Thanks to Universal Sony, we had access to an interview with Mr. Robot’s leading star Rami Malek.
Q: What was it like to be sitting on a show like Mr. Robot and watching the audience discover all the twists and turns of season one week after week?
A: We were shooting so much that it was hard to kind of take it all in, but it was fun when I could sit back realize that people are drawn to this. And if they are, then there’s going to be some fun adventures that they are going to get to go on. I did want to see their response, because I knew it would be a unique one no matter what.
Q: The big reveal at the end of series 1 is that we figure out who Mr. Robot really is. Were your friends asking you about it and fun was it for you to have this little gem in your pocket?
A: It’s not fun because I always was worried about if I was going to spill the beans at some point. (laughter) Yeah, it’s like picking someone’s wedding ring for them and being in charge of it. It gives you a little bit of anxiety thinking am I going to be the one who spills the beans? What if I get in an interview and I just end up being a little careless? But yeah, it was fun with some of the other cast members to watch people on set kind of discover it and put things together because the scripts would come in and not everyone was privy to that information. I think when episodes eight and nine came in, people were very surprised and floored but they were also kind of upset, like how could you guys? But the best is in the table read. I usually sit right in front of Christian Slater (Mr. Robot) and Christian’s facial expressions when you are reading the scripts are priceless. He just gets a kick out of everybody. But he and I, watching everybody as the secrets were being revealed at a table reading with everyone else was a pretty great moment.
Q: Did Sam Esmail (Creator/Writer/Director) tell you at the very beginning who Mr. Robot was?
A: I knew from the very beginning. We sat down and I just wanted to know everything I possibly could. So I berated him with questions and I still do. I just figure the more informed I am about everything the better job I would do and he felt the same way. So I don’t think he was worried about sharing that information. And he told me pretty quickly. Sam Esmail is much more tight lipped with information these days than he was in the past. I think at one point he sat and began to tell me the entire story but then thought better of himself and held back. He is just such a brilliant guy. When he was telling me about Season Two, it was a phone call and he just would go through every single moment that happens for Elliot. I was in awes. I don’t know how you can log all of that information and that is just for one character.
Q: Rather than get scripts episode by episode, this year, you got everything in one go, does that help with your performance ahead of time?
A: We got all of the episodes, yes. No I thought about it. There were moments last season where I was getting a script a few days before we were shooting that episode and I just didn’t have enough time to get to it because I was there every day, but it was all this new information. It’s helpful in a way because I knew the character well enough that it leaves you to just have to react the way Elliot has to. Fight or flight. Whereas now I have the ability to really just delve into where he is going and why he gets there and really just pick it apart more so than I could last year. They are both unique ways to work and I don’t know if I have a preference. I would have to say shooting all ten episodes as if they were one long movie is something that I wouldn’t want to do without a guy like Sam Esmail.
Q: How does Sam Esmail communicate that large amount of information he has about the characters in his brain?
A: That is what makes Sam Esmail unique is that he is down to earth. He is just a normal human being, as odd as that sounds. In terms of his personality and in terms of his manners with actors, all of that flows very easily in a calm way. But he’s just a uniquely talented man in that he can write the story and he can direct it and then he’s going to work on cutting with the editors right now. And like I said, this is a guy who is capable and has a vision and someone you can invest your trust in, which we all do. There is just a good rapport between us. We have great banter on set and I often hear that the editors just laugh between takes because Sam likes to run takes instead of cutting. So as soon as we are done with a scene we will go right back into it and he will throw the notes on. I always wondered why he did that, keep us in a flow. I don’t think every actor likes it but I like it; to go right in and fix things pretty quickly. And I think Sam knows that.
Q: In Series One, a lot of what goes on around you allows you to be reactionary. But now that you know you have a voice and it manifests in the form of your father, how does Season Two play out for Elliot now he knows the truth about the people around him?
A: My character Elliot is devastated at the beginning of this season. He’s basically fighting for his sanity now and Elliot never goes about getting things the way any normal human being would. So watching him try to figure this out and deal with it, it can sometimes be sad and it can sometimes be inspiring. But there’s never a shortage of failure with him.
Q: What is it like to work with Christian Slater (Mr. Robot)? How does he feed into your performance when you do scenes together?
A: Well Christian Slater can at once bring that paternal quality, even though he is not that much older than me, because that is the age Elliot remembers his father. And then he knows which buttons to push as a character and as an actor. So Christian is good at getting under your skin and that is exactly what would be happening to Elliot. So it’s fun for us to be able to play around like that and I want him to push me to every limit. And I want Sam Esmail to push me as much as possible and so when Christian and I are on camera together, it’s no holds barred.
Q: Are there moments that surprise you? These scenes can get pretty intense.
A: Yeah, there are always moments like that. Ones that I think “oh thank God I got that out of the way and there is a relief”. But there are also moments of disbelief that I pulled something off or another actor pulled something off. I know the scripts pretty well so I know when the big day comes for all of us and I always like to call the actors and make sure everybody is alright. Because I know what it’s like for all of us to go to those emotional places and I just want to make sure that everybody has the support they need.
Q: Is it easy to turn off being Elliot after shooting?
A: I am working on it. I would say this though, it’s the smaller moments, even those hacking moments that sometimes I think are just another hacking moment and it ends up being some of the coolest things we do. I never thought I would say that. (laughs)
Q: Besides the fact that this is a show about hacking, it’s also about mental health. How do you play the truth to what Elliot is going through on a realistic level?
A: I read many books and I watched a lot of Ted Talks. I watched people dealing with this in person. The most helpful was speaking with Jenny Morrie, a psychologist. We would talk at length and I would give notes to Sam Esmail, and he asked where I was getting this so he ended up talking to her. And we brought her on the show. So now she is an advisor for us. But she is one person who told me that this could help a lot of people if you do it right. So the one thing that I don’t want to do is ostracize anyone because I know it has helped so many people. I just want to say that if you can relate to anything that is happening with him, then that is really all we have to say.
Q: Sam Esmail is such a great visual artist with the way he frames everything, what’s it like to be an actor placed on this canvas?
A: It’s great because we shoot on such wide lenses which keeps many things behind you in focus. So it’s a painting that is up on that screen every time we are working. Everything has meaning so you can stand on one of those shots for awhile and start pulling ideas and thoughts together about what are clues and what might help reveal the intentions of an actor. At some point I look and say well, I am no more important than that light fixture in the corner. I hope that is not the case, but sometimes I wonder (laughs).
Q: Is there a scene or a sequence in Series Two that you feel that the fans are really going to appreciate?
A: The opening of Episode Five, if people aren’t floored by that, I don’t know what will do it.
Mr Robot Season 2 – Out now on Digital, DVD and Blu-Ray.