The rapper-turned-actor on season two of Mr. Robot dishes on his character's backstory.
As an artist in 2016, releasing a music videos ain't easy, even for a musician with a loyal fanbase. Aside from Kanye West's controversial video for his single "Famous," the idea of a video release as an event is practically nonexistent in 2016. Apparently no one told that to Joey Bada$$, the 21-year-old rapper who recently made the most of his "Devastated" video release by renting a double-decker bus and playing the video on the side of it in various locations across New York City.
At stops, he and his team sold the rapper's Pro Era clothing line out of the window. But the bus tour was more an event for Joey's devotees than an introduction of his persona to a wider audience. (You'd be shocked at how well New York City walkers can ignore a double-decker bus blasting hip-hop.) Rather, a lot of people met Joey earlier this year as a character named Leon on the critically-acclaimed hacker drama Mr. Robot.
In its first season, Mr. Robot presented an exciting idea for T.V.—an unreliable narrator by the name of Elliott. By season's end, not only did we discover Elliott had confused his own sister for a love interest, but that his trusty accomplice, the titular Mr. Robot, was actually his dead father whom Elliott was merely imagining. So when Joey's character was introduced in the season two premiere, people were inherently skeptical. Why are they in a diner? Is Leon all in Elliott's head? Does this dude really think Seinfeld is all that deep? But in last night's episode, Leon's role drastically shifted all in about 30 seconds. As four men attempt to rape Elliott, Leon swoops in Batman-style to save the day, cutting the necks of the men just in time to save Elliott. "You're going to get a letter on Tuesday," he says. "Do what it says." Suddenly it seemed like Leon, and Joey Bada$$, had a lot more to offer than just background noise. Wait, did Leon know Elliott's story the whole time? Is Leon a hacker, too? Should we be all that surprised Elliott's been in prison this whole time? Below, we spoke to Joey Bada$$ about where the show is going and his own role on it.
GQ: What was your first conversation with [Mr. Robot creator and writer] Sam Esmail like after you landed the role?
Joey Bada$$: After I got the role, we did a table read together. Everybody was excited to see that I was a part of it.
Did he tell you much about the character before you showed up?
Nah, he didn't tell me too much about the character. When I got to the reading is when I first discovered who the character was. All I knew at the beginning was that my character was a pharmaceutical drug connection for Elliott.
So Esmail keeps you in the dark as an actor? You didn't know what was going to happen in last night's episode until it happened?
Well, I found out at the table read.
When you first read that Leon would be saving Elliott by killing these four guys trying to rape him, what did you think?
I was like, Holy shit, my character is a total badass. I thought it was so sick. When we actually did that scene I was just amazed because it was probably the coolest thing I've done in my life.
Was there a lot of rehearsal for the choreography that went into that scene?
Nah, I actually got it down pretty quick. They said do this and that and I memorized it and that was that!
Your character spends a lot of the first few episodes talking about Seinfeld. Are you a fan of the show yourself?
Everyone has been asking me that! [Laughs] I don't want to let anyone down, but… no, unfortunately not.
Did you watch it and not like it, or did you just never watch it?
I watched it because of Mr. Robot, but that was my first time really watching it. It's cool. It's pretty funny don't get me wrong, but for one, I don't really watch TV cause I don't have time, and for two, I don't really watch TV.
But why do you think Leon is so fixated on Seinfeld in such a philosophical way?
Who knows? I'm still discovering things about Leon. I feel like maybe it might just be playing coy or a plot. I'm not saying he's not really into Seinfeld, but maybe he's just trying to make Elliott think he's one person when he's not that person.
How do you think Leon got involved with The Dark Army and White Rose?
I'm sure he's done some wild shit. He might honestly just be a spy or an agent. That's what I'm starting to think. He's onto something, man. Wait until you see the last episode—it's like, Wait, what? And he's clearly not afraid to kill. He's definitely done it before. You don't just kill four people like that for the first time.
So your character is involved in the last episode of the season?
Nah, I don't think I'm supposed to tell you that.
Before you got to this episode in the script, were you suspicious that Elliott wasn't in this house he said he was in? It was a pretty popular theory online.
Oh, you thought we were in prison the whole time? Nah, I was totally surprised by it. Everyone at the table was, like, What? I think it's different when you're watching it. When you're reading it, it can be harder to visualize.
I also think because the show had a big reveal last season with Mr. Robot being Elliott's dad, people were a little more ready for some big reveal.
Yeah, I have friends who have their little theories, asking me, "Is Leon in Elliott's head?" and this and that. I just say that I don't know honestly, you gotta watch the show.
What are some of your goals as an actor?
I have a goal that over the next two years I want to star in two movies. Acting is definitely one of my passions and I would like to pursue it as much as possible.
In early 2015, a photo of Malia Obama wearing a Pro Era [Joey's crew and clothing label] surfaced online. Has being on Mr Robot made you more paranoid about the Government watching you?
Oh, I was always paranoid. Being on the show has made it even more.
What's something that you've learned from the show about hacker culture?
That anyone can hack your shit, so be careful.
This interview had been edited and condensed.