'Mr. Robot' postmortem: Martin Wallström on Tyrell Wellick's exile

Ethan Alter
Senior Writer, Yahoo Entertainment
Martin Wallström as Tyrell Wellick in ‘Mr. Robot’ (Photo: Michael Parmelee/USA Network)

Warning: This post contains spoilers for the “eps3.2_legacy.so” episode of Mr. Robot.

Tyrell Wellick might have spent much of Mr. Robot‘s second season off-camera, but Martin Wallström always knew his creepily upper-crust alter ego would be back in a big way. He never thought that his return would include a standalone Tyrell-centric showcase, though. “I didn’t know that I was going to get, as you say, a showcase episode,” the Swedish actor tells Yahoo Entertainment. “I talked to Sam [Esmail] before Season 3 began and he said, ‘Episode 3 is going to reveal where he’s been.’ I was psyched, because there are so many things happening and he’s put in so many awkward situations.”

Bridging the gap between the end of Season 1 (when Tyrell and Elliot launch the Five/Nine hack) and the end of Season 2 (when Tyrell shoots Elliot point blank), “eps3.2_legacy.so” shows Wellick being spirited out of New York by Dark Army fixer Irving (Bobby Cannavale). Kept isolated in a remote cabin, the former E Corp ladder-climber is reduced to being a mere bystander to the cataclysmic events he set in motion, unable to contact his wife, Joanna (Stephanie Corneliussen), or their newborn son. By the end of the hour, he’s out of his enforced exile and back to being a big player in the still-unfolding plot.

We spoke with Wallström about filling in Tyrell’s missing history and why he loves being mistaken for Christian Slater.

Before you got the script for this episode, did you have your own idea of what happened to Tyrell during his absence from the show?
I did, but the funny thing is that as soon as I read this full script, I totally forgot what it was! [Laughs] I did have this idea that he’d be hiding, but I thought that he’d be hiding further away from the epicenter [of Five/Nine]. But hey, I think it’s super-smart to hide close.

The first scene in the arcade plays into a theory that fans have had for a long time — that Tyrell is yet another aspect of Elliot’s personality.
Many people wondered during Season 2 whether he was just in Elliot’s imagination. I think it’s proven itself over and over that it might not be that way. In that particular scene, there’s so many things happening in terms of what they’re trying to do on the night of the hack. Then he’s almost shot, and saved by what he thinks is some kind of divine intervention. There are so many things happening, it’s almost like a short film. It’s one of the most complex scenes I’ve ever been in.

That arcade encounter was originally part of the Season 1 finale. What was it like to step back into a scene you had already filmed?
Rami [Malek] and I talked about it. We said it was like Christmas, because it’s something we do every year! That scene in the arcade has been in all three seasons, including the end of Season 1 and the beginning of Season 2. I’ll be happy to return to that scene again! The story evolves through each season, so we’re further into it each time. Last season, we had to do a scene from Season 1 where Tyrell and Elliot are in a car together, and we had to match the shots. That was trickier.

You also get the opportunity to go head-to-head with Christian Slater in that scene as the angrier, more intense Mr. Robot we’ve seen this season.
We definitely have some more scenes together this season, and he has this kind of energy where we can be very rough to each other, but in a very respectful way. Tyrell wants to be the alpha, and Mr. Robot is Elliot’s alpha side. Christian is also, like, the most fit guy I’ve ever seen. He’ll do 50 push-ups before each take! I’m not kidding. Now that Mr. Robot is more [present] and not trying to convince Elliot that he needs to do this or that, he just goes for it. Mr. Robot has his own clear path and he’s going down that highway really fast.

Was the house that serves as Tyrell’s “prison” a set or an actual location?
It’s one location; it’s located in a national park. But the set decorators did such a good job [making it ours]. What was nice is that for the last two seasons I’ve always been in expensive suits and ties. So now, going the opposite way, it changes the way Tyrell behaves. It was wonderful to just be in that environment and chop all that wood.

Your encounter with Wallace Shawn, who guests as an interrogator, is a standout sequence in the episode. What are your memories of shooting that scene?
Everyone who had read the script would say, “Wow, this scene. This scene!” Because it’s a long scene, and it’s very specific and based on all these small things that Wally and I had to do. He had to do the writing and keep the pace, and I can only answer his questions, basically. I think we did every take of that scene three times; we had a reset point where we’d start again, and then we went to the end where he confesses. Every take was a couple of minutes, and there was a lot of pressure. Wally is such a nice guy; he almost looks like the Monopoly Man with that mustache. I asked Sam if it was a little Twin Peaks-y, and he was like, “Maybe.”

That sequence feels very theatrical, which complements Wallace Shawn’s legacy as a stage performer and playwright.
We talked about his playwriting on set, and he told me that he’d been to Sweden to do his plays. It was so interesting to get to know him. Bobby always said that Wally is a legend in the business, so I’m honored having been interrogated by this man. And I almost didn’t confess! [Laughs]

For Tyrell’s escape attempt, do you think he realistically had any hope of getting away? Or was it just a desperate act by a desperate man?
We talked a lot about that. He’s obviously safe where he is, but at that point, he realizes that he’s being used for other purposes than what he agreed to. The only way for him to get what he wants is to get in touch with Elliot and finish what they started. What’s interesting about Tyrell is that he can never just settle for the place in the hierarchy where he’s supposed to be. He has to challenge people; when he goes into a room, he’s thinking, “What’s the battle and how can I win here?” That’s just his nature. So being captured in this sense is the worst thing he can think of, so escaping is like his own private revolution.

How do you think he’ll react when he learns of Joanna’s death?
There’s going to be an impact from that this season. I can guarantee you that he will learn this actually happened. You know, when people come up and talk to me about Tyrell, they always say, “He’s so strange.” And then there’s this two-second pause and they go, “But his wife!” It’s a testament to the impact Stephanie [Corneliussen] made in the part. The funny thing is, she’s such a nice, warm person [in real life]. I can attest to that!

To that point, what’s the comment you’ve received from fans about Tyrell that you’ve liked the most?
There was a funny one back in Season 1. During a lunch break, a woman came up to me with a pen and paper and asked, “Are you Christian Slater?” And I just thought, “There are so many levels to that!” [Laughs] It’s also the greatest compliment ever. If I went around with people thinking I was Christian Slater, I’d be happy every day.

The tragedy of Joanna’s death is compounded by their son being taken away and hidden. As a dad myself, I’ll really feel for Tyrell when he makes that discovery.
It’s something to, as you say, feel for a person like Tyrell. To be honest, he’s not a nice person! He’s not someone you would go on a road trip with. But because the writing is so good, hopefully the audience will feel for him. I like when it’s contradictory; when you start feeling for someone that you actually hate, or vice versa.

We learn at the end of the episode that Tyrell wasn’t saved from being shot in the arcade due to any kind of miracle or divine intervention — it was just a squib that misfired. How is that realization going to affect him going forward?
I think we all twist and turn our faith and reality so it fits how you want it to be. So for sure this affects him. But he could also still see it as divine intervention in a way, in the fact that Elliot wanted to kill him, but he managed to persuade him not to. Maybe that’s what’s divine. Going forward, I think he’s just going full steam ahead on making sure this plan is going to go through. That’s his main objective. That’s how he can manage to get away, by creating all that chaos. That’s how he can get out of this prison, and he can reunite with his family and start over.

Mr. Robot airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on USA.

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