Few people could’ve predicted that Mr. Robot, a dark, vertiginous drama about hackers in New York and their troubled mental states, would become one of the most acclaimed TV series of this past summer when it premiered on the USA Network. But the show’s previously unknown creator, Sam Esmail, and star, Rami Malek, cleaned up at this morning when the Golden Globes nominations were announced. They received first-time nods for Best Drama series and Best Actor, respectively—and Malek’s better-known co-star, Christian Slater, was also nominated as Best Supporting Actor for his role as the titular hacker who heads up an Anonymous-like group of idealists out to take down the world’s evil corporations (literally, their target is named E-Corp).
Congratulations! Were you up watching the nominations this morning or did you play it cool?
I felt like I got phone calls before I could even watch it. [laughs] It happened in real time, but I didn’t anticipate or expect anything. I’m thrilled it was recognized as Best Drama, and that my pal Christian [Slater] got a nomination, as well. That’s icing on top of a delicious cake.
Since Christian plays Mr. Robot, who is eventually revealed [major spoilers ahead] to be the creation of your character Elliott’s troubled mind, do you think you could claim any award that Christian wins as your own?
Huh. That’s interesting. I guess it depends on which award comes up first! [laughs]
This is your breakthrough role, but I previously saw you in Short Term 12, with Brie Larson. That character is much different from your character on Mr. Robot; Elliott is antisocial and anxious. Which would you say you’re closer to in real life?
Well, I’m an actor, so maybe I’ll pass on answering that. But I will say that it’s nice to be nominated along with Brie [who was nominated for Best Actress for her role in the film Room].
Mr. Robot is shot in a claustrophobic, realistic style in the parts of New York that rarely appear on TV. In fact, I recognized the street in Chinatown where Elliott lives—it’s right next to my favorite bar.
Oh, I’ve never been there. I generally try not to drink when I’m working. But New York has afforded us the most unique backdrop. You can build a lot on sets that look like New York, but it’s never the same as shooting there. But then again, when you put the Freedom tower in the back of any shot, it becomes a moment no matter what’s in the foreground.
I’ve never seen the ferris wheel at Coney Island portrayed so unromantically onscreen as the scene you and Christian shot there.
When you have the chemistry Christian and I do, it’s very romantic. But yes, we wanted the real side of the city. We wanted everything to be as authentic and grounded as possible. New York can be very overwhelming, and sometimes you want to shoot it that way.
Your wardrobe on the show might as well be a uniform—you seem to always be in a black tee, skinny black jeans, and a black hoodie.
Sam and I talked about that for a while. I just wanted Elliott to disappear sometimes. If ever there were a helicopter flying over the city, I would want him to look like he disappeared into the concrete.
When you’re shooting on the street, do people ever mistake you for a P.A.? You pretty much resemble one.
That’s quite a compliment! If people mistake me for a P.A., then we’re doing it right. We’re blending in. I don’t wear hoodies in public anymore, though, I’ll tell you that.
Yeah, I imagine you’re getting recognized more—no need to encourage it. There’s a growing cult of fans on the Internet, especially girls who crush on you, probably in part due to Elliott’s detached, moody persona. He’s the kind of guy girls want to fix.
If young women are watching the show, then I know grandmothers are, too.
How diplomatic. How did you react to the fact that recent real-life events have unfolded uncannily like events on the show, and at nearly the same time? [The season finale had to be delayed because the events it depicted were similar to the shooting of a reporter and cameraman on-air in Virginia on August 26].
I have to give all the credit to Sam, who seems to be able to predict these tumultuous events. But it’s very, very disturbing.
What can we look for in season 2?
We’re just about to start shooting. I know Sam is pushing things beyond expectations again. The network hasn’t been hands-off, but they’ve gone out of their way to have our backs.