Malek at the Paley Center for Media in 2015
Rami Said Malek
May 12, 1981
|Education||University of Evansville (BFA)|
Rami Said Malek (English: / /; Arabic: رامي سعيد مالك, Egyptian Arabic: [ˈɾɑːmi sæˈʕiːd ˈmæːlek]; born May 12, 1981) is an American actor and producer. His breakthrough role was as computer hacker Elliot Alderson in the USA Network television series Mr. Robot (2015–present), for which he received several accolades, including the 2016 Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series. In 2018, he portrayed Freddie Mercury in the biopic Bohemian Rhapsody, for which he received critical acclaim and won several awards, including the Academy Award, Golden Globe Award, Screen Actors Guild Award, and British Academy Film Award for Best Actor. He is the first actor of Egyptian heritage to win the Academy Award for Best Actor. Time magazine named Malek one of the 100 most influential people in the world in 2019.
Born and raised in Los Angeles, California, to Egyptian immigrant parents, Malek studied theater at the University of Evansville in Indiana. He began his acting career performing plays in New York City theaters before returning to Los Angeles, where he found supporting roles in film and television, including the Fox sitcom The War at Home (2005–2007), the HBO miniseries The Pacific (2010), and the Night at the Museum film trilogy (2006–2014). He has done voicework for television and video games, as well as motion capture for the latter.
Malek in GQ magazine, September 2018
Malek was born in the city of Torrance, a region of Los Angeles County, California, on May 12, 1981, to Egyptian immigrant parents, Said Malek and Nelly Abdel-Malek. He has said he is also "an eighth Greek". His parents and older sister left Cairo in 1978 after his father, a travel agent and tour guide, became intrigued with Western visitors. They settled in Sherman Oaks, Los Angeles, mostly staying in the San Fernando Valley and rarely venturing into Hollywood. His father sold insurance; his mother is an accountant. Malek was raised in his family's Coptic Orthodox Christian faith, and grew up speaking colloquial Egyptian Arabic at home until the age of four. Malek has an identical twin brother named Sami who is younger by four minutes; he is an ESL and English teacher. Malek's older sister, Yasmine, is an ER doctor. His parents emphasized to their children the importance of preserving their Egyptian roots, and his father would wake his son in the middle of the night to talk to his Arabic-speaking extended family in their hometown of Samalut, Egypt.
As a first-generation American, Malek found it difficult to assimilate as a child because of cultural differences, even spending most of his childhood having his name mispronounced: "It only took me till high school where I found the confidence to tell everybody, no, my name is Rami. It's a very upsetting thing to think about, that I didn't have the confidence to correct anyone at that point". As a result, he said it was difficult to form a self-identity as a child and gravitated towards "creating characters and doing voices" as he searched for an outlet for that energy.
He attended Notre Dame High School, and was in the same class as actress Rachel Bilson. Kirsten Dunst, who is a year younger, also attended the school, and the two shared a musical theater class. His parents harbored dreams of him becoming a lawyer, so he joined the debate team freshman year. Though he struggled to form arguments, his debate teacher noted his talent in dramatic interpretation and encouraged him instead to perform the one-man play Zooman and The Sign at a competition. Reflecting on the moment, he said, "On stage I'm having this moment with my dad with a bunch of other people [in the audience], but then I thought, wow, something really special is happening here". It was the first time he saw his father become emotional, and his parents' positive reaction to his performance left him feeling free to pursue an acting career. Malek and his brother were both involved in the school's drama department.
After graduating in 1999, he went on to study theater at the University of Evansville in Evansville, Indiana, and spent a semester abroad at Harlaxton College in Lincolnshire, England. During the summer before his senior year, Malek interned at the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, Connecticut where he became an acquaintance of playwright August Wilson. Of his decision to attend the University of Evansville theater program, he said, "The level of talent at the University of Evansville was formidable from faculty to fellow actors. There's a commitment and dedication that the theater program required that unearthed a work ethic I didn't know I had." He completed his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in 2003. The college later honored Malek with a 2017 Young Alumnus Award, "given to those who have achieved personal success and contribute services to their community and to UE".
After his college graduation, Malek wanted to attend grad school for theater; however, with college debt growing, he moved to New York instead where he shared a one-bedroom Lower East Side apartment with friends who were also in the theater community. His network of friends included writers and directors, many of whom would come together to form the Slant Theatre Project, and they would perform their own plays around the city.
