From visionary director Sam Esmail (the creator of Mr. Robot) and Eli Horowitz & Micah Bloomberg, the creators of the critically acclaimed podcast of the same name, the psychological thriller Homecoming follows Heidi Bergman (Julia Roberts, in her first starring role on television), a caseworker at the Homecoming Transitional Support Center who assists soldiers in adjusting to their return from war. While working through his experiences, she develops a complicated relationship with a young veteran named Walter Cruz (Stephen James) with whom she forms a bond over his desire to return to civilian life. Four years later, when a Department of Defense auditor (Shea Whigham) discovers Heidi working as a waitress and residing with her mother (Sissy Spacek) in a small town, his questions about her departure from her previous job begin to unravel the reality upon which she has come to rely.
At the press day for the television series in Los Angeles, Collider had the chance to speak with Sam Esmail and Julia Roberts. They discussed being completely in sync for this collaboration, the thematic ties of the goldfish storyline, working with Sissy Spacek, the difficulty of working with so many props, imagining how to shoot the series, and discovering the nuances of the different timelines. Sam Esmail also discussed how and why he chose Season 4 to be the final season of Mr. Robot. I thoroughly enjoyed this! I watched the entire program because I needed to know how it ended. Sam Email: Shall we inquire about the conclusion?
JULIA ROBERTS: So, what did you think of the conclusion? I adored the entire work. ESMAIL: Did you comprehend the conclusion? ROBERTS: How did you interpret the conclusion? I am uncertain as to whether I fully understood any or all of it. I suspect I’m not quite intelligent enough to fully comprehend what’s happening, but that doesn’t diminish my enjoyment. ROBERTS: This is how I always feel with Sam by my side. And what do you know? It’s a good sensation. I’d rather be challenged than know everything with absolute certainty. ROBERTS: Yeah. Cool, I’ll take it, E-mail. I’m sure it’s not at all awkward for you guys to talk about each other while seated together, so how was this collaboration for you? What did you enjoy most about working with Sam, Julia, and Sam, what did you enjoy most about working with Julia?
ROBERTS: I agree, it’s so strange. We are improving because we have stopped looking at each other. We simply pretend that the other is not present. Within seconds of speaking with Sam, I experienced an almost indescribable level of comfort. I believe his intelligence has aided me in this endeavor as an actor in ways I could never have anticipated. I make jokes about how intelligent he is and how stupid I am to make the joke funnier. I am fairly intelligent, but he is exceptionally so. And at a certain point, you realize that there is something about the way his brain works and the way my brain works that is very different, yet completely synchronized. It is strange.
ESMAIL: I concur with everything you’ve said, and I would add that we’re both quite passionate about this topic. ROBERTS: Enthusiastic and content. Yes, and we are having a good time. ROBERTS: Yeah. We love our jobs. It’s wonderful to have a partner with spirit. There was never a time when we felt defeated or discouraged. ESMAIL: Wow, this discussion is turning philosophical. Amazingly, there is still a plot involving the goldfish in Heidi’s office despite the presence of such weighty themes as corporate greed, mistrust of the government, and the failure to assist returning soldiers. How precisely did this occur? ROBERTS: I adore goldfish as well. E-MAIL: I adore goldfish. This is the opening image on purpose, as it is somewhat thematically related to what these soldiers were like. They were unaware that they were being examined in a fishbowl. As the story progresses, you pull back even further and realize that Heidi is in the fishbowl with them. She now realizes that she was unaware of everything that was occurring. This is the premise of the entire production. You begin with a very particular image, and as you pull back, you reevaluate the context as you learn more and more about what’s occurring outside.
I also appreciate Heidi’s sincerity when she says, “I don’t understand why they’re dead. They are fed three times a day.” This is among my favorite scenes. She improvised in that, ESMAIL. Everything was significant to us, stated ROBERTS. As an actor, it’s scrumptious when you’re given the freedom to explore that and the time to make everything significant. You’ve obviously been in this industry for a long time, and you understand the craft. Is it surprising to discover something like this that challenges you in what appears to be every way? ROBERTS: The existence of obstacles is not unexpected. The alchemy is discovering the challenges alongside the support, encouragement, and inspiration that Sam provided me.
