Alex Casey talks to Carly Chaikin, star of Golden Globe-winning cyber-drama Mr Robot, about fake hacking, Fight Club and predicting the grim future. Warning: contains spoilers.
One of the most exciting new television shows of last year, Mr Robot introduced a world to us full of corporate greed, social media slaves and vigilante hacker groups. It’s a world not unlike our own, leading to claims that it is “the only show that understands the internet” by the likes of Variety magazine. Not only does Mr Robot tap into deep Facebook anxieties about privacy and social security like no other, it also takes us inside the world of F Society, an underground ring where the 1% are the sole target.
Played by Rami Malek, the main character Eliot Alderson works as a cybersecurity worker by day, hacker by night. Invited into his twisted psyche by way of an inner monologue, we see him using Facebook as a directory of human flaws. “I see the worst in people,” he tells us, later revealing an equal disdain for Starbucks and The Hunger Games franchise.
Joining Eliot on the quest to topple aptly-named Evil Corp is Darlene, played by Carly Chaikin. First appearing a femme fatale of sorts, Darlene’s character is a dark Trojan horse, evolving over the ten episodes faster than you can say “DDOS attack.” I spoke to Carly about playing her part in Mr Robot’s complex code.
Mr Robot is unlike any other TV show I’ve seen, it’s so cinematic and intense and seems to capture something so precisely about the state of the world today. What did you make of the story when you first sat down with the script?
I was sent the pilot and I didn’t know anything about it; they were just like, ‘you have to read this’. I was just beyond blown away, completely floored. There were no words. I just thought it was so beautifully written, relevant and interesting – it said everything that people think but don’t say. I knew that it was something really really special.
I’ve read that the shooting the show was quite collaborative, which I find amazing considering that it seems like such a singular vision. Were you able to have a lot of say on set?
What’s so amazing about Sam [Esmail, creator] and why the show translates so well on TV, is how closely we all work and how collaborative it really was. Sam is the kind of showrunner that I’ve never worked with or seen anything like before. He considers us his co-creators, and so we have the ability to really shape our characters with him and find different things together. We really are allowed to have a big input on set, so that’s what we do. It’s definitely like a team effort. Sam is the mastermind behind it all and it’s all his vision, and it’s all his story, but he just allows us to have a voice with who we are.
In the first scene where we see you, you are leaning against the outside of the building in a big fur coat. How closely were you supposed to resemble Marla Singer from Fight Club? Because it looks dead on to me.
There is a lot of Mr Robot that has been inspired by Fight Club – Darlene definitely started out inspired by Marla, but then we realised we didn’t want the resemblance to be too close. We wanted her to be her own character derived from her own place. After the pilot we veered away from the fur coats and that kind of stuff, because we didn’t want it to be so similar.
When you are pretending to hack on camera, are you typing anything in particular? Carlyiscool?
When you can see the screen, they have everything programmed already so we have to hit specific keys that will make all the code stuff show up. But when you you can’t see the screen I’m actually just typing random things into the computer.
Do you personally worry about cyber-security in your own home now?
I’m just so hyper-aware of all the possibilities that could happen. I never used to think about those things before, but now I never leave my computer open if I’m not on it. When people are like, ‘oh, my password is ‘password1’, I’m like, you need to change that right now.
The possibilities in my mind are endless of what hackers can do and what people are capable of. Everywhere I go I always think about that stuff. If I walk into a place I think to myself that I could probably hack in and turn all the lights off.
Did you actually personally do any hacking, any cheeky practice hacks to get in the zone?
I didn’t. We went to this really cool hacking lecture that was led by this guy who does a lot of cyber security for big entertainment companies, so he taught us a lot about it.
I just recently told Sam that I wanted us to be more hands-on, really learn the hacking ropes. We don’t need it for the show but I feel like, when you have an opportunity like this to actually learn to code and hack, that I might as well take advantage.
WARNING: HERE BE SPOILERS AHEAD! CLICK HERE TO CATCH UP ON MR ROBOT ON LIGHTBOX IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN UP TO EPISODE 8!
Let’s talk about episode eight in particular, which I have seen touted as one of the best episodes of television ever made. you’ve already told me that you knew the big twist going into it; was that the same across the board – did everyone know the twist of episode eight?
Sam told me from the very beginning that Darlene was Elliot’s sister, so I knew that going into the project. All of the series regulars did, but aside from that no-one did. It was so funny, at the table read for that episode all of us who knew were on one side of the table and everyone else was on the other. The other half of the table afterwards was freaking out; you have no idea. It was really cool to see their reactions.
Was that a conscious effort on Sam’s behalf to keep people in the dark?
We wanted to keep it under wraps so it could be a really big surprise for everyone. The only people it really concerned was me and Elliot. When we would talk about it on set, Sam would just have to come up to us and whisper, “remember this is your brother.”
How did shooting that episode compare to the rest of the show for you?
It was such a fun episode for me because we really got to understand Darlene more and see more into her world. Up until then, Sam had purposely kept her more mysterious in order to make that reveal as strong as it was. But the scene where I tell Rami was really scary. I was definitely scared to do it, I just wanted to make sure that I did it justice. It could also have been really corny and soap opera-y, like, [dramatic gasp] “I’m your sister”.
I really wanted to keep it grounded in a way where people didn’t get lost in the melodrama, we didn’t want it to come off in any way other than real and genuine.
Another chilling episode that inspired massive discussion online was the finale of the show, and how closely it mirrored the tragic WBDJ Virginia shooting. How did that feel for those two events to coalesce at the same time?
It was so crazy, and we always say that this with Sam – so much of what happens in this show has mirrored real life. We shot the pilot before the Sony hack happened and we had so much in there about China and the Dark Army and no idea of the hacks about to happen in China. We always joked that it’s like he could predict the future and needs to write an episode where there was world peace. It was so insane that that happened on the same day, and obviously tragic, and I respect their decision to push it so much.
I think what it comes down to is the show is so on point with what’s going on in the world, and what happens with the tragedies and the good stuff. I think it’s just such an example of how we really mirror the sad reality of life today.
And I know you probably can’t tell me a lot, but what is next for Mr Robot?
What’s so funny is that at this point I almost feel as if I know just as much as the audience. Next week we are having meetings with Sam to discuss what happens in season two. For now, I know that we do find out a little more about how F society started. Sam has said that it gets darker – I don’t know how that’s possible – but it does. With Mr Robot, even if you think you know what’s going to happen – you never do.
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