While visiting his family in Los Angeles, he met casting director Mali Finn who convinced him to stay and look for work in Hollywood. After moving in with his parents, Malek worked delivering pizza and making falafel and shawarma sandwiches at a restaurant in Hollywood to make ends meet. Despite sending his resume to production houses, he found it difficult to get work as an actor, which led to bouts of depression and a loss of confidence. He considered getting a real estate license instead of pursuing an acting career.
After a year and a half, he finally received a call from casting director Mara Casey. She asked to speak to his agent. When he confessed he did not have one, she told him to get one first. After having a pleasant conversation, however, Malek suggested they meet anyway. She agreed, and the meeting led to him getting his first role in the TV sitcom Gilmore Girls; the episode he acted in first aired in January 2004. That same year, he starred in the theater production Johnny Boy at the 130-seat Falcon Theatre in Burbank, California and, later, in the production Shoes opposite Kelli Giddish with the Slant Theatre Project in New York City. He also voiced "additional characters" for the video game Halo 2, for which he was uncredited. In 2005, he received his Screen Actors Guild card for his work in two episodes of the Steven Bochco war drama Over There. Later that year, he appeared in an episode of Medium and was cast in the prominent recurring role of Kenny, on the Fox comedy series The War at Home. Kenny's "coming out" story earned accolades from GLAAD. In 2006, Malek made his feature film debut as Pharaoh Ahkmenrah in the comedy Night at the Museum. He reprised this role in the sequels Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian (2009) and Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb (2014). In the spring of 2007, he appeared on-stage as Jamie in the Vitality Productions theatrical presentation of Keith Bunin's The Credeaux Canvas at the Elephant Theatre in Los Angeles.
Malek returned to television in 2010 in a recurring role as the suicide bomber Marcos Al-Zacar on the eighth season of the Fox series 24. Growing weary of playing characters he called "acceptable terrorists", he instructed his agent to reject any role that painted Arabs or Middle Easterners in a "bad light". Later that year, he received critical acclaim for his portrayal of Corporal Merriell "Snafu" Shelton in the Emmy Award-winning HBO World War II mini-series The Pacific. After the intensity of filming The Pacific, he chose to leave Hollywood and lived briefly in Argentina, though he says it was unsuccessful and he has "since found better ways of coping". During the filming of The Pacific, Malek received a letter from executive producer Tom Hanks praising Malek's performance. Hanks would then cast him as college student Steve Dibiasi in the feature film Larry Crowne, released in July 2011.
Those opportunities led to Malek securing supporting roles in a series of major films. In August 2010, it was announced that he had been cast as the "Egyptian coven" vampire, Benjamin, in The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2. In 2013 he played Nate, a new employee at a group home for youths, in the indie film Short Term 12, opposite Brie Larson. He appeared in two Spike Lee films during this period, the 2012 remake of the South Korean film Oldboy, in a part that was trimmed significantly, and later in the crowdfunded picture Da Sweet Blood of Jesus. The two men have remained friends. He also had minor roles in Battleship, the Oscar-nominated The Master, and Ain't Them Bodies Saints. He appeared as Josh, one of the main characters in Until Dawn, a horror game released for the PlayStation 4 on August 25, 2015. He lent his voice and likeness to the character and was fully motion-captured for the game.
Screenwriter Sam Esmail had auditioned over 100 actors to play the lead character of Elliot Alderson (a mentally unstable computer-hacker) for a show he was developing. Having failed to cast the part, he considered re-writing the character altogether. However, after seeing Malek's audition in late summer 2014, Esmail said, "It opened my eyes to who Elliot really was". The resultant psychological drama, Mr. Robot, premiered on June 24, 2015, on the USA Network, with Malek in the lead role. To accurately portray the character, who suffers from mental and social disorders, he met with a psychiatrist. The role drew immediate acclaim from critics, with USA Today calling it his "breakout performance". Entertainment Weekly called Malek's "magnetic performance" the "best reason" to watch the show. Backstage remarked that Malek "anchored the drama" and that his "spin" on the anti-hero trope "promises a fresh direction for prestige TV". His performance earned him nominations for the Dorian Award, Satellite Award, Golden Globe Award, and Screen Actors Guild Award. He won the Critics' Choice Television Award for Best Actor in a Drama Series and the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series. He was the first non-white actor to win an Emmy in that category since 1998. The show will conclude with its fourth season in 2019.
