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Mr. Robot PaleyFest panel: What we learned

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Monica Schipper/FilmMagic

Mr. Robot is a dark show — so dark that its stars occasionally have to remind themselves that it’s just that: a show. 

“It’s hard to not get lost in it,” Carly Chaikin told EW on the red carpet for Wednesday’s Mr. Robot PaleyFest panel, moderated by EW’s own Dalton Ross. “I think the biggest thing is having each other. Having Rami, having Portia, having these people around us that keep us grounded and remind us who we are. That I’m not Darlene, Rami’s not Elliot, this isn’t ultimately real.”

What is real is one of the big questions on the USA drama, which concluded its critically acclaimed first season this past September. And although creator Sam Esmail didn’t quite spill any huge revelations to the audience, he did promise answers are coming next season. “There is a temptation to just keep lingering the questions, but I love actually answering them,” he said, “and having the answers have even more questions.”

Not helpful, Sam. But here’s what he and the rest of the Mr. Robot crew could divulge about the show: 

Keeping Mr. Robot’s identity a secret wasn’t always easy

Christian Slater, in particular, had a hard time fighting the urge to tell his teenage son, who wasn’t exactly supportive of his dad’s character. “I was walking through the city and these bus ads were going by, and I’m walking with my son, and I say, ‘I’m really loving doing this show, son,’ and he says, ‘Why? You’re playing such an a–hole!’ ” Slater said. “I remember you saying, ‘Jaden thinks I’m such a d—,’ ” Rami added, laughing. 

Rami Malek wanted the withdrawal scenes to be even more graphic

Malek’s performance as Elliot struggling through morphine withdrawal is one of the more unsettling parts of the first season — and he was completely willing to take it a step further. “I just wanted to get it right,” Malek told EW, adding that he looked to Trainspotting and talked to friends who’ve gone through withdrawal for inspiration. “I kept asking Sam, there’s usually a lot of diarrhea involved, so I wanted to have scenes on the toilet, but Sam’s like, ‘No.’ ” Probably for the best.

They love filming in New York

“How cool is it to have a screaming match in a cemetery in New York?” Portia Doubleday said, recounting the excitement of filming the scene where Angela and Darlene confront Elliot in front of his father’s grave. Malek felt similarly about shutting down and shooting in Times Square for the finale. “People kept congregating around the barriers watching and they were very intrigued,” Malek said — probably partially because they were wondering why they weren’t allowed past those barriers. “People are like, ‘No one can get in but that homeless guy can?’ ” Malek joked, referring to Slater’s character.

Christian Slater’s puppy lifts his spirits during filming

“Whenever anything was going wrong or I felt a little down, it’s amazing the power of what a puppy can do,” Slater told EW of his adopted puppy, a dog he described as “a cross between a raccoon and dryer lint.” (Full disclosure: She is much cuter than dryer lint, according to a photo he posted on his Twitter earlier this month.)

Elliot was supposed to be colder — until Malek came along

Esmail says the character didn’t change much on paper from when he first thought him up, but that Malek did add an element of warmth Esmail wasn’t expecting. “He was just such a distant, cold character, that I didn’t think there could be a possibility for that warmth,” Esmail told EW. “And that’s the brilliance of Rami that he was able to bring that.”

And that quality is partly what makes Elliot relatable: Later on during the panel, an art teacher for mentally disabled children told Malek about the effect the character has on one of her students, who has schizophrenia and autism. “He said to me that Elliot gives him the feeling that he can be productive yet be sick,” she said. Visibly moved, Malek responded, “We aim to be entertaining and if we reach you on that level, that’s great, but to transcend that and reach people like your students, that’s just the most profound thing we can hope for. So thank you.”

Mr. Robot will return for its second season in 2016.

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