Mr. Robot: Portia Doubleday Is Here for Your Angela and Elliot Theories
Her character takes a much darker turn in Season 2, but Doubleday is still happy to discuss Redditor theories about Angela and Elliot’s past.
Elliot Alderson (Rami Malek) wasn’t the only one whose life imploded during Season 1 of USA’s engrossing show Mr. Robot—a hacker drama filled with eerie parallels to the real world. His childhood friend Angela Moss, played by Portia Doubleday, was forced to alter the course of her own destiny when she realized that trying to climb the ladder in corporate America wasn’t a sure path to happiness and success—and neither was her long-term relationship with her cheating boyfriend Ollie (Ben Rappaport). While Elliot and the members of hacker collective fsociety took down nefarious global conglomerate E Corp from the outside, Angela made the controversial decision to start working there. It’s a choice that’s even harder to believe given that this is also the corporation responsible for the deaths of her mother and Elliot’s father.
Doubleday promises that we’ll see a changed Angela when the series returns Wednesday for Season 2, although it might be hard to discern whether or not she’s still “one of the good ones,” as Elliot once said.
“She wants to change corporate America from within,” Doubleday tells Vanity Fair. “Here’s this girl that you think is maybe going to be compromised by the system, but at the same time, out of nowhere, she’s very unpredictable with her behavior. . . . In the beginning [of the show], she’s very attached to this idea of herself: ‘I want to be taken seriously. I’m going to have this boyfriend.’ This idea of this more perfect way of living.” Clearly, that’s all changing.
Angela’s life spiraled out of control at the end of the show’s last season—she learned that Ollie was cheating on her and found out that her father is in crippling debt. She felt completely alone as she withdrew from Elliot, taking a job at E Corp. In Season 2, though, she’s re-programmed herself, much like you’d debug a network that’s been infected. Angela accomplishes this feat through positive affirmations, which Mr. Robot creator Sam Esmail introduced to Doubleday. “I thought [it] was so perfect because it is the ultimate way of mind control,” she says. “It’s being able to shut down your emotions and literally be able to control the way you think.” The actress went to the Landmark Forum, which is “designed to bring about positive, permanent shifts” in its students’ lives in a matter of days, for background research: “It was really interesting in preparing for this role and where Angela is at this time, because in order for her to feel comfortable in the environment that she’s in, she has to control the way that she thinks. There’s something very dark and really obsessive about that, to have to control every moment of your thinking. There’s something robotic about it.”
It’s now nearly impossible to discern if Angela is actually drinking the E Corp Kool-Aid—or if she’s running some sort of long game to bring the place down from inside. “It’s never that linear,” Doubleday explains. “Sam has talked to me about this a lot: what Angela’s relationship was like previously with Elliot, how they had conversations about how they wanted to change the world.” She praises Angela’s tenacity, but has trouble explaining too much about her character’s inner motivation without accidentally loosing any spoilers. “I think there are parts of her . . .” she starts, before cutting herself off and trying again: “I still think it’s a really fine line where . . .”
There, too, she stops. “How do I say this without giving anything away? There are moments reading it where I was like, ‘Did I drink the Kool-Aid?’” Finally, Doubleday concedes that Angela “is playing the game really well this season. . . . She’s able to thrive in this environment, and it takes that kind of mind control to constantly be harassing in her thoughts and her feelings.”
Fans would love to pick Sam Esmail’s brain about Elliot and Angela’s prior relationship, too. Doubleday says that she’s read a few of the theories on the show’s very active subReddit, and “they’re really amazing.” I bring up one that pops up every so often: that Elliot and Angela were married or engaged, and he’s blocked it out the same way he forgot that Darlene (Carly Chaikin) is his sister. “Honestly, yeah, that could be in this show,” Doubleday says. “I still don’t understand that dream sequence [when the two were dressed in wedding attire]. I was like, wait, there’s a key in that. Does that come up again?
“Sam has been a lot quieter this season about what’s going on, so a lot of us are in the dark,” she continues. “There are so many story arcs.”
Esmail is extremely busy writing and directing; this season, he’ll helm every episode of the USA drama. It’s also fun—in a dark, ominous way—to wonder what other real-world events he’ll somehow predict within the world of Mr. Robot. Last season, the series referenced a hack on Ashley Madison; later, such a hack actually happened. “I think it was right after [we filmed] the pilot, the Sony hack happened,” Doubleday points out as well. “It was perfect timing. As soon as we started the show, it seemed like all of these things [happened]—or maybe we were just more attuned to that happening in the news.”
Working on the show has made everyone in the cast more conscious of their own privacy, especially thanks to a certain formative experience. “Before we started the season, we sat down with this guy who’s a hacker, and he basically showed us how easy it is to hack someone’s phone. He hacked Sam’s phone and called [producer] Chad Hamilton’s phone and was able to talk to Chad as Sam. He showed us all these tricks online . . . how easy it is for people to watch you on your webcam, and they can actually listen to you through your speakers on your computer,” Doubleday says, almost too matter-of-factly. “I got hacked so many times. We don’t really own our own privacy anymore.”
Mr. Robot is certainly exposing that truth repeatedly—and Season 2 hasn’t even started yet.