If there’s one thing we know about 007, it’s that he always gets his man. His target this time: Rami Malek, the 38-year-old star of long-running Amazon Prime series Mr Robot, who knocked the entertainment industry’s socks off with his extraordinarily committed — and uncanny — performance as the late Queen frontman Freddie Mercury in the 2018 biopic Bohemian Rhapsody.
“Even before Bohemian Rhapsody he had a very, very good reputation,” says Daniel Craig, veteran of five Bond films including the forthcoming No Time to Die, which will be released in April. Along with the other Bond powers that be, including long-time producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G Wilson, and No Time to Die director Cary Joji Fukunaga, Craig was on the hunt for a new villain to take on in his final outing as the world’s most high-profile secret agent. “When it came down to casting this part, you have a wish-list of people you want to play it, and he was at the top of the list,” Craig tells me. “We lucked out. He was free.”
Malek himself wasn’t exactly under the radar — “He’d just won an Oscar,” as Craig points out — and it is easy to see the villainous potential in him. Apart from his reputation as a captivating actor, he has a remarkably versatile face: when he lowers his eyelids, his large, blue eyes look sleepy and cold; if he hollows his cheeks, his jaw juts and his cheekbones pop; he has a low, sonorous voice that he can flatten to a sinister monotone. (The cheekbones and jawline combo comes in handy at other times, too: Malek is currently the face of Saint Laurent’s SS ’20 menswear campaign.)
But nor was he, in fact, free: he was shooting the fourth and final season of Mr Robot in New York. Dates were jiggled, then re-jiggled, then re-jiggled again, until finally a couple of weeks were found right at the end of the Bond production schedule during which Malek could come to Pinewood Studios, just west of London, and film the bulk of his scenes.
“When someone tells me something’s a possibility, I just start to think, ‘Let’s make it work’,” says Malek, who is engaging and cheery in person, his eyes widening boyishly (because — whaddyaknow! — they can do that too). “I kind of just get laser-focused on it, especially when it excites me.”
It’s late December, and Malek and I are sitting in the lounge of a tastefully expensive hotel in Tribeca, New York, as inconsequential flurries of snow fall outside. (Well, to be precise, we sit in the lounge until about an hour into our interview, when a mysterious blonde with a beret and a small dog comes and sits opposite us, uncomfortably close. A hotel guest? An avid fan? An agent of Spectre? We relocate to a table in the conservatory, just in case.)
Dressed in what he describes as his staple outfit — neat navy sweater over a white shirt plus dark trousers and black boots — Malek is talking about the logistics of doing the new Bond film because, although his presence in No Time to Die is a significant reason for the timing of our interview, he also can’t really talk about it very much. So huge is the franchise — to give an idea of how huge, in October last year, The Telegraph described “James Bond and the UK’s booming film industry” as appearing to have “rescued the economy from a pre-Brexit recession” — and so well controlled its machinations, that it’s not worth any participant’s while to spill more details than they should.
“I have to be extremely careful,” says Malek, on his turn as the so-far-so-mysterious Safin. “I can’t really talk about the character.” He also can’t confirm whether he’s signed on for two films, as has been rumoured, or what it was that he came up with during a read-through that prompted Daniel Craig to kiss him — an anecdote that the pair have been testing out on American talk shows. Nor can he describe the outcome of the discussions with Fleabag writer Phoebe Waller-Bridge, brought in to help with the script and work out how an enlightened, “21st-century Bond” might react to certain plot predicaments. “You’ll end up seeing that in the film,” he’ll say with a not unapologetic shrug.
The week before we meet, there had been a press junket for the cast here in New York, including Malek, Craig, the French actress Léa Seydoux who reprises her role as Madeleine Swann, and British Bond newcomer Lashana Lynch, who plays Nomi, a rival “00” spy. A whole junket dedicated to not talking about the thing you’re there to talk about. It sounds taxing. Malek came up with a parrying strategy. “I often asked the journalists, ‘Do you really want to know? It will spoil the film for you, and it’s such an extraordinary event, in it being the 25th instalment and Daniel’s final one.’ I said, ‘Do you really want me to ruin this for you?’” [More at source]
Rami Malek is having a good hair day. “This is the best his hair’s been since February,” says the young woman twirling scented oil through Malek’s strands while the actor stands obediently still, slightly bashful, like anyone who is being publicly oiled. His hair looks exactly the way it does in every episode of Mr. Robot, which is at the tail end of shooting its final season here in Brooklyn. The hair is worth mentioning because it has spawned a mini men’s version of the Rachel, Jennifer Aniston’s hair on Friends, in that it is easily identifiable and widely imitated. “It’s a two on the sides that’s faded to a one and a half,” says the young woman with the oil, in case anyone wants to memorize that and take it to the barber. “And it’s disconnected from the top to the sides and faded up to the parietal ridge.”
