Ignore the off-putting title, Mr Robot is the bold US TV hit of the summer – combining an addictive, tense psychological thriller, with something to say. Before it heads to the UK – hitting Amazon Prime on October 16 – NME phoned creator Sam Esmail to find out what the buzz is all about.
It’s Fight Club meets the Occupy movement
This smart, stylised,10-part drama stars Rami Malek as Elliot, a maladjusted junkie who by day works as an internet security adviser for a corporation he detests and at night moonlights as a vigilante hacker. Into his life steps the enigmatic “Mr Robot” (Christian Slater), the techno-anarchist leader of a cell of hacktivists called Fsociety – who aim to erase world debt.
It’s the Jeremy Corbyn of drama
Mr Robot taps into millennials desire for political change; with its attack on income inequality. “The world is an unfair place right now,” says Esmail. “I’m Egyptian so after the Arab Spring happened, I went to Egypt and talked to my young cousins. They were part of that revolution, and they used their anger and technology to change the status quo – that was one of the inspirations for Elliot.” Its critique of our digital lives has also proved timely; one episode even foresaw the Ashley Madison hack. “We’re not trying to predict the headlines,” says Esmail. “The overlap with reality is just testament to how effective we were at digging deep to the essence of what it’s like to live in society in relationship with technology.”
Edward Snowden is a fan
He’s praised it for its tech accuracy, and the series makes people typing at laptops gripping, without resorting to gimmicks. “Real hacking isn’t incredibly sexy, right?” says Esmail. “It’s just lines of obscure code. There are no red alert buttons flashing. Often films will show forced CGI flying at you – but with technology so pervasive in our lives, people can call bullshit on that cheesiness now.”
It features an unreliable narrator
Mr Robot is told from Elliot’s point of view – his voiceover addresses the audience as his imaginary friend. In the first episode, we learn he’s trained his mind to hear the name of his adversary – the conglomerate E Corp – as “Evil Corp”, so the viewer hears this changed name from other characters, on the news, on billboards. How much of what we’re seeing is real and how much is a product of Elliot’s spiralling mental illness? “I guess we’ll find out!”, laughs Esmail. “It’s the high wire act of keeping the audience guessing and Elliot compelling.”
While Christian Slater is the biggest name, Rami Malek is the breakout star
He portrays Elliot with bug-eyed, dislocated intensity. “He’s a difficult character,” notes Esmail. “He’s cold, he’s standoffish, he’s got incredible social anxiety, he’s not particularly kind to people and he’s got a lot of inner-turmoil and inner pain – Rami has somehow found a way to add warmth, vulnerability and humanity to this guy. On the page, that wasn’t there.”