Rami Malek
Photo by Josh Telles

Rami Malek: “It was daunting to live up to that”

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Short Profile

Name: Rami Said Malek
DOB: 12 May 1981
Place of birth: Los Angeles, California, United States
Occupation: Actor

Mr. Malek, what thrills you these days?

I get a thrill out of storytelling and investigating humanity from all walks of life. I prefer the more peaceful times, so there is a not a part of me that wants to jump out of a plane or go bungee jumping. Storytelling is not just an adrenaline thrill, it’s very fulfilling for me when people come together in a collaborative way, without questioning or second guessing ourselves. When we jump in headfirst and begin to create a world that is only going to live for two and a half hours.

Have you always been drawn to that?

I love stories, I am drawn to stories. As any human being, we are constantly on the search for information. We’re constantly trying to figure out the meaning of life. That is man’s great struggle. And I’m sure that’s what every human being is trying to find. Personally, I never cease to be astonished by the human capability for survival, perseverance, compassion, and love. And stories that offer the opportunity to investigate all of those in a visceral way, those are the ones that are almost impossible to pass up on. There is such an adventure aspect to those kinds of stories… I would say nothing in my world is as exciting as creating. But I do need a break every once in a while: spending time with family and friends.

“I am not searching for the next great role.”

Everyone does to some extent.

I am firm believer in that. I am not an actor who wants to hop from one project into the next. I am not searching for the next great role. In order to do what we do, it’s entirely worthwhile to have a life of one’s own and experience the world through one’s own identity so we can bring it to the characters. It’s also an excuse for seeing the world. I am a first generation American, which I am incredibly proud of, and I have quite a bit of family back in Egypt. I have travelled there as well, and I am looking forward to heading back there as soon as I can.

Do you feel a strong connection there, like a kind of spiritual home even though you were born and raised in California?

It’s a magnificent place with obviously an incredible history that I hold very sacred. It is one of the most enchanting places on the earth, as far as I am concerned, and at its core, the people are of some of the warmest, funniest, and most loving people you will ever meet. I am very proud of where my family and I come from. And for me, it’s a unique vantage point I think about it from a perspective of having parents who, at a massive risk, left their lives at home and came all the way to the foreign country so that their kids could have a life that perhaps gave them more opportunity. I get to reap the benefits of the hardships of my parents, and that gives me a strong appreciation for the life I lead today.

Were you aware of those hardships when you were growing up?

Obviously I saw my family struggling, yes. There is a struggle that any immigrant family takes on. I hope in many cases it is worth taking. I am very aware of the blessing to be able to do what I really treasure, the perspective of getting to make my living as an artist.

Does it represent a sense of freedom for you, in a way?

Portraying another character does fill you with a freedom you might not otherwise have. There is something that transforms in me when I get to do this craft. I don’t know where it comes from, but it takes me to a different place. Not just creatively, but I accept a challenge that I don’t know if I would in other areas of my life. There is less collateral damage when you portray someone else.

Julianne Moore actually said that although portraying a real person can be more emotional, it’s also much more to be entrusted with.

When I think about playing Freddie Mercury, he is for me what I think he is for all of his audience: a massive inspiration, this revolutionary spirit. He defied any stereotype and broke any convention in the way he lived his life and his music. I look for him for inspiration, to capture an essence of him rather than trying to be him — because that seemed, of course, to me an impossible feat. He is a one-off and a force of nature like no other. I wanted to find the humanity in him that allowed him to be as vibrant and radiant as he was and connect to that. But it was also a very daunting thing to try to live up to that.

“I find myself walking away humble — and that is entirely freeing.”

I can imagine. What was your mindset like on set?

I like to prepare. Research for me is almost always one of my favorite parts of this process. But in the case of Bohemian Rhapsody, I was invited on stage for the Live Aid concert for day one, and that was entirely different: a challenge that will keep you awake at night.

And did it?

It definitely did! I knew it would be a massive endeavor. Now having ended the film, I didn’t understand exactly what we had collectively accomplished, but I only hoped that I had paid some homage to him and done his legacy a touch of justice… I have a profound respect for all these characters that I get to play. When I played Dega in the film Papillon, the experience of being in prison and relying on another human being was quite the escape. There is something that is as riveting as it is sad to be in that environment. But it gives you profound respect for what that experience might have been like for someone who lived through it. I find myself walking away humble — and that is entirely freeing.