According to the women of Mr. Robot, being able to play smart, independent and primary characters with just as much of a role as the boys is part of what makes working on the show great.
Stars Grace Gummer (Dominique), Carly Chaikin (Darlene), Portia Doubleday (Angela) and Stephanie Corneliussen (Joanna) each took time talking about the importance of their character’s roles in the second season of USA’s award-winning show during the Television Critics Association conference on Wednesday. While each had slightly different answers for why they enjoyed being on the series, the main argument was clear: these were characters you couldn’t find elsewhere.
"We’re not secondary characters," Gummer said. "We drive the story just as much as much as Rami [Malek] or Christian [Slater]."
"We are women and we are equals," Corneliussen added.
In the series, the women often outsmart and outpace the men. Darlene is someone Elliot (Malek) turns to more often than not for tech problems, and Dominique is one of the leading FBI detectives in charge of tracking down Elliot and the rest of his hacker collective, F-Society. Angela is one of the youngest executives at financial conglomerate E-Corp and Joanna is one of the most dominating characters on the show in general.
"I don’t think we’re motivated by some female motor and some female agenda," Gummer said. "But Sam [Esmail] doesn’t shy away from having these incredibly strong female characters front and center."
It’s even more important to the cast because the focus of the show is primarily the world of technology and tech-based activism. An area, they all agreed, that is still heavily dominated by men. For Chaikin, the responsibility that comes with portraying a female malware coder and hacker isn’t lost on her, but it was something she hadn’t even thought about coming into the project.
"When I first accepted the role, I didn’t think of Darlene as a woman in tech because in the back of my mind, of course there are women in tech," Chaikin said. "As I talked to more people and did more panels, I learned that there are still major problems for women in the tech sector.
"The show really tries to reflect the world today, and the reality is that some of the best programmers and hackers are women. As an actor, playing characters that stand for something and can represent an underrepresented group, it’s amazing to have an actual effect on the outside world."
Corneliussen said she experienced similar thoughts when first playing Joanna. It wasn’t until someone brought up to her that the situations she finds herself in — both incredibly violent and sexual — are usually reserved for male characters and actors.
"A lot of male actors get to do that kind of stuff all the time and they don’t think twice about it," Corneliussen said. "But on Mr. Robot, Sam wanted Joanna to do it. It’s a perfect mash of female and male masculinity."
Being viewed as characters, as human beings, instead of just secondary, perfect actors that are used to be stared at is something creator Esmail wanted to ensure happened. To do that, he had to make sure that their characters were flawed and had darker pasts that could be explored, which has been an element of acting on the show that all four greatly appreciate.
"They are flawed and complicated on top of independent and strong," Corneliussen said.
"We never succeed on the first try," Chaikin added. "We are all so flawed and we never just get away with doing something. I really love that about our characters."
As the second season continues, their roles will get even more complex and the actors promised their would be more scenes that include more than one woman at a time on screen.
Mr. Robot airs Wednesday nights at 10 p.m. ET on USA.