Carly Chaikin of ‘Mr. Robot’ Is About to Become a Director
You might know Carly Chaikin, 26, as an actress from “Mr. Robot,” “Suburgatory,” or even “The Last Song,” but chances are soon you’ll know her as a writer and director, too.
In addition to acting in “Mr. Robot,” Carly wrote a short film with one of her best friends that she’ll be directing and acting in soon. We sat down with her to talk about her upcoming directorial debut, the perks of being a multi-hyphenate, and being bicoastal.
As a woman in the industry, do you feel more motivated to tell your own story?
I don’t really like to play into that whole [idea of] wanting to tell a story because I’m a woman. I want to tell a story because I have a story to tell. I obviously want women to be empowered, but I don’t want my being a woman to be a factor in any of the projects that I do, in the way that it’s not a factor for men.
What’s your short film about?
It’s a comedy and it’s basically about this guy who is going on a blind date and fantasizes about all these characters: the bombshell, a hippie girl, a tomboy, a ditzy girl, all these different characters that are extreme and very funny. They’re basically his worst nightmares. I’m playing all of the different characters.
Did you look at it as an exercise in doing all these characters?
It started because I wanted to direct something and I wanted it to be a comedy, and I knew I was going to act in it. One of the first things that came to mind was going on dates with all of these different people. We started writing it from the female perspective, but then we decided to change perspectives and focus on a guy going on dates with all of these different women. It started by thinking of characters that would be fun for me to play. We’ve talked about turning it into a feature from the female perspective.
How does being an actor affect the way you write and direct?
I’ve always written so that’s something I love to do, but I think the biggest benefit of being an actor who writes is in regard to dialogue. A lot of the time dialogue sounds good on the page but when you actually say it out loud, it doesn’t translate. So when I’m writing and doing dialogue, I say it out loud as I would say it as an actor. I think that helps so much with the writing of it.
I love to direct actors and I want to know everything about both sides of the camera. It’s been a big learning experience for me because I didn’t go to film school, so it’s been just teaching myself all the different things you need to know as a director. All sides of it are so fascinating to me, so it’s been exciting and fun.
What was it like working with your friend to write the script?
It’s so much fun. I think when you have a writing partner and someone you work with, it needs to be a very specific duo. We have the same sense of humor and bounce off of each other very well, so she’ll come up with something and we’ll talk about it and I’ll add stuff and heighten it and vice versa. Luckily, I feel like we’re the perfect duo and are able to heighten and enhance each other’s ideas. We’re so on the same page that it makes it incredibly easy. But there is the other side of working with a friend — it could be a disaster.
How did your creative partnership start?
She works in production on “Master Chef” and “Project Runway” and my boyfriend is the first assistant director on shows like that, so we met through him. We immediately connected. We just had the same sense of humor. She came to me one day with an idea for a web series called “Literally” that we ended up doing. From there, we just kept wanting to create things together and kept coming up with all these funny ideas. It just naturally progressed.
What are some things you learned from this process about being a director?
I’ve been able to talk to Sam, our creator and director for “Mr. Robot,” about this and one of the biggest things he said to me that stuck with me was, when I start shooting, what’s the first thing you want people to see? He helped me to really understand the role of a director, which is to show the audience what you want them to see. I’ve learned the process of thinking about how I want to tell the story and what I want the audience to focus on at each moment and who I want them to see and what reactions I want them to witness. At a play, you get to see it all and you look at whatever you want to look at. But with a film or show or anything on-camera, you’re telling the audience where to look. As a director, you want to figure out what is the most interesting way for you to do that. It really just opened my mind up creatively and allowed me to see things in a way that I’d never seen them before. And it’s a lot harder than you’d think. So many directors make it look so easy, but there’s so much preparation that comes with it, and so many different aspects that I wasn’t fully aware of.
Where are you with this season of “Mr. Robot” now?
We just started filming a week or so ago. It’s great. It’s very different this year because Sam, our writer and creator, is directing every episode so the only way for him to do that is to treat it like a movie. Instead of doing one episode at a time, we combine four at a time and shoot all of them at once. Then we have a week off and then shoot the next four. It’s definitely been interesting and it’s a lot to keep track of, but the benefit is that I’ve been able to read all 10 episodes already so I definitely have a much better grasp of the story.
What are some of your other goals?
I’m also a painter. I had a website, but someone stole it from me. I have an art Instagram that I started which is @carlychaikinart and I had my first art show two years ago. Being in the art world, becoming known for painting as well as acting, is something I’d love to do. I’d also love to do more cool, interesting movies, both comedies and dramas.
Which do you prefer, comedy or drama?
It’s really apples and oranges. I was on “Suburgatory” before which was a comedy and so much fun — very light. It’s a laugh all day. I like having a balance between the two. “Robot” is very creatively fulfilling. It is very intensive work, very character-driven and super emotional. I’m able to go to deep and dark places, and it’s challenging.With comedy it’s still very character-driven, but in a different and obviously more light-hearted way. I absolutely love them both for different reasons.
What’s it like being bicoastal?
It’s absolutely a dream come true. I’ve always loved New York and have always wanted to work here and to live here part-time, so being able to do the show here is everything I’ve wanted. I love both places. I couldn’t do New York full-time. It’s a perfect to be here for a few months out of the year and then go back to LA. I’m from LA so my whole family is there. It’s my home and what I know, but New York is such a special city so I really do get the best of both worlds.
How are the people different between New York and LA?
The weather is such a big factor in New York and affects everyone’s mood. It’s crazy when the sun comes out here. Everybody changes and gets so much happier. LA really is much more laid back. They definitely have very different vibes, but I love them both.
[This interview has been edited for clarity.]