Though he was among 2500 actors considered to play Han Solo in Solo: A Star Wars Story, Buster's Mal Heart was the first film in which Malek played a starring role. The film premiered in September 2016 at the Toronto International Film Festival to positive reviews. In it, Malek plays a man who leads two lives, one as Jonah and another as Buster. Casting him in the role before his success on Mr. Robot, the director, Sarah Adina Smith, said, "I had no idea how huge and adored he would become". Reviewing the actor's performance, John DeFore of The Hollywood Reporter wrote, "Fans of Mr. Robot won't be disappointed in the least by this vehicle for Emmy-winning series star Rami Malek, which both fits in with Mr. Robot's delusion-prone paranoia and lets the charismatic actor stretch out in his first feature lead". Malek next starred as Louis Dega in Papillon, a remake of the 1973 film, co-starring Charlie Hunnam. It premiered at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival, and had a limited box office release in August 2018. In 2017, Malek joined the cast of BoJack Horseman (season 4), voicing the character Flip McVicker, a writer who does not trust email.
In 2018, Malek portrayed Freddie Mercury in the Queen biopic, Bohemian Rhapsody. The film premiered in London on October 23, 2018, and became a major box office success, grossing over $900 million worldwide on a production budget of about $50 million. It became the sixth highest-grossing film of 2018 worldwide, and the highest-grossing musical biographical film of all-time. Despite the film receiving mixed reviews overall, Malek's performance garnered critical acclaim. He won the Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Motion Picture Drama, the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role, the BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role and the Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance in the film. In preparation for the role as Mercury, Malek moved to London where he worked with a dialect coach and a movement coach, and took piano and singing lessons. For four hours each day, he studied videos of Mercury with his movement coach, Polly Bennett. This included watching the 1985 Live Aid concert video on YouTube at least 1,500 times to perfect his performance for the film. He also had to get used to singing and speaking with a set of false teeth that mimicked the singer's overbite. Brian May, Queen's guitarist who often attended filming, is quoted as saying that Malek's performance was so accurate that "we sometimes forgot he was Rami". Malek considers his performance as Mercury the most important in his career, saying:
This is a role I don't think can be outdone. I think we're always searching for that next great role, and I guess I'm fortunate that I've already been met with it. I'd like to think that there is more out there for me to do, and there is, but I do doubt that there is anything that lives up to how precious this role and this human being have been in my life.
In December 2018, it was announced that Malek would produce and star in an eight-episode podcast called Blackout. Scott Conroy is the writer of the upcoming podcast, a thriller about a small-town radio DJ who must "fight to protect his family and community from a coordinated attack that destroys the power grid and upends modern civilization". The podcast debuted with two episodes on March 19, 2019, with six subsequent episodes premiering weekly.
Since 2018, Malek has been developing a film for Universal Pictures with Mr. Robot creator Sam Esmail based on the memoir American Radical by Tamer Elnoury and Kevin Maurer; the story centers on an undercover Muslim FBI agent working for the agency post-9/11. Malek and Esmail are also working together on another undisclosed project. During the press tour for Bohemian Rhapsody, Malek said he is working on a film, one he plans to write, direct, and produce himself on a small budget, since it is a story that he says "might get passed on by studios looking for something a bit more broad and commercial". On March 27, 2018, Robert Downey Jr. announced that Malek would be part of the voice cast in the film Dolittle to be released in January 2020. On April 25, 2019, Malek was confirmed as the villain in the James Bond film No Time to Die; he plays the "supervillain" Safin. Principal photography on the film began in April 2019 and ended in October. It has a release date of April 2020. In May 2019, Malek joined the cast of the crime thriller Little Things, opposite Denzel Washington and Jared Leto. Production began on the film in Fall 2019.
Malek to The New Yorker, October 2018
Malek's early roles established him as a character actor. He has remarked that he enjoys the auditioning process, sees it as a "proving ground to test things out", and has created so many diverse characters for auditions that he wishes he could collect them as a package to show to others. After reading his own Wikipedia article, Malek elaborated and said, "I would take the time to prepare for auditions as if I was actually gonna perform. I would come with something fully formed and hope that that resonated. Sometimes it did, many times it didn't but that's the proving ground and I appreciate it". However, after his success with Mr. Robot, he began to be regarded as a "leading man", though an "unconventional" one. He is portrayed by comedian Pete Davidson in Saturday Night Live sketches parodying the character. In 2017, Malek accepted an invitation to become a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, among 774 new members invited as part of the Academy's efforts to diversify its members after criticism over the lack of diversity of the 88th Academy Awards.