You and Sissy Spacek have shared countless memorable moments. Despite the fact that we don’t know much about their history, there is something so special about that relationship. What were these instances like to investigate? ROBERTS: Simply ethereal. It’s fortunate that our relationship on the show is a little tense, because otherwise I would have been completely consumed by her. E-MAIL: Indeed, they loved one another. ROBERTS: I’m glad we weren’t even looking at each other in the first scene. On the first day of filming, we were essentially on the couch, watching television and eating dinner. I would tell myself, “Don’t look at her when she said or did things with her french fry. Just don’t even look at her. Just continue doing what you’re supposed to be doing.” She is so wonderful and makes everyone extremely comfortable and content. We had a few days where everyone was pinching themselves before catching our breath and finding our stride with her. But she was so courageous. With the magnifying glass on her cigarette and everything else, I thought, “She is so willing to do anything.” This contains so much dialogue, and you are performing so many actions. There is so much occurring constantly. Was it ever bewildering to handle everything at once?
ROBERTS: Yes, there was a lot of stuff. Sam kept a list containing phrases such as “What other prop can we use today? What about rollerblades? It was great because trying to pack a number of items that must be packed in the same sequence every time does something to your brain. Get the keys, close the drawer, push in the chair, move to the door, exit the door, make sure you have the phone, insert the earbuds, lock the door, and then descend the stairs. I have no idea what I’m saying at that point. E-MAIL: That’s exactly the point. When you do all of these things, it begins to feel very real-time, which is what I loved about providing her with so many props. It begins to feel as though you are simply observing life unfold.
And Sam would perform these oners, per ROBERTS. Honestly, it’s when you find your stride with your crew and castmates and can do scenes in one take, where you walk down a hallway, down some stairs, down more stairs, down another hallway, and out a door while still performing the scene. When the stars align and you are able to accomplish such feats, it is so rare. It is extremely motivating. Sam, when you read this, did you immediately see the various ways you wanted to shoot it, or did you spend a great deal of time considering how you wanted to shoot it?
ESMAIL: Typically, when you’re imagining how you’re going to film something, you have a location or a set that you’re going to construct, and it will be constructed according to specifications. In our show, for instance, there is an office building. I have to give credit to my production designer, Anastasia White, because I knew from the outset that I wanted to use overhead shots to establish the tone of voyeurism, watching above these people and putting our characters under a microscope, and because I knew that I was going to ask Julia to go from her office, downstairs, and that we were going to creep around and peep into all of these different offices. I just announced, “Here are all the insane things I plan to do. Now, you must construct around that.” Not only does Anastasia accomplish this, but she also blows my mind and elevates it to a level I could not have imagined. The best part is that we don’t let reality get in the way. For instance, Heidi’s office, which transforms into therapy session scenes, is shaped like an octagon, which doesn’t make sense for the building we’re in or the exterior location where we shoot. However, because Anastasia doesn’t care about such details, we knew that we wanted the octagonal space because it reflects the fishbowl environment. For us, it’s always about the story and the characters, so we consider the smallest of details. We never allow anything to interfere with that.
ROBERTS: Yeah. It was two characters for me, and Sam and I discussed it at length. During the waitress era, there was a great deal of vulnerability. I was constantly asking Sam, “Okay, what doesn’t she know that she doesn’t know? ” because Heidi appears to be harsh in a way that she doesn’t comprehend or acknowledge. What false information does she hold? When Sissy enters the bedroom and she is unpacking the box, one of my favorite lines is when I say, “I was in the hospital? Why didn’t you tell me?” It is so innocent, sincere, and broken. Then Sissy says, “Tell you what? You were present! It’s a wonderful encapsulation of this poor girl, leaving you to wonder, “What’s going on?” The thread begins to pull at this point. I adore the juxtaposition of that heart-wrenching sensation when someone asks, “What do you mean, what’s happening to you? It is occurring to you!” This was one of my favorite activities.
Sam, it has been officially announced that Season 4 of Mr. Robot will be the final season. When did you realize that the upcoming season would be the last? Was this something you’ve always intended? ESMAIL: I always knew the show’s conclusion, so at the end of Season 3, when we entered the Season 4 writers’ room, I said, “Well, here it is. Here is where we left off previously. How many episodes do we actually have? Let’s not prolong this any longer than necessary. What is the quantity?” And we determined that the number was 12, so we settled on that. So we declared, “We’ve reached the end. Let’s wrap it up in the upcoming season.” On November 2, Homecoming will be available to stream on Amazon Prime.