek) in a small town, his questions about her departure from her old job begin to unravel the reality that she has come to rely on.
At the Los Angeles press day for the TV series, Collider got the opportunity to chat with Sam Esmail and Julia Roberts, and they talked about being totally in sync for this collaboration, the thematic ties of the goldfish storyline, working with Sissy Spacek, the challenge of working with so many props, envisioning how to shoot the series, and finding the subtleties in the different timelines. Sam Esmail also talked about how and why he decided that Season 4 would be the last season of Mr. Robot.
Collider: I loved this! I watched all of it because I had to know how it ends.
SAM ESMAIL: Shall we ask about the ending?
JULIA ROBERTS: Okay, what did you think about the ending?
I loved the whole thing.
ESMAIL: Did you understand the ending?
ROBERTS: What was your interpretation of the ending?
I’m not sure if I fully understood any or all of it. I feel like maybe I’m not quite smart enough to fully understand what’s going on, but that doesn’t make me enjoy it any less.
ROBERTS: That’s how I feel with Sam next to me, all the time. And you know what? It’s a good feeling.
I’d rather be challenged than be 100% sure of everything that’s happening.
ESMAIL: Cool, I’ll take that.
I’m sure it’s not awkward, at all, for you guys to talk about each other while you’re sitting together, so what was this collaboration like for you guys? Julia, what did you like about working with Sam, and Sam, what did you like about working with Julia?
ROBERTS: I know, it’s so weird. We’re getting good at it because we have stopped looking at each other. We just pretend that the other is not in the room. Honestly, there was really almost an indescribable ease that I had with Sam, within seconds of talking to him. I think that served me, as an actor, on this endeavor, in ways that I could have never anticipated because he’s very smart. I make all the jokes about how smart he is and how not smart I am, just to make the joke funnier. I’m pretty smart, but he’s exceptionally smart. And you realize, at a certain point, that there’s something about the way his brain works and the way my brain works that are very different, but completely in sync. It’s bizarre.
ESMAIL: Yeah, I would echo all of that, but I would also add to that we both are pretty passionate about this.
ROBERTS: Passionate and happy.
ESMAIL: Yes, and we have a good time.
ROBERTS: Yeah. We love our jobs. It’s so nice to have a spirited partner. Sometimes people think work has to be super hard and it has to be this intense thing, and some days were more challenging than others, but there was never a day when we were defeated or down.
ESMAIL: Wow, we’re getting philosophical here.
I love how there are all of these heavy subjects, of corporate greed and distrust of the government and how things are not done to assist soldiers when they return, and yet there’s still a storyline about the goldfish in Heidi’s office, which is amazing. How exactly did that happen?
ROBERTS: I love the goldfish, too.
ESMAIL: I love the goldfish. It’s the image we open on, and it was intentional because that’s a little bit thematically tied to what these soldiers were like. They were in a fishbowl, being examined without them being aware of it. Then, you pull back even further, as you go along in the story, and you realize that Heidi is in that fishbowl with them. She’s actually realizing that she wasn’t aware of everything that was going on. That’s the conceit of the whole show. You start with one very specific picture, and as you pull back, you re-evaluate the context, the more and more you learn about what’s happening outside.
I also love how earnest Heidi is when she says, “I don’t understand why they’re all dead. I feed them three times a day.” That’s one of my favorite scenes.
ESMAIL: She improvised in that.
ROBERTS: Everything was important to us all. As an actor, it’s delicious when you’re allowed to explore that and somebody gives you the time to make everything important.
Julia, you’ve obviously been in this business a long time and you know what the craft is. When you find something like this that challenges you, in what sounds like every way, is that surprising to find?
ROBERTS: Finding the challenges isn’t surprising. Finding the challenges alongside the support and encouragement and inspiration Sam provided me, that’s the alchemy.
There are so many great moments between you and Sissy Spacek. There’s just something so special about that relationship, even though we don’t really know much of their history. What were those moments like to explore?
ROBERTS: Just dreamy. It’s a good thing that our relationship in the show is a little contentious because otherwise I just would have been lost in her.
ESMAIL: Yeah, they loved each other.