Sam Esmail’s paranoid fictional world of hackers, the FBI and one all too powerful corporation has struck a cord with the devoted fans of “Mr. Robot,” but the show has also become known for being oddly prescient since it first premiered two summers ago. It’s therefore natural to speculate whether Season 3 (currently in production) will be impacted by the election of President Trump – and the idea that Russia “hacked” the United States election – especially considering that Esmail hasn’t been shy about sharing his opinions about the 45th President.
“I don’t think it’s political to dislike Trump,” said Esmail, during an interview for this week’s Filmmaker Toolkit Podcast. “I don’t think it’s controversial to say he’s a bad president. He’s clearly a bad president. He’s clearly not equipped to do the job.”
Esmail confirmed “Mr. Robot” will remain set in the alternate 2015 it established in the first two seasons – Obama will forever be President and the show will never be forced to enter what he calls the “Trump nightmare.” But that doesn’t mean current events didn’t play a role in shaping Season 3.
“We were in the writers room when the election went down and we saw the tide turning, and then we decided we got too depressed and went home to be with our loved ones,” said Esmail. “We talk about it – the writers room is very fluid. Creativity, I think, doesn’t fit work hours sometimes, so we all come in, sometimes just shoot the shit and a lot of that was talking about what had happened.”
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Esmail believes good writing comes from what energizes you and it was important to embrace what the writers’ room was thinking and feeling this winter. Luckily for them, the arc of “Mr. Robot” was naturally bending to a world turned upside down.
“I’m never going to deny the energy of what’s happened, but it coincided with what we’re doing in the third season,” said Esmail. “We kind of went down the road of this sort of dystopic version and here we are present day, so it kind of went hand in hand in a certain extent. But yeah, of course it informed some of our writing.”
To some extent the dye has already been cast for the “Mr. Robot” story arc. Esmail originally conceived of it as a feature film and has always known how the show will end. He also had a rough idea of how the three act structure of his feature would translate into four seasons of television, with the Robot reveal at the end of act one becoming the season one finale.
“I kinda roughly guest-imated after the first season, given how that first act – the first 30 pages – turned into 10 hours,” said Esmail. “I kind of said, ‘I bet it’s about four seasons, cause the second act tends to be a little longer than the first and third act.'”
Having written all of Season 3, does he still see completing the story in the fourth season?
“I don’t know, I think it could be five,” said Esmail.
Esmail spent years trying to become a movie director, never dreaming of becoming a TV writer, which is why he believes he’ll always take a feature script-like approach to breaking the structure of his television stories. This is how he’s tackling the adaptation of Fritz Lang’s 1927 “Metropolis” into a mini-series for Universal Cable Productions, for which his writers room has become a “concept room.”
“Like when I started thinking about “Mr. Robot,” I thought about it as a movie and I thought about the complete arc and that is the one story I’m going to tell,” said Esmail. “That’s really what the ‘Metropolis’ concept room is about — what is that one arc?”
Esmail is very much leaving the door open to directing “Metropolis.” “Mr. Robot” Season 3 is in production now – though on a slightly longer hiatus than normal between shooting blocks while Esmail gets married to his longtime girlfriend, actress Emmy Rossum – and will air this fall on USA.
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The music used in this podcast is from the “Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present” score, courtesy of composer Nathan Halpern.