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]