You may have missed Dom DiPierro, the dogged FBI agent played by Grace Gummer who's closing in on the hacker group fsociety, in the Season 3 premiere of Mr. Robot Wednesday night. But she was there, seated in the front of a car with her new partner, Norm, pursuing Elliot and Irving as they sped towards the Red Wheelbarrow. It’s her modus operandi, as she laid out last season: Absorb as much information as possible, while the hackers continue to tangle themselves in their various plots and competing interests. (Already, Angela is, apparently, allying herself with Mr. Robot; Elliot is getting a job at Evil Corp; and Whiterose, well, who knows.) Then, move in for the kill.
Over the course of the previous season, Dom quietly amassed a wealth of information on the 5/9 hack executed by fsociety, bringing her ever closer to Elliot (Rami Malek) and even face to face with his sister Darlene (Carly Chaikin), while also leaving her frustrated as she peels back the layers of the hacking collective and their affiliates. Dom’s investigation was perhaps the most straightforward through-line of the second season of Mr. Robot, which was in many ways a vehicle to develop its peripheral characters, Dom included. She’s an intrepid, no-nonsense investigator; in one scene, an FBI colleague attempts to dissect a recent dream with her. “I don’t dream,” she rebuts him, turning her attention back to the case. But Dom, who was first introduced last season, was also at the center of a few of the season’s most poignant human moments: In one scene, she pauses mid-masturbation to ask her Amazon Echo, “Alexa, when is the end of the world?”
A New Jersey native with a penchant for lollipops and turkey sandwiches, Dom is also one of the show’s most kinetic characters—which, for Gummer, who performs many of her own stunts, presented its own challenge. (She threw out her back during last season’s climactic shootout scene, a grueling “oner” that required her to get it right in a single take.) But the role has also offered her an excuse to return to an old favorite show, The Real Housewives of New Jersey, which she watched to prepare for the role last season. (Dom, like Darlene, is a Jersey native.) “Just for fun,” she said. “‘Research.’”
Like the previous season, the beginning of Season 3 finds Dom on the periphery, preparing to strike; but, Gummer said on a recent afternoon, its ending will shock just as much as the last. Here, she discusses the show’s all-too-prescient sense of impending doom, what’s next for Dom, and the most peculiar fan theories she’s heard about her character so far.
What has changed for Dom in the past year, and how did that affect your approach to the season?
I think she really zeroed in on Elliot and fsociety. By using the python approach, by getting to one person, she got to the other, to the other, to the other. She’s gone through this web of people and zeroed in on Elliot and knows about him. But they haven’t come face-to-face yet. I think she uses her badge as her mask. These characters are all trapped within this prison of their own paranoia. She doesn’t really know herself and is super lonely, in the least pathetic way, but uses her job as a cover-up. It’s just an all-out purpose in her life. I think of her as like Clarice, Jodie Foster in The Silence of the Lambs. She’s surrounded by all these men being like, "No, no, no, no, no." And she’s just storming through it, jumping through all these roadblocks, because she truly believes that what she’s doing—like Elliot believes what he’s doing—is for a greater good. They’re doing the same thing, they’re just coming at it from a different angle. The argument that law enforcement, or Dom, who represents law enforcement, is the bad guy, I think is totally wrong. The show deals with good and evil and good versus bad, and I really think that everybody exists in this gray area. We can’t really tell whose side they’re on. I think Dom is also conflicted: She sees the beauty in what they did. What’s cool is that Sam made her a contemporary of all of fsociety and Elliot, Darlene, and Angela. She’s on their level, in a way. She can relate to all of them, especially Darlene. I think she sees a lot of herself in Darlene, so she’s gotten pretty far, but I think she still is very frustrated, feels like she has a lot more work to do.
Are she and Elliot going to come face-to-face this season?
I don’t know. Oh, in this season? I can’t say.
In the second episode, Dom and Darlene are still sort of doing this dance, where she’s trying to get Darlene to flip on Elliot. How does their relationship continue to evolve?
Again, I think they see a lot of themselves in each other. They’re both from New Jersey; they’re both these fiery, ambitious, off-the-mark women on the outside trying to work their way in and make a change.
Especially women in very male-dominated circles, the hacker circle and the FBI.
Exactly, exactly. The show turns gender norms on its head. You would think of the lone FBI agent or one of the masterminds behind a hack being a man. That’s a very male archetype that is used in a lot of stories. I don’t think any of the female characters on the show are necessarily driven by a motor that is “female,” if that makes sense. They’re just people doing their jobs and believing so strongly that what they’re doing is the right thing.
Dom sort of seems like a bridge between the institution of the FBI and the anarchy of the hackers. Where do you think she falls in that spectrum?
I think she’s still not sure. I think she’s still sort of finding out what she thinks of what she’s doing and Elliot and fsociety. And I think she’s fighting an evil that she feels exists. I feel like a tagline of the show in season three would be, “Whose side are you on?” So she sort of exists, again, in that gray area.
Does it answer that question—whose side do you think she’s on?
Yes, it does.
