Nothing quite so remarkable has ever happened in Hollywood as the advent of Rami Malek – from his foreign name and his off-kilter looks to his hit TV show, Mr. Robot – one of the most complex ever to come out of a cable network.
Thanks to the ingenious creative mind of Hoboken born Egyptian-American Sam Esmail, Mr. Robot became a water cooler phenomenon and made Rami a twice Golden Globe-nominated star. This year he secured his third Globe nomination as Best Actor in a Drama for Bohemian Rhapsody, a role for which he mastered all of Freddie Mercury’s best-known songs to play the role.
Like Esmail, Malek is Egyptian-American but born and raised in Los Angeles. He has an older sister and a twin brother. At the HFPA press conference for Mr. Robot, he was asked what it was like growing up with an identical twin? “I would like to say we were two cute little kids growing up, my brother and I, but we were more like two little devils.” Were there much switching identities? “We have definitely done some very bad things. He had some cute girlfriends that I wish I had, and we may or may not have changed clothes to play the same boyfriend at one point.”
Growing up in an Egyptian family – his first language was Arabic – his friends were other Egyptian families that had emigrated to America. Young Rami attended the Coptic Orthodox Church, not quite understanding the Coptic language but able to sing the songs. He was subjected to discrimination at school but this made him stronger. He graduated college with a degree in theater and quickly found supporting roles in films such as The Night at the Museum trilogy, The Pacific and The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2.
But it was his role in Paul Thomas Anderson The Master that made Hollywood take notice, Sam Esmail in particular. After the success of Mr. Robot, for which he was not only nominated for a Golden Globe twice, but later won an Emmy, the SAG, and the Critics Choice awards, he was cast in the Dustin Hoffman role in a remake of Papillon.
But it was his desire to play the charismatic lead singer of iconic rock band Queen in Bohemian Rhapsody that became an obsession. To prepare for the role, he moved to London, where he had a dialect coach, a movement coach, and he took piano and singing lessons. He endlessly studied videos of Mercury, and once he had the part, he practiced singing and speaking with a set of false teeth which replicated the singer's overbite. All this hard work and dedication has paid off. The film has become an international box office smash and his performance has earned unanimous praise.
At his press conference with the Hollywood Foreign Press, when asked how playing Mercury changed him, he answered: “It raised my game every day. I wanted to do the best I possibly could, and even though I do that in all my jobs, this one took me to another level. For me, it was something communal, something very special going on there, and I just felt this immense amount of confidence. I don’t know if Freddy himself was lending me some of his, or where it was coming from, but it was this undeniable need to do him justice, to do their story justice, and to give a new generation a taste of why we appreciate Queen the way we do.”
After being in theaters for six weeks, Bohemian Rhapsody is still in the top five at the box office. For that, you can thank Rami Malek.