The film tells the true story of Ross Ulbricht’s unlikely rise to fortune and infamy as the founder a dark web market. Dubbed the Silk Road, Ulbricht’s creation gave users the ability to buy everything from illegal narcotics to firearms and triggered an international manhunt that eventually led to his arrest and 2015 conviction. Robinson was drawn to playing Ulbricht because he wanted to explore how this libertarian true believer lost his moral compass. “Silk Road,” which is is directed by Tiller Russell and co-stars Jason Clarke, is currently available on-demand. Robinson spoke to Variety about how he prepared to play Robinson, what he thinks of his ideology, as well as what’s next for “Love, Victor,” the Hulu spinoff of “Love, Simon” that he guest starred on and produced.
Why did you want to make “Silk Road”?
I had been aware of Ross’s story and the broader story of Silk Road since high school. I had friends in high school who were on it and used it. Ross is a fascinating character. He singlehandedly built an international drug empire from the comfort of his bedroom.
Did you talk to Ross?
I never did. He’s not a very reachable guy. He is currently serving double life sentences plus 40 years without the possibility of parole at a supermax facility, so I never had the chance to speak with him. Tiller has been trying to get in contact, because it feels like an important thing to do.
What research did you do?
Most of the research and background information that the movie is based on came from Ross’s transcripts and blog posts and private messages on the Silk Road. When he was arrested the FBI was able to catch him while he was logged on to the Silk Road. They seized his laptop and they were able to download scores of documents. A lot of that was placed into evidence during his trial. Tiller and I went through it all and a lot of the dialogue was lifted almost verbatim from the blog posts and the chatrooms. Reading them you can see his transformation from a staunch libertarian idealist to something different and darker. The posts in the beginning show someone who is kind of an idealist – he would post book recommendations for the users to read or host movie nights where everyone would tune in at the same time to watch something. As it progressed, there was almost an authoritarian tone. Initially, the site sold weed and psychedelics and it just snowballed and they started selling weapons and heroin and crack and meth. They opened the floodgates because he refused to tell people what they could and could not sell. It was a flawed ideology, but he thought it came from a good place.
Did you find anything admirable about Ross?
He had many admirable qualities. He just misplaced his energy. He is Mark Zuckerberg’s shadow. He was a Millennial and really bright. By all accounts, he was a peaceful guy and just a stoner in Austin, Texas who got good grades and was hard working. He had a big idea and followed it all the way to the end.
In the film, Ross argues that people would buy drugs on the street and that the Silk Road is a safer forum for them to purchase something that they would buy anyway. Do you buy that?
It’s more of an intellectual exercise. It’s rationalization for what he was doing. As soon as you start selling heroin and guns and opiates, those things are directly responsible for misery in people’s lives and suffering and death. It’s hard to take a moral stance on that.
You produced, narrated and appeared in “Love, Victor.” Will you be involved in future seasons?
I plan to stay on as a producer and I’m really proud of the first season, but I do think that as the show moves forward, one of the things that’s exciting is to be able to pass the torch from Simon to Victor and to the next generation. I want to continue the story but make it Victor’s story and not Simon’s story.