“This is GQ, not National Geographic,”Malek says. “Disconnected is appropriate, though.”
It is. Malek had been acting for more than a decade when he got the part of Elliot Alderson on Mr. Robot, which came out in 2015 on USA, of all networks, and immediately generated a robust Reddit presence and an ardent audience of people for whom a dystopian but sensitive thriller felt appropriate in an age of deep fakes and flourishing conspiracies. Elliot works as a cybersecurity technician who gets embroiled in a hacktivist scheme to wrest financial justice from an evil corporation. He has a rocky relationship with humanity but a lucid one with the technological reality of the world we live in. You get the sense, in watching, that if you knew what he did, you’d microwave your SIM cards and self-medicate with morphine, too.
For three years Malek’s fame gently increased as the show’s influence grew. In 2016 he won an Emmy. Then he starred as Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody, which became the highest-grossing music biopic of all time, and he swept awards season, receiving a Golden Globe, a SAG Award, a BAFTA Award, and, of course, an Oscar, for which he gave a graceful acceptance speech that touched on his status as the son of immigrants. Next year he’ll play the villain in the new James Bond movie with Daniel Craig. Descriptions of his rise often involve violent metaphors (catapulting to stardom, exploding into the zeitgeist), which is inadvertently appropriate for someone who physically falls down as much as Malek. [More at Source]
Rami Malek knows what people might expect from Bohemian Rhapsody. “It could easily have been a monumental piece of shit, right?”
Consider the case for the prosecution: it is a biopic, that most maligned of movie genres, and one that has wrong-footed the most surefooted talents: remember Leonardo DiCaprio as J Edgar Hoover? He may well hope you don’t. Worse, it is a music biopic, a sub-genre that has proven even more problematic: Dennis Quaid as Jerry Lee Lewis?
Finally, Bohemian Rhapsody is a biopic of Queen, most obviously of Freddie Mercury, one of the handful of frontmen in the history of rock who can be said to be touched by genius. Its set piece is the Live Aid Wembley concert, which not only involved assembling 72,000 fans dressed like it was 1985 but also recreating one of the single defining performances in pop, one that was watched by 40 per cent of the planet, live. (“Day-o… Day-o” etc.)
While we’re discussing difficulties, we might throw in the surviving members of Queen’s fondness for not always showing off their legacy in the best light, elements of which one suspects might have had poor old Freddie pirouetting in his grave. There is, of course, the deathless Queen musical, We Will Rock You, from a book by Ben Elton, which seems to have been playing in London longer than Trooping the Colour, despite universally horrible reviews. There have been Queen computer games, Queen collaborations with the boyband 5ive and the rapper Wyclef Jean, and a Queen Monopoly boardgame. (“Because as Freddie used to say, when they asked him if he liked being rich, ‘Yes, I like getting lots of money because it tells me that people like what I do’,” explained guitarist Brian May to a perplexed reporter. “So there is the same kind of ethos behind this game.”)
Then there is Bohemian Rhapsody’s own troubled birth. The film has been in production in some form or another since 2000. The casting of Sacha Baron Cohen as Mercury bit the dust after May reportedly found him “too distracting”. Then director Bryan Singer walked off set with two weeks filming still to go, to be replaced by Dexter Fletcher, who, to be fair, did have biopic experience: his last film was ski-jumping drama Eddie the Eagle (2016).
And yet, despite all this, the 40-or-so minutes of Bohemian Rhapsody that Esquire has seen very much suggest a victory snatched from the jaws of defeat. And the revelation is Malek’s performance: on and off-stage, he is a terrific Mercury. [More at Source]
On his very first day as Mr Freddie Mercury on the set of Bohemian Rhapsody, Mr Rami Malek took the stage, literally, for what he now calls “the most difficult and complex part of the movie,” recreating Queen’s incredible performance for Live Aid, at Wembley Stadium, in 1985. “We had to shoot it first because of weather,” Mr Malek says, “Otherwise all those background actors in summer attire would be freezing!”
