Looking back at the SXSW Premiere of Mr. Robot featuring interviews with Christian Slater, Rami Malek , Carly Chaikin and Portia Doubleday
When a network premieres a television pilot at South by Southwest rather than on their channel, they’re banking on it being a show that can build buzz fast. Now that Mr. Robot has reached its final episode, airing on USA on 9/2 at 10 p.m., it’s fair to say the gambit paid off. Mr. Robot had the second-highest scripted series premiere on basic cable this year, and the ratings have averaged a solid 3 million viewers a week. With its continual twists, untrustworthy narrator, and honest portrayal of today’s hacker ethos, it’s a show that resonates with critics, the coveted 18–49 demographic, and fans of good writing of all stripes. Caution: Spoilers ahead!
Mr. Robot stars Christian Slater in the title role, a puppet master behind a global hacker network called FSociety. But after nine episodes, it’s clear Rami Malek is the show’s true lead, and not just in the narrative sense. Malek plays cyber security specialist Elliot Alderson, who is recruited by Mr. Robot to infiltrate his own workplace. It’s a task the paranoid, morphine-addicted, genius programmer relishes despite the moral ambiguity involved, as he believes dismantling the all-powerful tech firm E Corp will do the world a greater good. With each subsequent episode, the stakes rise for Elliot and everyone around him, from childhood friend Angela (Portia Doubleday) to his seemingly new acquaintance, fellow FSociety hacker Darlene (Carly Chaikin). Even the glass walls of E Corp’s inner circle are affected, especially ambitious Senior Vice President Tyrell Wellick (Martin Wallström) and quickly deposed CTO Terry Colby (Bruce Altman)—quickly deposed after FSociety sets its sights on him, that is.
At Indiezone.TV, we’ve made it a priority to catch up with the talented cast and crew of Mr. Robot every chance we’ve had during the 2015 festival circuit. We already shared with you our footage from the Tribeca Film Festival, where the pilot episode screened in May, but for this article, we’re going back to the beginning—its SXSW premiere in March, when Mr. Robot received the Audience Award for Episodics, proving that viewers have believed in this show right from the start.
So has Chris McCumber, president of the USA Network. When we spoke at Tribeca, McCumber couldn’t hold back his praise for creator and showrunner Sam Esmail, describing why USA decided to pick up the show: “He was very passionate, incredibly passionate about the show, but (2) he had a real plan for Seasons 1–5. He had everything planned out, knew exactly where he wanted to take the characters, knew where he wanted to take the story, and when you see that, it gives you confidence you’re investing not only in a great talent but what we hope will be a great series.”
Back before we knew the origin story of Qwerty the Fish, Indiezone.TV attended the South by Southwest premiere of Mr. Robot. What hints did the cast and Esmail gives us then on what to expect going forward? That we wouldn't be able to expect anything but constant revelations from this thriller! Watch the interview clips that follow and gauge how good these actors are at hiding the spoilers to come. That’s the same thing we’ll be doing immediately after Episode 10—rewatching Mr. Robot to revel in the great acting as the series unravels along with its characters.
By the end of Episode 9, Portia Doubleday’s Angela appeared poised to take the fight against E Corp to the next level, seeking justice for her and Elliot’s families. This interview shows how far the character has come from the show’s pilot, moving from what may have been a tertiary role to a primary player on her own mission.
Carly Chaikin’s Darlene is a long, long way from her last role as the superficial, dimwitted Dahlia on Suburgatory. Darlene is all smarts, hacker prowess, and commitment to the greater good. If you’ve been watching the show, you know she’s something else pretty darn important, too, but back at the premiere, Chaikin had to find ways to describe Darlene that avoided giving us any suggestion of that connection.
USA greenlit Mr. Robot’s second season before it ever aired on the network, a sign of both their confidence in the show, that McCumber described previously, and in the growing power of new media platforms to generate a programming audience. Before the pilot was ever broadcast, it had received over three million views from various streaming outlets in addition to its festival screenings. One more episode to go this season, but it’s already clear we’ve only begun delving into the mysteries of FSociety and E Corp. And more importantly, into the mysteries of Elliot’s mind.