Mr. Robot is a show that has made huge waves across the globe over the last few months, and its set to make its UK debut later this month. Telling the unique tale of a computer programmer battling anxiety and his demons, and who ends up finding some form of solace with the mysterious Mr. Robot, the show is sure to be the new favourite of many a genre fan. In preparation for Mr. Robot’s UK bow, we were lucky enough to grab some time with the series’ creator, Sam Esmail.
STARBURST: Mr. Robot is one of the most unique TV shows of recent years, but where did you get the concept from initially?
Sam Esmail: It came from the geeky friends that I ran with growing up. I was a huge computer nerd who was tech-obsessed. Growing up with my friends, just being there in this little subculture of coders and hackers, I was fascinated by that world and I always wanted to come up with a story to talk about that world and to talk about these characters in that world. The point of it was that whenever I would watch a movie or TV show about this world, it was so often so wrong and just so off the mark. So it was kind of like having a passion to tell the story down to the frustration of seeing these poorly representative films and shows.
Even though you had prior knowledge of that world, how much research was required on your part?
As passionate as I am, as much of a tech enthusiast I am, the details needed led to me bringing in tech consultants to build the screens and to get all the finer details right. I’m not gonna claim that I’m that good. We’re so detail orientated, though. We brought in a cyber security engineer, we also brought in someone from the FBI’s Cyber Crime Division, all to make sure that everything we were doing was accurate.
And were there any TV shows or films that you directly drew influence from?
On top of being a tech geek, I was also a huge film nerd, and I would say that I probably ripped off every movie and television show I’ve ever watched. The two eras of filmmaking that I would say really influenced the show were probably the ‘70s paranoid thrillers – The Parallax View, Three Days of the Condor, Taxi Driver and Clockwork Orange – and then you have the ‘90s. In the late-‘90s you had these great thrillers – a lot of Fincher, The Game, Se7en, Fight Club, The Usual Suspects, The Sixth Sense. Those two eras of filmmaking are probably the heaviest influences on the show.
When you were first putting the show together, was there a particular aim or endgame that you were looking to get to?
Yes. When I originally started the show, I originally considered it as a feature, so I knew what the ending was. Now that we’ve turned it into a television show, that hasn’t changed. The show’s really about this emotional journey that Elliot’s going to go on, and there is an ending to that and we’re building towards that.
A second season is already on the way, but how long do you envisage the show running for?
Probably four or five seasons. It’s not going to be any more than five. It’ll either be four or five, that’s what I’m planning it out to be.
Given how Mr. Robot is so unique, how easy was it to find a home for the show?
Well it’s interesting. We shot the pilot and I also had a bible for the first season, but USA was certainly in an interesting position. It was a big opportunity for both of us, as they were looking for something to rebrand their show and take it into a different direction. Because Mr. Robot really wasn’t envisioned as a television show and was seen as more of a ‘film’ thing, we were in a unique position to help each other out. I’d also never done television, and they really put a lot of faith in me because they were looking for an audacious attempt to doing something incredibly different. I think it was like a good marriage, and it was certainly good timing for the both of us.
Considering how you’d never done any TV before this, and taking on board how much of a huge success Mr. Robot has been, you’ve all of a sudden found yourself thrust into the spotlight. How has that been for you?
It’s really weird. It feels great and I appreciate all the love and admiration, but the show was always in my head this weird, small thing. Elliot’s such an odd character, the world is such an odd world – I always thought the peak of it was to be get to cult status. I didn’t think it would break out past that, and it has. It’s been obviously flattering and humbling, but also just very unexpected.
With the role of Elliot being so key to the show as he is essentially the focal point and entry point for viewers, how extensive a search was it to fill that role or did you always have Rami Malek in mind?
No, we probably auditioned over a hundred guys. I remember getting nervous during the audition process because I was seeing a lot of great actors and it was not feeling right. I was thinking to myself, “Oh my god, this script is terrible! I can’t blame these guys”. It just wasn’t working. So there was a real concern there. Then Rami came in. Not only did he play it brilliantly, he elevated it. He actually brought a warmth and humanity to the character that I actually did not envision when I first came up with the character. That was something that Rami sort of created on top of it. It just took the show to a whole other level.
Away from Elliot, how easy was it to bring the rest of the cast together?
You know, Christian was sort of… I didn’t write it with him in mind, but it was almost as if I did. I’m a huge fan of his from Pump Up the Volume and Heathers and True Romance, but particularly Pump Up the Volume and Heathers it was more like those characters were the Mr. Robot character. Like a younger version. They were both anarchists, and Mr. Robot basically looks like the adult version of that. Then we had Portia Doubleday, Carly Chaikin came in… two very distinct female characters and it’s almost like they were positioned perfectly. Then Martin Wallstrom, who I’d never heard of before. He just brilliantly plays Tyrell. I couldn’t be happier with the cast.
As well as writing, you’ve also directed a few of the episodes. Did you prefer the writing experience or the directing experience?
I definitely prefer the directing experience. I never came into the industry to be a writer. Actually, I always wanted to be a director. I only wrote just to sort of make my own films, and it was also the cheapest way. I couldn’t afford to just produce my own films, so I had to write to sort of sell and make money and then eventually come up with my own storylines to direct. But I definitely prefer the directing process.
And finally, is there anything you can tell us about Season 2?
We left Season 1 with Elliot’s sort of realisation about this incredibly serious disorder, and Season 2’s essentially him finding his way and addressing that disorder.
Mr. Robot will be in the UK on Amazon Prime Instant Video as of October 16th.SHARE YOUR COMMENTS BELOW OR ON TWITTER @STARBURST_MAG
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