We’re at Cecconi’s in Beverly Hills, a sceney lunch spot in full swing, and Mr Malek’s on his second Campari and soda. Like many of the characters for which he is best known, including Elliot Alderson, the paranoiac hacktivist in Mr Robot, he’s a little intense in person, with a deliberate, elongated way of speaking and a probing look. He’s not a fan of interviews, as a rule. He watches the recorder on the table carefully and thinks before he speaks.
“I had two weeks, after finishing the third season of Mr Robot, before stepping onto the Live Aid stage. And we shot the whole concert over seven days. Move for move. Identical.” His is an extraordinary performance, and Mr Malek is rightly proud of his work. “I’m thrilled with the whole movie,” he says. “That might be an asshole thing to say, but I worked harder on this than anything, and it could so easily have been a disaster.”
Mr Malek, 37, has come to be known for his facility with complex characters – often playing those with dark interior lives, characters such as Snafu, a disturbed marine in the 2010 HBO mini-series The Pacific, or Clark, the loyal son-in-law to Mr Philip Seymour Hoffman’s charlatan magus in Mr Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master. “There’s so much we bury deep inside of ourselves,” Mr Malek says now, “and I’m fascinated by why and how. All these questions that we subconsciously ask, like: who are we, what are we doing here, are we essentially good or evil?” [More at Source]
Turns out, the leading man of tomorrow might be anything but conventional. And so he should be. With Egypt in his heart and greatness in his sights, Rami Malek is forging something remarkable.
Late 2017. A large paddock, somewhere in England. Rami Malek struts onto stage. A pit of fake photographers crane their heads up, tracing him across the stage with prop cameras. Malek raises a fist. He pumps it. An invisible crowd of tens of thousands is in the palm of his hand.
It’s the first day of filming for Bohemian Rhapsody, the Queen biopic. You don’t need to squint to feel like it’s Live Aid, the most transcendent gig in Queen’s history. You don’t need to squint to believe that Rami Malek is Freddie Mercury – it’s right there in the impossible jawline, the way he kicks a leg out, how he adjusts his posture with a shimmy. Six months earlier, Malek would have told you that he was scared. Biopics invite a gleefully harsh level of scrutiny. The stakes on a project like this, depicting maybe the greatest performer to have ever lived? Gargantuan. Even a near-miss could derail an actor’s career. (Six months earlier, before accepting this role, Malek was getting well-meaning looks at photo shoots that said, don’t do it.)
If you don’t yet know Rami Malek, start with this: on the very first day of the biggest job of his life, he proceeded straight to the deep end of the pool, and dove in.
If we’re living in the era of loud – the era of hyper-exposure, hyper-sharing and hyper-opinion – then Rami Malek might be the quietest celebrity that could exist in 2018. Not shy, not unopinionated, but quiet. (In an interview published last month, The New York Times bemoaned that he was “extremely reluctant to dish about himself.”)
Maybe you chalk that up to patience. This has been a grind. There was the one-off bit role on Gilmore Girls, the prominent arc on 24, a series of appearances in the Night at the Museum films. There was a string of collaborations with towering figures, including Spielberg, Hanks, Thomas Anderson and Seymour Hoffman.
Then, there was the breakthrough, Mr. Robot. For all the talent Malek has rubbed shoulders with, there may be no greater influence on him than the director Sam Esmail, a fellow Egyptian-American. Esmail, raised in a Muslim family in New Jersey, has built a body of work inspired in part by the feelings of alienation he felt growing up in America.
It was the pair’s collaboration on Mr. Robot – the dystopian TV technodrama – that brought Malek unanimous acclaim and eventually tipped his career from ‘emerging’ to ‘arriving’.
The show premiered in 2015 as something of a low-key masterpiece, in the way that Mad Men was: tucked away on a niche television network, with a leading talent and director that hadn’t yet exploded into the zeitgeist. Stepping into the role of Elliot, a talented hacker, Malek is paranoid and sensitive, relatable and scary. Above all else, he’s patently watchable.
Funny thing: even after so much waiting, when success comes, it tends to arrive in a hurry. [Source]