'Mr Robot' Season 4 actor Ashlie Atkinson says her character Janice 'hatched from an egg as a full-grown taxidermist psychopath'
From the scarily effective use of the "100%" emoji to spouting lines like "Destruction can be so productive", Janice, the perky psychopath in 'Mr Robot' is a character we won't soon forget. In an exclusive interview with MEA WorldWide (MEAWW), Ashlie Atkinson talked about terrorizing Dominique 'Dom' DiPierro (Grace Gummer) as Whiterose's henchwoman on the show. "I think Dom is probably the person Janice feels closest to in the entire world. It’s a twisted, predatory relationship, but I think Janice cares about Dom as much as she can care about anyone other than herself."
Describing herself as a "massive fan" of 'Mr Robot', Atkinson reveals that she had auditioned for the role of Dom years ago. "[But] I was just so very, very wrong for it. I thought, 'welp, there was my chance to be on the show, and I totally screwed the pooch'. So years later, when I got an audition for Janice, I was like, 'don’t blow it, kid' to myself. And she is such a dream to play."
Cast to play the pivotal role of the psychotic Dark Army agent in the last and final fourth season of Mr Robot was a "unique experience" for her. The cast warmly welcomed her from the first table read itself. It also meant working with creator Sam Esmail, who Atkinson says is "up there with the best" among all the directors she has worked with over the past 15 years.
"He’s a damn mastermind, and I feel like when you pair him with the brilliant [cinematographer] Tod Campbell and a crew that believes in him as much as the folks at 'Mr Robot' do, the results are undeniable.
"I’ve never been an actor that asks where the frame is — to be honest, I spent the first 10 years ignoring where the camera was, but these episodes required a level of technical precision I had never experienced before. It was a great experience, and I also just really think Sam’s a great dude, and I like hanging out with him."
Depicting Janice as someone who looked and sounded harmless but was actually a psychopath was built into the script. "I came in with this general idea that she was sweet-voiced but also very scary. But the specifics of it, how and when to modulate the levels, was something we talked about a lot, take by take, scene by scene. I really love the musicality of Janice’s voice. I think it’s super fun, so my tendency was to lean into that — often, like, way too much. And Sam was great about making sure I didn’t tip too far and pulled me back when I got too carried away."
Another aspect of getting into character involves taxidermy - the TV shorthand for psychopaths since Norman Bates. Atkinson isn't faking her skills on the show. "I sure as hell studied it! When we did the table read of the episodes, I saw that there were a lot of descriptions of me literally up to my elbows in an animal.
"So, I asked my manager, Liz, to find a taxidermist that would teach me, and she located this really nice guy John who has his own taxidermy studio in Middle Village, Queens. John’s been a taxidermist for a long time, and his dad was a taxidermist before him, and we had a great time just talking through how to do certain stuff and what tools and how you handle them.
"I didn’t tell Sam or anybody that I was going to go learn this stuff, it was just for me. But then, the morning of the taxidermy scenes, we turn down this street towards the location and I was like, 'wait, WHAT?' And it was John’s shop! And he was there hanging out, and he answered a couple more questions for me, and man, that was just rewarding as hell.
"It was also pretty fun to freak out some of the crew by walking in from the street and greeting John by name and us hugging and catching up a bit. They were like, 'Um. *Are* you a taxidermist?'"
Atkinson says that though she usually works out a backstory for her characters, Janice was too unique a character to define that way. "I’m really into putting in the backstory work, but for Janice, it kinda felt like she hatched from an egg as a full-grown taxidermist psychopath and has been in that shop forever. Plus, you have to be careful when doing episodic TV too - that you don’t make something that might be directly contradicted by what the writers say [later]. A very cool director I worked with, Michael Patrick Jann, told me, 'Don’t build a crystal castle around your character or you might end up trapped'."
'Mr Robot' airs on the USA Network Sundays at 10/9c.