Photo by Michael Beckert for W Magazine. |||
There’s this montage in the first episode in which Elliot has a vision of all of the terrible things that can come about because of this hack, including a flash-forward to a Trump speech and the inauguration. Obviously, this hasn’t happened in the Mr. Robot universe, but I know that Sam has talked a little bit about how the Trump administration, even if not directly depicted in the show, is an influence. How does that show up, to you?
For sure. This imminent-disaster feeling permeates the show. This ambient distrust, based on very real social and political betrayals, is the main theme of the show, so Sam’s always going to react to what’s going on politically in the modern world. It’s grounded in reality but it’s not really where we are. We’re still in Obama years, so we’re still kind of safe. [Laughs.] But yeah, I talked to [Sam] a lot before—I mean, I saw him right around the election, and before I opened my mouth to ask him anything about Trump, he was like, “Don’t worry, I got it, I got it covered.”
In the first couple of episodes, Dom is sort of laying low. I’m wondering when she sort of gets her moment this season and what that looks like?
I would say it’s like a slow burn throughout the season and then, the last couple episodes are like, "Holy shit." She’s definitely made some mistakes; she’s definitely moving forward; she’s discouraged; and... I don’t know. I can’t really say a lot about that either. [Laughs.] She’s going to keep going.
You said last year that you were still sort of figuring out who she is—do you feel like you have a better grasp on that now?
Yeah, I do. The beauty about TV is that it’s a marathon as opposed to a sprint. Our characters are all evolving as we do them. Even though Sam has a pretty good idea of what he wants when he wants it for each character, what’s so cool about every TV show is that you’re still living as this season progresses. As you go on to the next season, you’re still getting to know various sides of the character and of the person that you’re playing, just like life. I feel like now, in my 30s, I’m like, “Yeah, there’s still some unknown sides to myself that I’m still discovering,” and I think that’s true of Dom.
How much do you know about what’s going to go down in the season before you start shooting?
We know everything. This season, we had the whole season except for the last two episodes, which we got on the day of the table read. The table read happens with all of us at least a month before we start shooting, so it’s almost like a big rehearsal. But we get the last two episodes, usually, at the table reads, and everyone’s like, [Gasps.] “Holy shit, oh, my god.” There’s a huge surprise, no one knew it was coming, or… [Trails off.]
What is it?
You don’t want me to tell you!
Everybody’s like, “What happens?” I’m like, “Do you want me to spoil Mr. Robot for you?”
Do you get that a lot?
Yes. Close friends of mine are obsessed with the show, and they’re like, “What are you shooting today? Can I come by set?” And I’m like, “No. Why would you want me to ruin it for you?” It’s such a relevant and of-the-moment show. For me, it’s like an alarm bell going off. But there’s also the other twists and turns of a scripted show. You want to be surprised.
The show is so dark and moody on screen, so what is it like on set?
[Laughs.] It’s so not dark and moody on set. We’re so goofy and giggly and always joking with each other and f---ing with each other. It’s funny, everybody’s always wondering about Rami and if he is the way he is. Like, no, he’s just a really good actor. That’s just him doing his job. But everybody’s just so silly and we’re a family.
I wanted to ask about your favorite fan theory—you mentioned that people think you’re an android?
Yeah. Yeah. I don’t know. There was one about me being one of Elliot’s personalities, and then there was one about me being an android.
It always comes back to, “Is this person actually Elliot?”
Exactly. And, “Is any of this real?” Which is sort of how I feel right now, in the world. It feels so surreal and bizarre to wake up to some new fresh hell every single day on the news, and to feel like, Is this really real? Am I an iOS, an operating system that someone else is programming? I don’t know. It’s very weird. But somebody told me about this theory that I was an android. I told Sam, and he laughed. I was like, “Really? I’m not real?” But I think it’s a funny theory because I see Dom as very human and very complicated and layered and three-dimensional and kind of f---ed up and ambitious and dorky and weird and a bright light in this dark world. That’s what I love about her.
I think that shows up really well in the vibrator scene in the second season. That was really striking to me—it is sort of an indicator of loneliness, but also depicting a woman pleasuring herself on screen is so rare.
It’s so rare on screen. Completely agreed. I know. I felt, that was cool that he wrote that—especially coming from a man. I thought that was great, too.
What did you think when you read it?
I was like, “Oh, my god, am I going to have to do that?” But with those things you’re really just working and it’s just so technical, too. You’re painting a picture of a person, and that’s an important part of a person. It’s very human. You see her raw and vulnerable. It paints a pretty good, well-rounded picture of someone. It’s very honest.
What else are you working on right now?
I did a little indie movie called Beasts of Burden with Daniel Radcliffe, where I play his wife and he’s a drug smuggler and a pilot. It’s by this Swedish director named Jesper Ganslandt. It was really fun; we shot it in Atlanta and it was great. I don’t know when that is coming out, and I haven’t seen it yet. I did a little part in this indie movie that Hannah Fidell, who did that movie A Teacher, wrote and directed, called The Long Dumb Road, which is a comedy with Jason Mantzoukas and Tony Revolori and Taissa Farmiga. Besides that, I’m just hustling.
Rami Malek remembers getting acting advice from Philip Seymour Hoffman: