One of 2015’s top new cable dramas (and my vote for Best TV Show of 2015), the USA series Mr. Robot follows Elliot (Rami Malek), a young programmer that works as a cyber-security engineer by day and as a vigilante hacker by night. When the leader (Christian Slater) of fsociety recruits him to take down the system from the inside, Elliot is compelled by his own personal beliefs to work alongside fellow fsociety member Darlene (Carly Chaikin) to complete that task, while also facing demons from his past that consist of lingering family issues and mental health concerns.
At a reception prior to a “For Your Consideration” awards voting event, Collider got a few minutes to chat with co-stars Rami Malek and Christian Slater about the show’s provocative first season. During the exclusive interview, the actors talked about how Season 2 alters the blueprint of the series, pushing the boundaries of storytelling, being in on the twists and turns from the beginning, working with a show creator/showrunner who is also directing every episode, and the phrase that best describes Season 2. Be aware that there are spoilers discussed.
Collider: Christian, now that everybody is in on what’s going on . . .
CHRISTIAN SLATER: I love that you think that.
. . . at least as far as who your character is, does that chance your approach to things?
SLATER: I always looked at it as though I was as real as Elliot imagined me to be, and that was pretty real. I am there as his partner, as his protector, and as his enemy. I’m there sometimes for the right reasons and sometimes for the wrong reasons. It’s a continual struggle between the two of us. It turns into a real psychological journey for Elliot.
Rami, things must be a bit different in Season 2, now that Elliot is more aware of what’s actually going on in his life. Does it feel different for you, as an actor?
RAMI MALEK: It changes him, entirely. It gave me heart palpitations because when you do something that people respond to, and then you start altering the blueprint for what worked, it’s pretty fear-inducing. But sometimes, you have to do that, in order to push the boundaries. For this character and story to be as provocative as it was in the first season, we can’t rest on our laurels. You really have to just take some more risks and chances that I don’t think are for the sake of just taking risks and being different. They’re grounded in the story that Sam [Esmail] has created, with the trajectory and arc of all of these characters. I happened to know where he was headed this season, so I took some big changes and I think the audience will be rewarded by them. Maybe they’ll end up on the editing floor, but that remains to be seen.
As an actor who’s been in this business a long time, and had ups and downs, what’s it like to get such great scripts, every week?
SLATER: It’s great, getting the scripts and working with somebody like Sam Esmail, who is such a great leader. He’s just so prepared and there’s so much attention to detail. And then, you add Rami Malek to the mix, and Carly Chaikin and Portia Doubleday. And in Season 2, we have Joey Badass and Craig Robinson, who are amazing. To get to play a character like this, there’s so much freedom and fun with it that it’s very exciting.
You’ve known what the twists and turns were with this, from the very beginning. Were you ever bummed that you were in on it?
SLATER: No, I liked being in on it. I felt in on it, from the get-go. When I read the pilot, there was something so mysterious about the guy that it made me very suspicious. And then, when I went and met with Sam and asked him about it, he asked me if I really wanted to know. I said, “Yes,” so he told me. And then, he told me more details and revealed the relationship that I have with Elliot. I think that helped to add a deeper layer, across the board, throughout the whole season. So, it was great to know.
Would you strongly encourage people who haven’t seen Season 1 to watch it before jumping into Season 2?
MALEK: I think everyone should rewatch the first season, going into this season. I did it, as well, and I hate watching myself, so it’s very difficult. Having a grip on what happens in the second season demands your full attention. It’s not work and it won’t feel like work, but because of how interesting and captivating the story is, you’ll want to have your eyes and ears glued to whatever device you’re watching it on. Hopefully, it’s a big screen. Christian [Slater] always says that you have to get your popcorn and snacks beforehand. For me, I say don’t even bring food into the equation because the second your attention is pulled from watching any frame of this show, you’re losing something.
You guys got the first six episodes of Season 2, and then you got the second group of four episodes. Was it nice to get that much at once?
SLATER: After we finished Season 1, Sam went off with the writers and spent the next five months just breaking all of Season 2 and coming up with the story. So, when we came back after this break, they handed us a phone book sized script, and I had never seen anything like that, with that level of attention to detail. But Sam also wanted to direct all of the episodes, and I think that was the only way they would allow him to do that. They said, “If you write six of them, we’ll let you do it,” and he ended up writing all ten. It was so helpful. I operate better with education and awareness, like I think all of us do. I don’t like to be walking around in a vacuum, lost in my own thoughts. I’m much better with information. So, that was one of the greatest gifts he could have given us. To assemble us all, for a two-day period, to have us read through all of the scripts was a lot of work, but it was wonderful because we were all on the same page. We knew what each of our journeys was going to be. I loved it.
Without giving anything away, what word or phrase best describes Season 2?
SLATER: I have a word, but I don’t want to say it. I won’t say it. Sam would kill me. Maybe we’ll meet again, after Season 2, and I’ll tell you the word. It’s like playing a long game of poker. You’ve really gotta hold your cards close. That’s how it was on Season 1, too. As people started to get more involved and notice what was going on with the show, sometimes people would get aggressive about wanting information and there was nothing I could do. It’s definitely not a multi-tasking show. I said that about Season 1, and I think I can safely say that about Season 2. But, that’s not the word.
MALEK: I would say it’s multi-dimensional and extremely layered. I think the best thing to say is that it is in your face. Nothing we do is salacious or provocative or shocking for the sake of that. Everything that is a surprise or a moment is just an evolution of who these characters are and where the story is going.
Mr. Robot returns for Season 2 on the USA Network on July 13th. Season 1 is currently available on Blu-ray/DVD.