Portia Doubleday talks to Awards Daily about Angela toeing the line between good and evil, that crazy Whiterose scene, and the karaoke song we didn’t hear.
This is the latest in a weekly series of interviews with the cast and creative behind USA / NBC Universal’s Mr. Robot.
“My answers tend to be super long-winded,” says Portia Doubleday, who plays Angela on USA Network’s Mr. Robot. During a phone interview, Doubleday presents enthusiasm for her work, in stark contrast to her stoic alter ego, one of the most mysterious characters on television—on a show that’s already steeped in secrecy.
Elliot (Rami Malek) narrates the story of Mr. Robot, so the audience (mostly) knows what’s going on. But with Angela Moss, no one ever can really predict what she’s thinking. Is she still seeking revenge for the death of her mother, or does she actually like working for E Corp, the company that killed her mother?
“[Series creator] Sam (Esmail]) is really great at keeping her on that line. Once you get a taste of what power feels like, it’s extremely seductive. So I think that struggle is more about whether she’s doing the right thing. Inevitably, I find that Angela is very consistent about undeniably wanting that justice, to speak for this truth of what happened in her childhood.”
In one key moment for Angela in Season 2, she runs into a friend of her father’s at a karaoke bar. He berates her for working at E Corp, accusing her of selling out and betraying her parents. “You’re a plumber, right, Steve?” she says in the scene. “I’m 27 and I have a six-figure salary at the biggest conglomerate in history. And I’m just getting started.” It’s a great kiss-off moment, not only for Angela, but for women in general, especially considering the way Steve talks down to her in the scene.
“Angela is not being rescued by a man, nor is her story being driven by a man. The reason why she’s doing what she’s doing has no involvement with a romantic connection or some kind of affiliation that way. And I don’t think any of the women characters have those connections we normally see in TV and film.”
Mr. Robot has been recognized on numerous occasions for being more female-centric in its second season, especially with story arcs for Darlene (Carly Chaikin) and FBI agent Dom (Grace Gummer) who was introduced in Season 2. Doubleday loved that Angela and these characters had very specific arcs that had everything to do with their own story.
“Sam created very different stories for everybody. Angela is very different from Darlene, who’s very different from Dom. It was really great to see these women in such powerful positions also having these internal struggles that were very much their own as opposed to them being self-actualized by a male character.”
Angela has so much of her own story going on in Season 2 that it’s almost a Mr. Robot spin-off.
“Sometimes it feels like I’m in a different show. Like Angela’s own movie and her travels, working with Whiterose and Price. Angela has a very particular struggle that’s consistent this season, but it’s constantly evolving.”
And of all the characters on the show, she can sometimes feel like the one who serves as the surrogate for the audience.
“She’s somewhat on the outside and is kind of a vehicle for the audience if they were put into that position, because she’s nervous and doesn’t know what she’s doing. When she’s hacking the FBI, she doesn’t know if she’s doing it right.”
But that nervousness doesn’t seem to transcend to the karaoke stage. In a haunting scene in Season 2, Angela sings Tears for Fears’ “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” while fsociety hacks Susan Jacobs (Sandrine Holt).
“That scene was so fun. It was different for her. I didn’t know how it was going to be cut together, but I thought it was edited really well. It’s such a different thing when you’re acting and singing. I really had to look at what those words meant in that particular scene.”
And yet, it might have been a completely different scene with the use of a different song. Esmail and the producers were originally thinking about “You Don’t Own Me” by Lesley Gore, which also would have been an appropriate song for Angela.
“In the first season, she’s constantly being put down in a setting that’s very much run by powerful men. I think her mom being killed by E Corp defines who Angela is. Her entire life is defined by that moment in her childhood; it’s defined the necessity of power. I think needing justice is a very huge driving force.”
One wild scene in the final episode of Season 2, when she meets Whiterose, insinuates that Angela will have even more influence in Season 3.
“When we read the script at the table read, I remember as I was saying the words, I looked up and Sam smiled at me, kind of like, ‘Bet you didn’t see this coming.’ He kept prefacing that something really weird happened at the end.”
It’s one of the most bizarrely fascinating scenes on the show. En route to turn herself into the FBI, Angela is kidnapped and taken to a suburban home, into a dimly lit room that’s completely empty except for a few random items like a fish tank and a “Hang in There” poster with a cat on the wall.
“I loved everything about it. The Lolita [book]. The phone call. The little girl. What a cool ride for Angela to go on.”
The whole scene is a turning point for Angela, setting a new stage for her in Season 3, which arrives later this summer.
“She thinks she’s going to jail for the rest of her life. There’s no alternative except for this ridiculous reality, and it’s perfect for someone who’s been broken that badly because they don’t have an alternative, except for whatever this room represents.”