Who could forget the name Christian Slater?
Odds are, you either wanted to date him or be him back in the day.
After all, he was handsome, edgy, a bit of a badass, and got all the ladies (including Winona Ryder in her heyday).
Somewhere along the way, though, the now 46-year-old actor kind of disappeared from the spotlight. But he’s now back in a major way in an addictive new USA Network series, Mr. Robot, that’s been met with rave reviews and viewership since its US premiere on June 23 (Wednesday’s season finale was watched by 1.210 million total viewers). While it just got picked up for a second season, the first season hits Canada’s Showcase tonight.
Just trust me when I say that it will be the next show you marathon watch (seriously, you’ll thank me later).
The techno thriller follows a young computer programmer, Elliot (Rami Malek), who suffers from social anxiety disorder and works as a vigilante hacker by night, taking down everything from child porn rings to massive companies. He finds himself at a crossroads when a mysterious leader of an underground hacker group who calls himself Mr. Robot (Slater) recruits him to destroy the firm he’s paid to protect.
At a time when hackers are invading everything from Ashley Madison accounts to baby monitors, the show couldn’t be more relevant (and a bit of a total mindf*ck). It’s filled with strong characters, multiple layers, and plot twists that will leave you craving the next episode – even if you’re not a “tech person.”
I caught up with the ageless Slater in Toronto yesterday to chat more about it.
What do you think makes Mr. Robot so gripping?
It’s certainly dealing with current and relevant subject matter and tackling a lot of issues that young people are thinking about and dealing with today. At the same time, as much as it’s about technical issues, it’s also about a human being and the struggles we’re all going through, so I think that makes it really relatable. There’s also the mental health layer – the feeling of isolation and being cut off from society and finding out who you are amongst everybody else.
How were your computer skills prior to your role as Mr. Robot?
Well, I knew what a computer was. But when I first got the pilot, there were certainly a lot of technical terms in there that I had to learn and I made a real effort to sort of get all that stuff down. I wanted to impress everybody with my computer savvy and knowledge of it all. Two days later, by the time we came to shoot the scene that I was all ready for, a lot of those terms were already outdated, so we had to learn a bunch of new stuff. It’s definitely a world that continues to evolve, grow, and change on a daily basis and is very difficult to keep up with. Our writer Sam Esmail hires a lot of technical experts to maintain the authenticity as much as possible.
How would you say this role showcases a different side of you as an actor?
I’m definitely playing an anarchist in this show. Mr. Robot is someone who likes to stir things up, change things, change society, take down this huge conglomerate, wipeout debt from society, and give the power back to the people. It’s definitely a character that I have identified with throughout my career. When I was just starting out, a character like Mike Hunter in Pump Up the Volume had similar aspirations, unintentionally. So, there’s similar qualities to other things that I’ve gotten the opportunity to participate in, but it’s also – I mean – the one thing that’s made me very happy in regards to the show is as technical, and as much as it’s about this hacking world, it really is about characters and beings. I think modern cable television certainly gives you the opportunity to delve even deeper into the heart and soul of the character and really absorb yourself in that person’s shoes week to week.
In the first season, what was your most memorable time on set?
For me, it was the finale episode. I grew up in New York City and there’s a lot of memories there as a kid. A lot of the locations we go to just bring up a flood of memories for me – being in some of these spots. Getting to shoot there is thrilling and scary and a dream come true.
Elliot struggles to find an identity in this increasingly fast-paced world. Did you go through a similar struggle as a young Hollywood star?
Definitely. I mean, finding your place in the world is always very tricky. It’s a journey and a struggle for everybody to find out where you fit, and what works for you. You try on a lot of different things and find out what your personal boundaries are, and what you’re comfortable with, and really, the type of person you want to be and the types of morals you want to have. It’s a process. I certainly dealt with a level of pressure and media attention, but nothing compared to what it would be like today. This world now, jeez, it’s all about putting yourself out there and that’s all well and good until there’s something you don’t want out there. So you sort of have to keep that in the back of your mind and be very, very careful. People post things on Twitter sometimes and mean it one way, but it comes across another way, and all of a sudden their lives are completely changed and their careers are over and it’s like oh my god, what did I just do? You hear stories like that all the time – you really have to think before you push send.
This role has sort of put you back in the spotlight after being in the shadows for a few years there. Was it refreshing to have that break from the attention?
I think, yeah, it’s been great to have an opportunity to kind of find myself – like I was talking about. It’s tricky to find out what your place and part is in the world, and then sort of settle things down. So, I think having an opportunity to not be at the forefront of everything and not putting myself out there or living with that type of pressure in that sort of fish bowl, for me, for the last few years, it’s been about just getting to bounce around a little bit from project to project and find out again what it is I really do love about this business. Getting to reintroduce myself to a lot of people is great. Getting the opportunity to work with Lars von Trier a few years ago kind of put me in a different state of mind about this business again and working with people who have a strong creative vision. I’m looking to find and do things that I am afraid to do but want to do it anyway. So, it’s about developing that kind of belief system and wanting to put myself out there in a different way.
A focus on mental health issues adds a whole new layer to this tech-based production. What are your thoughts on mental health, especially regarding young people?
It’s definitely been a subject that people have – over the past 20 or 30 years – gotten a lot more aware of. A tool like the internet is fantastic because it does give people that opportunity to be able to Google something and learn about a condition, get support, and gain a little more insight and reassurance. So, in that respect, the computer is a phenomenal powerful tool when it comes to education, learning, and awareness of certain conditions.
Finally, what’s your aging secret?
There must be something in the Starbucks I drink. I don’t know what it is. Thanks dad, thanks mom.
Mr. Robot premieres tonight in Canada (Friday, September 4) on Showcase.