The Iciest Woman On TV: Stephanie Corneliussen Spills On Her Mr. Robot Role

Photo: Courtesy of Stephanie Corneliussen.
Stephanie Corneliussen is arguably the breakout star of Mr. Robot’s second season. The Danish actress has become a series regular and turned her character Joanna Wellick into something more than the modern Lady Macbeth that she seemed to be a season ago. Corneliussen has weaponized her character's uncertainty about her husband Tyrell’s (Martin Wallström) fate, using it to turn Joanna Wellick from someone that would stop at nothing to get ahead into one that seeks desperately to maintain a decent life for she and her child.
Or so we think.
Corneliussen herself is doing much more than surviving. The former model was discovered at 13, just the day after she was told that she was too tall to be a ballerina. After her father took her shopping at a Copenhagen department store, a modeling scout approached her and asked her to enter the Supermodels of Scandinavia contest, she told Interview. Corneliussen was reluctant until the director told her that, if she entered, she would win. With her modeling money, she eventually moved to Los Angeles and became an actor. Her first role was small — as an uncredited shapeshifting witch in the forgettable Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters — but she honed her craft until the right part came along. Mr. Robot’s Joanna Wellick was that part. Her casting process was a whirlwind: She shot a screen test, was hired, and only met Wallström on the day of their first scene together. That scene would be the memorable moment when Joanna was tied to a bed, blindfolded and pregnant, to perform some of the bondage that has become the defining feature of her character’s sexuality. We spoke to Corneliussen over the phone about serial killers, how women run Mr. Robot, and what’s next for the character Joanna. How did you prepare to play someone as ruthless as Joanna?
"I went down the rabbit hole a little bit, [researching] a lot about sociopathic behavior, antisocial behavior, narcissistic and grandiose behavior. Then I kind of spiraled down... I have a vast knowledge about serial killers now. Ted Bundy was one of them, just because he, like Joanna, had that very, very pleasant approach and was very sociable, and then ended up being a complete lunatic. I don't think she'll take it that far. To some extent, I read a lot about sociopaths, where they have this grandiose idea of themselves and that they're more intelligent than everyone else and all these things. I think that actually does apply to Joanna, not in the sense of having the grandiose personality, but actually being very, very intelligent. I think that makes her dangerous."

"If these men were to disappear, the girls would be fine."

Stephanie Corneliussen
What is it like to be on a hacker show with such a woman-centric cast?
"People are really loving this female cast. Of course, Elliot [Rami Malek] is our lead, and so is Christian [Slater], but the women are really doing it for themselves. It's fun to see how they're just being treated as equals...It seems like they're showing that they are fully capable to do what those men are doing, and fully capable of handling them. If it happens, and these men were to disappear, the girls would be fine. "We see Angela handling Phillip Price in such an interesting way. She's not doing it by the conventional, luring him in, or trying to use her [sexuality], or anything like that to get him. That's what he's trying to respond to. He asks her to come join him at his birthday, and she just goes, 'No.' You see Darlene taking over for her brother. You see Dom in this very male-dominated world just being the boss and having everybody respond to it. You see Joanna standing behind Tyrell and then showing that she's actually pulling the strings. "I don't think [the women] are made out to be superwomen — they're just made out to be real women."
Photo: Courtesy of NBC.
Is Joanna Wellick a feminist?
"Very much so. [I had] a fun conversation with someone recently, where I said, 'I think that Joanna is very wary of isms in any sense,' whether it's feminism or anything else. She's very wary of those things. I think Joanna is a master of moving outside the boxes. However, I think she's a feminist, but maybe not necessarily in the sense that she believes that women should be treated as equal to men. I think that she might very possibly think that she is much better than any man. She thinks that women rule." What’s next for Joanna?
"We have an idea of what sort of extent she's willing to go to. I think she's slowly showing her true colors. I think she's pretty much the definition of a wolf in sheep's clothing. She comes up at the office as very poised, eloquent. A trustworthy person, with that big smile, and a baby in her arms, but really she's just standing there roaring and growling and waiting for you to make a mistake. "She's doing what she can. We're actually seeing struggles of her trying to get her life in order, trying to find her husband, trying to become financially stable again, but the struggles just seem very effortless. She's dealing with some pretty extreme decisions, like killing off Kareem, and confronting a man who just lost his wife to get money. She's willing to go there."

More from TV

R29 Original Series