‘Mr. Robot’: Sam Esmail Talks Shooting Season 1’s Big Reveal

Mr Robot Anatomy of a scene
Courtesy of USA Network

Fittingly for a show partially set in an abandoned amusement park, the first season of USA’s “Mr. Robot” was full of twists and turns that routinely knocked the audience off its footing. The biggest reveal happened in a cemetery as Elliot (Rami Malek) — with the voiceover line “I am Mr. Robot” — realizes that he is the one in pain and his father (Christian Slater) is merely a figment of his imagination.

Series creator Sam Esmail, who wrote the episode, says he kept the secret under wraps by having “extensive conversations in small groups” with only those players involved with the shoot, including director Tricia Brock and co-stars Portia Doubleday and Carly Chaikin. It was a special challenge for Malek. “Rami just starts limping around when we make the realization that he was Mr. Robot. We would pause everything and remove Christian from that scene. Rami would have to stay in that moment,” Esmail says. He tells Variety how the crew pulled off the scene.

Anatomy of a Scene
“Mr. Robot”
Season 1, Episode 9: “eps1.8_m1rr0r1ng.qt”

Tricia Brock, director
“The key thing about that scene is Christian and Rami needed to have that unspoken relationship. That wasn’t something that Tricia could direct or I could write. They needed to have that fatherly bond. I really wanted the scene to be Rami’s character — less about the fantastical and more about the relationship.”

Demian Resnick, location scout
“He really found the perfect spot for the cemetery. We had to cheat that. It was [supposed to be] a cemetery you find out in the suburbs of New Jersey and we were really shooting in New York. Given the constraints of a TV schedule, he had to find a location that would work with other scenes. We needed that wide shot to see Angela and Darlene running toward Elliot. To find that kind of place in the city was really difficult”

“The key thing about that scene is Christian and Rami needed to have that unspoken relationship. They needed to have that fatherly bond.”
sam esmail

Joseph Belschner, dolly grip
Aaron Medick, camera operator

“We had to be on a hill on the grass with other tombstones that we were trying to be respectful of. Those dolly moves were really difficult. Joe and Aaron really stepped up, as well as our camera operator, Aaron.”

Tod Campbell, director of photography
“The sun was setting while we were filming. That was intentional. We wanted that beautiful light for the ‘I am Mr. Robot’ line. It’s not easy to keep the continuity while you’re also shooting within two hours of that sunset and try to get all the coverage and the performance that you need.”

Tricia Heine, makeup artist
“Christian would lay down in front of the gravestone and Carly and Portia would have to come up. Then we’d say freeze. Christian would leave the scene. Makeup would go in and put the marks on Rami.”

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