[Editor’s note: Mild spoilers for “Mr. Robot” Season 3 Episode 2, “eps3.1_undo.gz,” follow.]
When IndieWire told Carly Chaikin that we wanted to talk about the scene in Episode 2 when she confronted Mr. Robot in Elliot’s apartment, she had no trouble remembering what scene that was.
“Oh yeah,” she said. “How could I forget that?”
Like many of “Mr. Robot’s” most powerful scenes, the climactic scene between Darlene (Chaikin), Elliot (Rami Malek) and Elliot’s alter ego (Christian Slater) was a “oner” — a single shot, something which has become an iconic part of creator Sam Esmail’s directing style.
A long take like that has its advantages, but it also takes time. Chaikin estimated that the apartment scene took about 16 takes, because “one thing goes wrong, you have to do it again.”
And while some of these scenes are dependent on special effects or fancy camera tricks, so much of making that confrontation work depended on one simple thing: Chaikin not revealing, when the camera zooms in on her face, that Malek and Slater were switching places just out of frame.
“Rami was literally holding me, and then they push in so you obviously can’t see anything else and then literally I keep staring straight and Christian is waiting behind them and takes his place. And then they switch back,” Chaikin explained. “I had to keep my eyeline the same so it doesn’t look like I’m switching between looking at two different people, while staying in the scene. Having all of the parts work together, it’s a lot.”
That adds a lot of pressure for everyone on set, because of course, if one thing goes wrong on any level they have to start all over again. “It’s kind of like doing a play, doing a live thing. Every single take could be the one and so you have to really go there and give it your all for every take,” she said.
And that can be draining, she admits: “It can be hard on actors doing that, getting to that place, 14 times in a row. Any little thing makes us have to restart it and do it all over again.”
Chaikin said “of course” she’s been responsible for errors that required them to redo a scene, though that wasn’t always a firm requirement. In the apartment scene, she’d been performing well, but “like on the 11th take or something, I flubbed a line and everything else went perfectly. And Sam was like, ‘It’s fine,’ and I was like, ‘No, we are doing that again.’ There’s no way I’ve done it every single time and the one time I mess up everything goes great. That’s not fair. We’re doing it again.”
She noted that there’s a great deal of patience on set for these scenes, mostly “because everyone’s human and things like that will happen. But it’s definitely much harder with a hundred extras, I’ll tell you that.”
Beyond the long takes, there’s another technical element that Chaikin feels she’s mastered after three seasons of playing Darlene: knowing exactly when to say her lines during a scene that includes Elliot’s voiceover.
When filming those scenes, Malek wears an earpiece that allows him to hear someone reading out loud the voiceover lines from the script, but none of the other actors get to hear it.
“Whenever somebody new comes on the show and they’re doing a scene where we have the voiceovers, they’re all like, ‘OK, what am I supposed to do during this?’ Because everyone’s just silent and then they don’t really know when to start, when he’s done. So I’m very proud to say that I have mastered that,” she said.
Her secret? “It’s really just, for me, like counting, being able to know long it’s gonna take him to do it. A lot of the time, too, I can also just tell. Rami’s always like, ‘I literally feel like you can read my mind,’ because he’ll finish the sentence and I’ll come in. So, I think, a mixture of getting down the ability to determine the timing and with Rami and I working together so much, kind of being able to look at him and know,” Chaikin said.
As intense as the technical requirements for the show are, Chaikin didn’t hesitate to praise Esmail (who directed every episode this season) for giving his cast “the opportunity to mess up, which I think is the most important thing that you can have as an actor. A safe space to do it wrong. Acting, especially in a show like this, is such a vulnerable thing and so it only works well if you’re in an environment where you feel safe and comfortable to do so.
“There are times where we are shooting a TV show and it goes very fast. But everybody has this freedom to still be artists.”
“Mr. Robot” airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on USA Network.