Rami Malek is swiping through screens, searching his Spotify app so he can find the playlist labeled "A+." These are the go-to songs he uses to tap into the loneliness that his "Mr. Robot" computer hacker, Elliot, often finds himself enveloped in.
"I never listened to Neil Diamond prior and I didn't think he'd be the first option for this show," Malek says, cuing up the singer's emotional reading of Jacques Brel's "If You Go Away," a song used to great effect early in the show's first season. "But I must have listened to this song at least 200 times preparing for that episode."
What else remains in heavy rotation? A sampling with commentary:
Phosphorescent, "Song for Zula" "['Mr. Robot' creator Sam Esmail] played me a song that had a really great drumbeat for Season 2, and it got me looking into songs with drums. This one, I feel like there's something revolutionary in there. There's a fight in him that wants to break through."
Townes Van Zandt, "Tower Song": "He's probably in my top three musicians of all time. If all else is failing and I feel like I'm not quite where I need to be emotionally, give me some Townes. He breaks my heart."
Cat Power, "Werewolf" and "Metal Heart": "She's so good. These songs, they're sad as.... But Elliot is a guy that I feel like was raised by wolves. And 'Metal Heart' speaks to me about his dysfunctions from birth."
Sia, "Burn the Pages" and "Eye of the Needle": "Sia can write. I listen to her a lot. And I know it's a very popular thing, but I'm not opposed to that if it's good."
Majical Cloudz, "Downtown": "I play this a lot. Elliot is constantly, desperately trying to be normal. I like the line, 'And if suddenly I die, I hope they will say / That he was obsessed and it was OK.' Elliot would appreciate that."
Marina and the Diamonds, "Power & Control": "[Singer-songwriter Marina Lambrini Diamandis] has really got something to say. And it's provocative. Obviously, it's right there in the title on this one."
Johnny Flynn, "The Wrote & the Writ": "I and, by extension, Elliot, connect with all these guys who feel like they're on the outskirts of society. Dylan. Tom Waits. Always. And this Johnny Flynn song gets me. I listened to it shooting the pilot. He's a kid but sounds much older. And he's really good live."