Mr. Robot's Angela Moss talks season two, fan theories, and that cryptic final scene.
Elliot may be the character at the center of Mr. Robot's narrative, but over the course of the show's second season, no one has had a more fascinating arc than Angela Moss. Over the past 12 episodes, we've seen her rise through the ranks at E Corp, carry out a daring hack on the FBI, and endure one seriously strange conversation with a precocious little girl. And though Angela hardly appears in the season finale, her single scene sets her up to be one of the most intriguing and powerful characters in Mr. Robot's third season.
What's it like to be at the heart of TV's most cryptic drama? On the heels of that insane finale, GQ talked to Portia Doubleday about Angela's arc over the course of the season, and where she thinks the story might go from here.
GQ: I literally just finished watching the finale, and I was starting to think we wouldn't see you at all. Let's talk about that final scene. We still don't know the exact details of Angela's new deal with Whiterose, but it certainly looks like she's taken a new place of great importance for the Dark Army. How would you describe Angela as the season ends?
Portia Doubleday: "Transformed" is the first word that comes into my head. Obviously, I'm not really sure of the plan for Season Three yet, but there is definitely something that transpired in the last episode—whatever Whiterose said to her. There's a switch that has flipped in her. Something has drastically changed.
When Angela tells Tyrell he did the right thing by shooting Elliot—how is she juggling her personal feelings about Elliot with her commitment to her new mission?
That's a tricky question. At this moment in time—if you look at [Angela's] entire arc—what's interesting is that it's been about brainwashing yourself with positive affirmations. She's had such a need to control things, and I think she's pretty broken by the end of the season, and somewhat malleable. I do still think she's smart, curious, and… a very powerful character. And I think what has been consistent about her and Elliot's relationship is that there's a consistency about it. For her, it's weird, because there is this sense of urgency—but also a sense of calm about the situation. I think she feels she has to control him. But at the same time, she loves him very much. And obviously, there was that scene on the train [when Angela and Elliot kissed], which I think is what has been bubbling between these two characters for the first two seasons.
So when Angela says she wants to make sure she's the first person Elliot sees when he wakes up—is that coming from a place of affection, or a place of manipulation?
I think you're gonna have to tune into Season Three to know that. [laughs]
Fair enough. Let's talk about Season Three in general. How much of Angela's arc did you know when you started filming Season Two?
I knew pretty much of all it. [Mr. Robot creator Sam Esmail] calls us beforehand and tells us everything about what we're gonna do, which I love. It's great for how I work. I like to know what's going to go on, and plan some things, and have an overall idea what the arc is. The show is very unpredictable, and it's nice to be keyed in on all the crazy stuff he's gonna have us do. [laughs] From the very beginning, he called and told me pretty much everything that Angela was gonna be doing this year. And I mean, it's nonstop talking for over an hour. It's pretty amazing. I don't know how Sam… Sam's definitely the encyclopedia for this show, and the mastermind. Literally, there are no pauses, and he knows every single thing about what you're going to be doing. And you're just scribbling and writing as fast as you can.
Do you know as much about the arcs for the other characters?
Somewhat. I mean, we're all pretty close, so it's kind of hard for us to keep our mouths shut. Carly [Chaikin, who plays Darlene] doesn't like knowing. I do like knowing, I always try to figure out what's going on. But a lot of our story arcs cross each other, so we kind of need to know a little bit about what's going on.
I wanted there to be something very structured about her. Her ponytail is slick—there's not even one hair sticking out. I wanted that in the beginning, especially, because you kind of see that unravel.
When Sam Esmail is explaining your arc, how detailed are we talking? Did you know what you'd be doing in your final scene in the final episode?
Certain aspects were alluded to. That's the thing with this show. There are certain things I know will happen—I just don't know how they're going to happen. Especially with the last few episodes. Because those are pretty top secret, and they go through some rewrites by the time you're there.
