OUTSIDERS BREAK IN
American Christian Slater has played anarchist-type roles before but the latest iteration in Mr Robot, which he stars in alongside Rami Malek, ups the ante as he tries to take on the business world and win
Christian Slater has always felt an affinity with rebels, antiheroes and outsiders. “I’ve always been a little bit of a revolutionary, a little bit of an anarchist,” the 45-year-old actor says down the line in his instantly recognisable drawl.
And that’s what makes him perfect for the hit cyberthriller, Mr Robot. His role as a hacktivist trying to overthrown the global financial system is his best for years – perhaps decades – since he rose to fame playing rebellious teenagers in Heathers (1989) and Pump up the Volume (1990).
The former teen idol concedes there’s more than a few similarities between his latest work and those films.
“It is true that I’ve played an anarchist before,” he says. “This is sort of like Pump up the Volume squared – we’re not just taking on a school board, we’re taking on the world and trying to erase debt from society so the issues have grown and gotten larger and much more controversial.”
Possibly the most universally acclaimed new drama of 2015 – Mr Robot follows anti-social young hacker Elliot (a mesmerising performance by The Pacific’s Rami Malek) with a tenuous grip on reality and a major drug habit – as he’s drawn into an Anonymous-meetsOccupy-Wall-Street group called fsociety run by Slater’s unpredictable anarchist. Numerous critics called it the best new show of the year, hackers love its commitment to technical plausibility and it counts high-profile fans including (naturally) NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner and Breaking Bad star Aaron Paul.
With its plots ripped from tomorrow’s headlines it’s only fitting the Zeitgeist-capturing show’s release was suitably modern, with the pilot made available for free everywhere from iTunes to YouTube racking up three million views before it premiered on TV. The resulting buzz – Forbes hailed it a ‘‘modern classic’’ based on the debut episode – built to the point where a second season was greenlit before the first season had begun airing. Among the highest rating new US series of the year, it was still picking up 700,000 streams a week months after the finale was broadcast in the US. In Australia it streams on Presto and kicks off on Showcase tonight.
Mr Robot has been a much needed career boost for Slater. He began his career as a child on TV before graduating to a series of cult movies in the late ’80s and early ’90s: Heathers, Gleaming the Cube and True Romance. Blockbusters followed in the mid ’90s – Interview with the Vampire and Broken Arrow most notably – but although he’s rarely been out of work, he hasn’t found the best outlets for his talents of late.
Slater credits director Lars von Trier’s “out of the box thinking” – including casting him as the father and a doctor in Nymphomaniac in 2013 – as the beginning of his creative renaissance.
Slater says he was impressed by Mr Robot’s creator Sam Esmail – whose sole prior credit was 2014 Justin Long film Comet. “As far as having a proven track record, it wasn’t an extensive resume. But I asked Sam these questions that I had and he gave me answers better than I had anticipated or expected.”
A few days later he and costar Rami Malek were filming a pivotal scene in a Coney Island ferris wheel – the equivalent to Morpheus’ ‘‘you can take the red pill/blue pill” speech from The Matrix.
The show builds up to some massive and quite shocking revelations, which are only hinted at in the pilot. Slater says he asked his agent if he really believed the series was headed towards the dark twist he thought it was and his agent told him there was no chance.
“And then when I sat down with Sam and he told me the direction he was actually going to go in, I got very excited and was even more intrigued. Whenever anybody steps out of the box a little bit, and makes those choices, people do seem to respond to that.”
Despite the huge secret viewers learn in the finale, Slater hints there’s still more to uncover in season two.
Rami Malek as Elliot Alderson with Christian Slater as Mr Robot.