Nerding out with Carly Chaikin: On her new show ‘Mr. Robot,’ and her HelloGiggles series ‘Literally’

Welcome to “Nerding Out,” a new interview series where we get down and nerdy with famous females we admire — deep-diving into their fandom universe, brainy side projects, and existential observations. For our second interview in the series, we were super pumped to talk with the amazing Carly Chaikin, who at 25-years-old stars as Darlene in USA’s Mr. Robot. The new series also features Christian Slater and is all about a guy named Elliot who leads a total double life — software engineer by day, hacker by night. Elliot finds himself at a crossroads between these two worlds (we won’t give too much away), but the show is all about hacking, technology, the fate of the world, and the threats we face today. 

Carly has also starred in The Last Song and Suburgatory, and she is a co-creator of the HelloGiggles web series Literally, where she and her BFF Nina Steffel act out popular expressions. . . literally. Here’s what she had to say. 

Sammy Nickalls (SN): So I watched the pilot episode of Mr. Robot — oh my god, it was so good! I was totally hooked. I didn’t do anything else for that full hour and I was so sad that it wasn’t on Netflix already! What did you think of the badass techie-revolution plot when you read the script?

Carly Chaikin (CC): I mean, the pilot was probably one of the best scripts I’ve ever read in my life. So good. And I just thought it was such a fascinating world to be a part of, and obviously so relevant to our time. Hacking in and of itself is just so fascinating to me — just how intelligent and smart you have to be in order to do it, and everything that goes into it, and the mindset of hacking. What we’ve learned with the way you approach [hacking] is that it’s basically about having a problem and thinking of different solutions outside of the box to fix it. Solutions that most people wouldn’t think of.

Like for example, we had this lecture with a guy who is a big hacker, and he was like, “The jist of it is, how do you turn a lightbulb off? Give me 10 examples.” Normally people can give you four very standard basic ones. And then, it’s like, thinking outside of that in different ways. One of the ways is closing your eyes. Or putting a blanket over it. Or cutting off the circuit generator altogether. So it’s really about thinking outside of the box about different solutions that aren’t necessarily obvious or standard.

SN: Yeah, I never even thought about it that way. I mean, every character on the show is just so unbelievably brilliant, and it’s just so fast-paced. We only get to see a few minutes of Darlene [Carly’s character] in the pilot, but I already fell in love with her, because she’s so edgy and doesn’t care about what anyone thinks! Can you tell us when we’ll be seeing a little more of her and her attitude?

CC: We see her every episode throughout the series. In episode two, we get a much better idea of who she is . . . episode three, she’s teased a little bit again. After that, we see her full-throttle throughout the whole season.

SN: What do you love about Darlene, as a character? 

CC: Honestly, everything. She’s really the character I’ve always wanted to play. I just love how smart she is. As you saw, she wrote several rootkitting codes for the whole corporate takedown. She’s very interesting and fun, and has a very strong viewpoint and beliefs. Really with what we’re trying to do in that society, most of it stems from her, and what she believes and what she wants. She’s very passionate and strong-willed, but at the same time, she definitely has a lot of layers and vulnerability behind her. She’s a very interesting and complex character. I think she’s gonna be someone who people wish they could be like.

SN: Yeah, totally. I got that impression of her right away — she was just so strong-willed and incredibly complex. How would you say you can relate to her?

CC: I can relate to her in a lot of ways. I feel like she’s that kind of person that everybody has a little bit of in them, and kind of wishes that if they had the courage, they could bring it out more. Kind of that “f**k it” attitude — knowing what you want and going for it, and not letting anyone come between it, and between you and your goal. I think that I can relate to a lot with her — a lot of this freedom that she has, and the way that she acts, and her sarcasm, and bluntness, I guess. Just the tenacity and drive that she has I think is very similar to mine.

SN: Obviously, other than the whole trying-to-take-over-the-world-through-taking-over-a-conglomerate thing, you guys have a lot in common. Has there been any aspect of playing her that has been hard for you or a challenge for you as an actress?

CC: There’ve been a lot of emotional scenes. Everything is just such high stakes. It’s so do-or-die for her, and really getting to that place and being able to portray that and have the audience see really how much this means to her . . . I think just being able to really go there emotionally has been really fun and challenging, coming off a role [in Suburgatory] where that kind of emotion wasn’t really required as much. I think that’s been the challenge, and just making sure that there is more to her than just being loud and, I guess, almost abrasive. I think with any character, it’s just about finding those levels and certain areas and parts that you can just show different sides of her. 