Season One ended with Angela at such a crossroads. Were there any pieces of information or direction you received that helped you get into her headspace as you began Season Two?
I tried to be really different season. You know, 30 days had transpired. I just thought about where we left this person, who has basically been corrupted at this point. Not that she's evil or good now—but she's been very wounded already. Witnessing someone commit suicide on live television, and the effect that has on you. The effect that continues to have on you. I thought it was very fascinating that Sam and the writers came up with [Angela listening to] positive affirmation [tapes]. I thought that was such a perfect way to describe her inner turmoil. Angela was put in an environment that she was somewhat powerless over, with people like Price, who are incredibly powerful and intimidating… and seductive. Throughout the show, there's this desperate need to subdue her emotions—like [Price] tells her—if she wants to get ahead.
But that's the dilemma of this character: Whether or not she's doing the right thing, and the hovering guilt of working [at E Corp]. When we started, I wanted—even aesthetically—I wanted there to be something very structured about her. Her ponytail is slick—there's not even one hair sticking out. The clothing is very angular. There's something very… controlled about her. I wanted that in the beginning, especially, because you kind of see that unravel internally throughout the season. There's a screw loose. The fact that she thinks she can control things, and have this life in this setting—that's just a veneer for what's actually going on, which is that she’s actually sort of breaking.
There's one specific moment I wanted to ask you about: When Phillip Price lets down his guard for a moment and asks Angela to celebrate his birthday with him, and she says no. How do you explain Angela's decision in that moment?
There has been an interesting banter between both of those characters over the entire season. He was her mentor, but at the same time, she wanted to beat him. And she did beat him. So when he pulls out that card… it's incredibly disrespectful, because then it's personal. She beat him at his own game. And then he says, "Come to dinner with me." I think in that moment, she knows that she's won, and has absolutely no interest. In shutting him down, I think a part of Angela is aware that she knows why he's saying that.
I remember that scene, because Sam had me pause for a long time before I said that. And it really helped, because it made it less reactive. I didn’t comment on it, like, "You're disgusting," or whatever. There's a very inherent connection and understanding between [Angela and Phillip Price] that was never sexual. Which you would probably think, from the beginning of the season—and I think even Angela had some interesting expectations about what that relationship was going to be like. I think she was seduced by his power, and envied it. And that scene at the table [in a fancy restaurant], when she's sitting with him and he's very close to her… and it's not so much him. It's that she wants what he has. It's that very difficult balance of doing what she thinks is right, but also wanting to become him. That dance in the beginning of the season—inevitably, what meant more to her is what she did, which is basically turning against E Corp and using him. He's just a pawn in her game, in the end. That's why, when he says that and he's vulnerable, it's almost like she's him in that moment. Sending him away without comment.
You recently mentioned that you read fan theories on Reddit. Are there any in particular theories that stick out in your mind?
There was something really weird on Reddit about… all the characters are each other, and time travel, and I'm really my mother in my body? My mother is in my body, or my mother is somewhere… [laughs] I don't know! I'd have to read it again. It was really weird. It was a very sci-fi take, which I don't necessarily think is Sam's style. Of course, I didn't explain it right, and I apologize to whoever wrote it. I feel like I completely misquoted it. I'd have to research it again.
But when I was reading it, I thought, "Whoa! That is a really interesting take." I think what's so fascinating about Reddit is that there are some really smart people that are very attentive to the show—and when they come up with a hypothesis, they really clear it. They go throughout the season and check to see if it works. So even though that [theory] has a sci-fi aspect, I kind of started seeing it when I was reading it. [laughs]
I'll have to check it out for myself! So this is one of those rare moments between seasons when you can talk totally candidly about Mr. Robot without worrying about spoiling anything. How does that feel?
It is really nice. It is so nice. There's always this lump in my stomach where I'm like, "Uh-oh, should I have said that? Has that happened yet? No, that hasn't happened yet." I try to be very careful.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.