The USA Network drama series Mr. Robot follows Elliot (Rami Malek), a young programmer who works as a cyber-security engineer by day and a vigilante hacker by night. When the mysterious leader of an underground hacker group (Christian Slater) recruits Elliot to destroy the firm he is paid to protect, he finds himself at a crossroad, struggling to resist the chance to take down the multinational CEOs he believes are ruining the world.
While in San Diego for Comic-Con, co-stars Rami Malek and Christian Slater stopped by NerdHQ for a panel, in which they talked about how their own level of paranoia has increased since doing this show, the struggle that Elliot faces throughout the season, their tech advisors, whether they get any pressure from corporate America, fan theories, and how nerd culture has changed, over the years. Here are the highlights of the chat.
If their level of paranoia has gone up, now that they’re on this show:
RAMI MALEK: Yes, definitely. There were glitches with United Airlines the other day, and the New York Stock Exchange. What happened?
CHRISTIAN SLATER: It’s just been building and growing. It’s very scary, no doubt about it.
MALEK: Someone asked us if we’re going to rip things from the headlines, but it seems like things that have already come up in our episodes are going to start happening. That’s what’s cool about this show. What are we predicting? I’m very paranoid. We all should be. It’s a creepy world out there.
SLATER: Change your passcodes. Stay on top of it. Update your passwords. Don’t use your pet names. You have to really be careful.
How Elliot reconciles the idea of wanting to insert himself in society but not knowing how, with society not knowing how to accept someone who’s different or doesn’t fit the norm:
MALEK: That’s a great question. I would say that’s a struggle that Elliot is faced with, throughout the season. With the help of the few friends he has and the relationships that he makes throughout the season, he tries to figure out if that’s even possible. For a lot of people, they think it’s better to just exist in their own world because the world is never going to accept them the way that they are. That’s a big dilemma for him. I think he’s going to be figuring that out for the length of the season. Hopefully, it will help us all accept other people, in some way, and their faults. I don’t know. I have no answers yet ‘cause he’s still figuring it out.
The advisory process for the tech on the show:
MALEK: Some of them are criminals.
SLATER: Some of them are so anonymous that we get information through texts because the actual identity of the person is unknown.
MALEK: We’ll take information from black hats, if we can get it. We have some great tech advisors on the show. Our executive producer, Sam Esmail, just wants it as authentic as possible, so he’s hired the right guys. There are some hackers that have talked to us about getting on Season 2. I’m not kidding.
What Malek used to develop his performance for Elliot:
MALEK: I just wanted to be as informed as possible. He was already complicated in the pilot. I was like, “What layers are we going to peel from this guy?” I wanted to get inside what was going on in his head, so I just read as much as I could about certain mental illnesses and anxiety, and the triggers of how these things begin in people. I almost thought about going to see a psychologist as Elliot. That would be so deceptive and it’s a bit method, but that would be cool. I was talking about the show to the guy who cuts my hair and he said, “My wife is a psychologist. She runs this place, here is Los Angeles.” So, I started talking to her and asking her a bunch of questions. I started to have daily conversations with her, to the point where I really got to understand him through patients of hers. And then, Sam Esmail, our producer, ended up hiring her on the show. So, as accurate as the tech stuff is, he wanted Elliot’s condition to be spot-on, as well. I’m still figuring it out, but I learned from books and from a psychologist.
Whether Slater’s character on Mr. Robot would be who J.D. from Heathers grew up to be, if he weren’t such a sociopath:
SLATER: I think it’s safe to say, yeah, had J.D. not blown up at the end, and maybe that was all smoke and mirrors. It’s probably a good guess, absolutely. He was an anarchist then, and an anarchist now.
If there’s been any pressure from corporate America not to continue the show:
SLATER: It’s a great question. It’s a totally legitimate question. Maybe a show like this can raise some level of awareness about corruption and corporate greed. Maybe that would be one of the reasons why they would try to quell it, in some way. Here’s this show about a small organization having so much power over a huge conglomerate. There’s people like that who are out there. You saw it with the Sony hack. That could have just been one guy at a keyboard. If you have the power to control that keyboard and manipulate the system, maybe it’s that one guy in that room that’s more powerful than the conglomerates.