SN: In Mr. Robot, Darlene is one of the top super-geeks that is going to take over the economy in the most badass way possible. Would you consider yourself a techie?

CC: Yes and no. Not as much as I would like to be, or would be able to say I am. *laughs* But I am pretty tech-savvy. I do wish that I could really learn how to hack, because I think that would be really cool. But that will come in the future. I always joke about an off-show: An actor plays a hacker on a show and gets really good at hacking and takes over the world.

SN: I can see you starring in that one. What do you geek out over? Shows, books . . . any fandoms you can dish on?

CC: Right now, it’s Friday Night Lights. I’ve never watched that show before, and I just started, and I’m almost done with it. I honestly don’t know what I’m gonna do when I finish. That’s like the biggest show I geek out on right now.

SN: Mr. Robot is definitely super different from Literally, your awesome web-series with HG. Tell me a little bit about what it’s been like to work with your bestie on that.

CC: It is the best thing ever. Nina had this idea a while ago; our first video we did was “Raise the Steaks.” She and I do everything together; we write like crazy — we’re in the middle of writing a short film right now—and she’s one of the funniest and most amazing writers ever. She came to me with this idea, and I thought it was the funniest thing ever, and I was like, “We need to make this into a series.” 

It started out last year. It was just me, her, and my boyfriend, filming it, just for fun. You can see in some of the videos that the sound quality and all that isn’t the best, because it was just us doing it for us. She’s a huge fan of HelloGiggles, and saw them post a thing saying, “Do you make videos with your best friend? Do you want them to be online?” And we were like, “OH MY GOD.” I kind of know Sophia [Rivka Rossi] basically through Twitter, and I e-mailed her, and they loved it. It was really super cool and exciting for them to want to work with us. 

It’s so much fun. One of our favorite things is to come up with the different ideas, and constantly, we’ll think of ones and text each other like, “We should do this or that!” I get to edit them all, and I think people really enjoy them. We wanted them to be really quick because people’s attention spans are so minimal. It’s just a fun 30-second video that’s entertaining. And then, you know, we were lucky enough to go to Rome together last year, and so we were like, “We have to do something in Rome.”

SN: Yeah, that was my favorite one; it was hysterical! I watched it a couple of times because you guys are just chillin’ eating ice cream.

CC: And because we were like, “What should we do?” And I was like, “It doesn’t even matter, it’s just the fact that it’s like, when in Rome!” That’s why I was like, “Should I put my hair up?” *laughs*

SN: And the one with Tim Gunn. That was just brilliant — A New York minute!

CC: That one was so fun. And we just did that in one take, for just a minute. It worked out perfectly. At first it was just gonna be us on the bench, and then we were like, “We should ask Tim to do it,” because everything’s better with him in it. So just him sitting on the bench — it’s so random, and you’re sitting there the whole time like, “Is anyone gonna do anything? Is anything gonna happen?” And it’s like, “Nope! Nothing!” *laughs*

SN: So from Literally to Mr. Robot, how did you get to this point? Walk me a little bit through your acting history.

CC: I’ve had one of those rare stories where it was something I always knew I wanted to do, growing up in LA, and everyone was like, “OK, you and everyone else, honey.” And I was like “No, just watch.” I met this coach who was like, “I need to introduce you to my manager.” So I met with his manager, and we really hit it off. She’s still my manager today. My third movie audition and first callback was for The Last Song, which was my first job, the Nicholas Sparks movie with Miley Cyrus. And after that, did a few indie films, then Suburgatory, then this show. So it’s been really amazing.

SN: Yeah, total whirlwind. And now after this show you are going to blow up, because Darlene is so amazing and it’s such a fascinating show. Do you know what’s next for you?

CC: I hope so! And no, we’ve been so focused on doing this. But it’s amazing because everything is really really slow over the summer, so it’s so great to be working over the summer, because normally there’s not many movies going or shows going, so it’s great to be actually working during the slowest time. I don’t know what’s next!

Mr. Robot premieres Wednesday, June 24 at 10/9C. Check out the trailer:

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[Images via IMDb, NBC Universal]

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