Playing Freddie Mercury in the new Queen biopic Bohemian Rhapsody, Rami Malek is arguably the greatest actor of his generation
The best actors always make you feel something when you’re watching them work. Not sometimes. Always. And it’s not because they epitomise perfection, human beings aren’t perfect. Which is precisely why when they’re portrayed as such on the big screen it’s hard to relate, to believe, to invest.
With an awkward demeanour about him, Rami is a square peg in a round hole, he doesn’t quite fit and neither does he want to, and that’s his gift. It makes you feel for him. It makes you want to stand with him, be friends with him, and even when he plays the antagonist it leaves you questioning which side you’re on.
This is exactly why the role of Freddie Mercury in the recently released Bohemian Rhapsody was made for him.
Queen’s frontman was born an outcast. Never knowing quite where he stood in society until he found Brian May, Roger Taylor and John Deacon, Freddie Mercury was uninhibited, gifted, flamboyant, and anything but straightforward. He was someone never afraid to test the boundaries of creativity, diving head first into every idea that he had, no matter how bizarre, unruly or off the wall it may have seemed.
Way before getting the call for the Queen biopic, going back to his childhood, Rami’s earliest memory of the band was hearing “Bohemian Rhapsody” played on the radio.
“It was just halting and haunting and whimsical all at the same time,” he explains, sitting down with me in a central London hotel. “I felt emotional and didn’t quite know why but I wanted more. I wanted more of it and I had never in my life heard a voice as gorgeous as Freddie Mercury’s.”
Speaking of the character Rami spent many months trying to perfect, it couldn’t have been easy playing someone like Freddie Mercury, an icon, a legend, someone with one of the greatest voices of all-time.
“It takes a lot of confidence and courage to even attempt to put yourself in Freddie’s shoes and then dance around in them,” he begins.
“I was singing the songs all the time, even though it’s mostly him in there now. I gave it my best shot everyday. I would often lose my voice because I’m not a singer. I took singing classes as often as I could but before that I just tried to immerse myself in everything I could.
“I enjoyed every second of it but singing is what I thought would compromise my confidence in portraying someone who ruled a stage and an arena. And so I just had to pretend, as the phrase goes, ‘to sing and dance like no one’s watching’, everyday.”
Immersing himself in the character as often as he could, while Rami Malek might not have gone all Daniel Day-Lewis on us by living the life of his character off set during the time he was filming, he did, however, stay in character on set even after the director yelled cut.
“I couldn’t help it,” admits Rami. “It’s not like I’m going out there and living the life of a serial killer, I get to be Freddie Mercury so it was a pleasure to sit in that frame of mind and character all day long.
“It wasn’t like I was ordering a steak frites as Freddie Mercury after work in London, or going to get my fish and chips as him. But on set, yeah. It was nice to stay in character. It wasn’t always a conscious choice either, it was just happening.”
Born in Los Angeles to Egyptian immigrants, some of Rami’s early roles include Andy in Gilmore Girls, Ahkmenrah in Night at the Museum, Marcos Al-Zacar in 24, and Snafu in The Pacific. But his real breakthrough, the moment when everyone sat up and paid attention, came when he played Elliot Alderson in the USA Network television series Mr. Robot.
Without doubt the turning point in his career, Rami’s turn as cybersecurity engineer and vigilante hacker Elliot not only came with notoriety and recognition – he won a Golden Globe and a Screen Actors Guild Award – it also came with a ton of typecast script offers.
“After Mr. Robot there were a lot of scripts that involved me sitting in front of a computer,” he says then adding, “I don’t think we’re going to beat Mr. Robot however.”
If you haven’t seen Mr. Robot then you’re missing one of the best television dramas of the 21st century. When you talk about The Wire, Breaking Bad, Sons of Anarchy, Game of Thrones, you can’t fail to mention Mr. Robot.
Also starring Christian Slater, it’s a show that is both intellectual and insane, riveting and eerie, dark and amusing. In fact there are many words that could be used to describe it because it is so many things to so many people.
But one opinion that stays the same no matter who tells it: Rami Malek is exceptional in it.
Taking you on a journey through the dark web, the line between reality and insanity shouldn’t be as exciting as it is in Mr. Robot.
Adding serious weight to the show’s many ‘what the fuck?’ moments, Rami’s intensity is mind-blowing to say the least. There are so many scenes where as the viewer you’re left questioning your own morals at the hands of Elliot’s complex internal struggles. How many actors have the capabilities to do that to you? Not many, I can tell you that for certain.
One thing that definitely separates Rami from Elliot is technology, or at least having the energy to invest into it. I say that because Rami’s Instagram account has 533,000 followers yet only hosts two pictures. So why is this?
“I don’t know, I have no idea,” he says before thinking it over. “After one movie I did someone asked me to endorse it on social media and I didn’t have any social media so someone set it up for me. I’m just too lazy to get back to it.”
Discussing the news that John Legend recently became the youngest recipient of an EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony), I ask Rami if he has aspirations to take home all four awards himself.
“Look, it’s hard enough in this job just to get one,” he says quite sternly, pausing for a moment before continuing his answer. “Between Elliot and this, what more do I want? This is my chart-topper, my EGOT, all in one. Playing Freddie Mercury and having some sense of pride in what I think collectively we’ve accomplished in this film, having the respect of my cast and crew and me having mutual respect for them, that’s everything to me. Truly. That’s all I need to get by.”
Going one step further, he adds:
“I’ll tell you this. I get to sit down at the table for dinner with Brian May and Roger Taylor and Jim Beach, the executor of Freddie’s estate. The fact we’re still having dinner together that says it all to me and that’s all I want. I love what I do.”
Rami Malek is truly unique. From his look to the way he delivers his characters on screen, he’s one of those once-in-a-decade type talents, and the very reason the art of acting will never die. Being able to love what you do, do what you love, and do it at a high standard is not something we witness very often.
Asking him one last question, one that requires him to get back into character as Freddie Mercury, I want to know what the singer would be doing if he were still alive today.
“I think he’d be hanging out with Elton John somewhere and having a good time,” Rami says, smirking at the prospect. “He’d probably still be going to the opera and he’d probably still be playing Scrabble with Brian on the odd day.”
Bohemian Rhapsody is in UK cinemas now.