As people of above average income, would they flip a switch for wealth redistribution:
MALEK: I’ve been waiting for this question. I will put it this way, we’re at the place where we have the ability to affect some change because our voices are heard and we have the money to do so now. In a way, it helps. We can tell the story we want to, and maybe that causes one of us, or all of us, to change things. We have a platform to do so, and I don’t know if I would give up that platform. From this place, maybe we can do more than being an example from the other side. That’s a good question, but a tough question.
Whether we’ll learn more about Mr. Robot, of if he’ll remain a mystery:
SLATER: Sam Esmail really has it mapped out, and he leaves a lot of breadcrumbs, along the way. It’s definitely not a multi-tasking show. You have to pay attention, and there are little clues along the way, as to who Mr. Robot is and what his real agenda is. I think Sam handles it all very well and deftly. By the time we got to filming the last episode of the season, I was thrilled with the direction that it went. I couldn’t have been happier.
How Malek gets into Elliot’s head, on the psychological level and on the drug addict level, and how he pulls himself out of it after:
MALEK: It’s tough. It’s not easy for me ‘cause I like to go to those dark places. I just get drawn to it, once I invest like that. I start thinking about how relatable Elliot is. He’s lonely. He’s sad about the world that he lives in. Maybe he thinks he can change it, but he’s also grieving for the loss of someone he really cared about, with his best friend, and he’s numbing himself with morphine. I always think about, Is he a drug addict? Is he a junkie? And how I get out of it is that I’m surrounded by really good, fun people at work that, in between takes, don’t let me wallow and be this sad guy. I just jump around, telling jokes and poking fun at everything.
SLATER: He is phenomenally committed and so professional. It really is an amazing thing to watch. I love it.
MALEK: I really do take longer showers. I’m not kidding. I scrub him off of me a little bit, and it helps. It’s therapeutic, but I spend way too much time in the shower.
On the fan theories, and their opinions of those theories:
MALEK: I’m constantly with the audience members going, “Wait, what is Sam not telling us?” I question everything, from episode to episode. I don’t ask him for a lot of the answers. By the way, I used to. When I first got the scripts, I was like, “Tell me what happens with this person and this person? Where am I going? Who is this person?” Now, I just want to be surprised because I think that’s the world we’re all going to exist in. You don’t necessarily know someone’s agenda.
SLATER: The fun thing is getting to be surprised. We’ll sit and do the read-throughs for the episodes, and we might get a few answers for things that are coming up, but there are other people in the room that don’t know and who go, “Woah, what?!” Those are fun moments.
What Slater thinks of Comic-Con, and what he geeks out on himself:
SLATER: This is heaven for me. This is actually the first time I’ve been to Comic-Con, and it’s the greatest. To get the opportunity to sit down and talk with people about things that I am equally as passionate about is just thrilling. When you can just bond with another person, it’s fantastic. This has been great.
How Hollywood and nerd culture has changed, over the course of Slater’s career:
SLATER: Great question. It’s definitely changed. Things have grown so exponentially, it’s incredible. One movie I did, Pump Up the Volume, has similarities. That was an anarchist type of character. The technology that we had available, at that particular time, was a ham radio. That was the first podcast type of situation, and now things have grown in such a phenomenal and amazing way and it’s great. It’s exciting and fun to be a part of, but also very dangerous. You have to be very careful and certainly keep an eye on who your kids are talking to. As wonderful as it is, it’s definitely something that I still need to learn a great deal about. We all need to be careful and aware ‘cause there is so much exposure. We have to be very cautious about the messages that we’re putting out there and the things that we’re saying. People see it now and it gets captured forever. They see everything. So, to the best of my ability, my life is pretty streamlined. I love it right now. It’s fantastic. I’m just very happy. The only opinion that really much matters to me, nowadays, is my wife’s.
Mr. Robot airs on Wednesday nights on the USA Network. Click here for all our Comic-Con 2015 coverage.