For all the attention and praise given to Mr. Robot‘s Rami Malek and Christian Slater — as well-deserved as it is — it’s sometimes easy to forget that the show’s female characters are among the strongest on TV. As varied in talent and personality as the men, and every bit as important to what’s emerged as one of the most intriguing narratives on television today. At yesterday’s Television Critics Association Summer Press Tour in LA, the show’s four lead actresses — Carly Chaikin, Portia Doubleday, Stephanie Corneliussen, and newbie Grace Gummer — along with the USA network’s Executive VP of Development, Dawn Olmstead, spoke about the importance of representing the female face of technology in a world that increasingly relies on tech as its life blood.
“I don’t think there was any mandate for Sam,” says Olmstead of Mr. Robot‘s female characters and their even greater rise to prominence in the show’s second season. “I think Sam fell in love with all of his characters. I think Elliot has been in a position in the last couple of episodes where he’s just trying to get his mind straight. I think it’s incredible the kind of women that Sam [has] on the show. I would watch every one of their own shows. They each could be a show within themselves, because they’re so strong. They have so much ambition. They’re so clear-eyed in what their agenda is. And it’s not based on being a woman or being someone’s spouse or girlfriend. It’s about whatever they believe in, whether it’s Darlene literally having the world on her shoulders, or Dom, in this season, coming in and trying to figure out who is fsociety and bringing them down. When Elliot did need to sort of get himself together we had all these great storylines that could really hold up not just the show but their own world.”
“I don’t think we’re all driven by some female motor, some female agenda,” agrees Gummer. “We all have our own purpose and our own drive. We’re not secondary characters. We drive the story just as much as Rami or Christian. And the new characters on the show too… We don’t know if we like them or we don’t like them or if what they’re doing is bad or good. What Sam does so well is he creates this… All the characters live in this sort of gray area where it’s not black or white or night or day. You’re not really sure and it’s left up to the audience to decide.”
Giving an example of this ever-shifting nature, Chaikin describes her own character: “Last year Sam wanted to keep me in and out in order for the big reveal to pay off. Now that people know who I am and their relationship, doors open for Darlene.”
Corneliussen nods in agreement. “We’re not set up to be anything more than we are. We are women, we are equals. That makes [for] something new in television.”
“One of my favorite things about the show,” says Chaikin, “is we never succeed on any of the hacks the first time. We always to come up with another way or find another way. It’s never like, ‘Oh, look, we just did it!’ all of the sudden.”
One of the show’s most underrated characters is Doubleday’s Angela, who brings a different kind of strength with her corporate infiltrator, particularly in season 2…
“There was such a change in the second season,” says the actress. “Sam has hinted as to where this character is gonna end up. So we’re trying to slowly get there. It was kind of tough. Because she is very different in the second season. A lot of people had thought, ‘She drank the Kool-aid and now she’s working at this company that killed her parents.’ But I would ask the audience — during that first season, would you have done the same? If someone said, ‘To make a different you have to work within the beast.’ I love that Angela is showing the corporate side, what that looks like. Especially to people that are my own age. And what that dichotomy looks like between her and Price.”
“There’s a link that I can’t tell you about,” adds a grinning Doubleday of Angela’s connection with fsociety’s male protagonist, “but they are the same in a lot of ways. They want the same thing. They just have completely different trajectories. She’s trying to compromise the system from within and he’s trying to take it down. In the second season, you’ll see more of that, how these two characters are threaded.”
As for the show’s newest regular character, Gummer’s FBI field agent Dom…
“She’s someone that uses her badge and her gun and her job as her mask,” explains Gummer. “She focuses on her work as her life, in order to distract herself from herself in finding the meaning she’s look for and finding happiness. But as you’ll see, as the season goes on, she’s obviously very multifaceted and complex, and somewhat strange. I surprise myself every day with this character. I think that’s what the audience will feel and will be very surprised.
Meanwhile, Chaikin remains thrilled her Darlene is emerging as American pop culture’s most famous female hacker.
“When we first started,” says the former Suburgatory star, “I never thought about my role and character as ‘Oh, I get to play a woman in tech and represent that.’ Because in my mind, of course women are in tech! Then it was brought to my attention and made me that more excited about my role, to play that part and represent them. Because there are so many women in tech, and there are such amazing female hackers. The show is reflecting the world today, the real world. There are incredible female hackers who a lot of times are better than the guys. And a lot of time Elliot goes to Darlene for help. She was the one who really wrote the actual code to take everything down. It’s exciting for me to represent that and play characters that stand for something and can have an affect on the outside world, allowing people to see that.”
Corneliussen is of no less importance to the show, though her Joanna faces some vastly different tasks, including some of the most disturbing scenes on TV…
“There are definitely some things, she says,” [like] that lobster-fork-inducing scene in the first season. I was completely mortified when I read that. I said, ‘We can’t put this on TV…’ But we did. I love that Joanna gets to push the limits. She gets to walk on the edge, and for some reason it’s accepted. There’s some liquidity there. It’s a mesh of male and female energy. It’s fun to do.”
Also fun, says Chaikin, is the amount of swearing Mr. Robot allows its characters.
“Because that’s real!” says the actress. “Because we say — I’m gonna say it right now — ‘fuck.’ When you talk and you’re upset and you’re angry, that’s what comes out. Coming off of a network show where you can only say ‘bitch’ twice… It’s so controlled. To be able to have that freedom to talk the way everybody talks… It sometimes helps with saying a line too.”
“It gives us more permission to be a little more authentic in the moment,” agrees Doubleday.
There’s one lady, however, whom we haven’t heard swear yet on Mr. Robot…
“Not yet!” says Gummer teasingly of Dom. “But that’s what so great about the show. It just keeps pushing the boundary of what you’re allowed to do on TV. That’s why people love it.
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Images: USA Network