To prepare for a role, he describes an initial stage of panic, followed by research into the character to create a world for that person. This includes finding music he thinks the character would listen to, as well as creating and imagining past memories for that person to the point he has to perform as them. His most creative times are mornings and evenings. Malek likes to do experimental takes until he finds a take that will work. Director Sam Esmail noted that Malek is often dissatisfied with his work even when the director feels he has completed a perfect take. Because of their mutual insistence on getting a scene the best it can be, Esmail considers Malek a "co-creator". The actor has also been noted for his physical transformations to play his characters. He lost significant weight to play Elliot Alderson, Freddie Mercury, and Snafu Shelton, where Tom Hanks required that he maintain between six and eight-percent body fat. During the filming of The Pacific, Malek found it difficult to separate himself from his character, Snafu Shelton, which led to "some pretty intense mental anguish during and after filming". He noted the most valuable lesson from that experience was learning to distance himself from his characters, otherwise he would not have been able to take on complex roles later in his career, like Elliot Alderson in Mr. Robot.
Malek's appearance has inspired commentary in the industry and in the media. GQ Middle East called Malek's aspect "vampiric ... with one of those faces that looks young and mature, all at once. When you speak, Malek’s oversized eyes give you full attention". In a letter to the producer after Malek's audition for The Pacific, Tom Hanks remarked, "This guy’s got haunting eyes". The Globe and Mail, in an interview after the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival, described the actor as "startlingly handsome ... with tawny skin and close-cropped curly hair. ... He speaks in a slow, just-woke-up drawl that contrasts with his dazzling smile and anything-goes energy. And he's mostly eyes. Giant, chalky blue eyes, the colour of one of those preternaturally still mineral lakes in the Rockies. They seem to see both outwardly and inwardly. They're sad, yet amused. Thousand-mile eyes".
He has also garnered attention for his fashion sense, particularly for his bold color choices and "quirky touches". He was chosen (along with Boy George and A$AP Rocky) to be part of Dior Homme's Spring 2017 campaign. GQ Middle East launched in October 2018 with Malek on its first cover. Fashion commentators have included him on their "best-dressed" lists, often at red-carpet events. Placing him at number 29 on its list of Best Dressed Men 2019, GQ called his looks, "neat, elegant and perfectly put together, ... experimental on the surface, but underneath they’re also surprisingly approachable". He works with Ilaria Urbinati as his stylist.
Over time, Malek's prominence in the industry has grown. In 2015, The Hollywood Reporter included him on Next Gen 2015, its annual list of stars who are 35 and under and "on the rise." Time magazine named Malek one of the 100 most influential people in the world in 2019 under the category of Artists.
Malek tends to be reserved in interviews, mentioning in one his desire to stay "anonymous" abroad. He eschews social media. The New York Times called him "extremely reluctant to dish about himself". He says he is the opposite of the introverted character of Elliot that he plays in Mr. Robot, saying, "I'm an exuberant person. I thrive on affection. I like chit chat ... One of the great things about living in New York is that you meet so many strangers, and I love encounters with strangers, I love meeting people and hearing their stories".
During his acceptance speech for Breakthrough Performance of the Year at the 30th Annual Palm Springs International Film Festival, Malek confirmed his relationship with his Bohemian Rhapsody co-star Lucy Boynton. In an interview during the 2019 BAFTA Awards, he said he is searching for a home in London after 'falling in love' with the city while filming Bohemian Rhapsody.
The actor has lent his support to charities, such as the Epidermolysis Bullosa Medical Research Foundation and the ACLU. In September 2018, Malek started working with the (RED) organization after being inspired by his Freddie Mercury role. As an ambassador to raise awareness and funds to help eliminate HIV/AIDS, Malek traveled to Eswatini to "learn more about the state of HIV/AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa". During his visit, Malek said, "To collectively come together and tackle, you know, arguably one of the largest, most horrific diseases anyone has ever known. That can happen right now. I can't think of anything that I'd rather be a part of, more than fulfilling any personal dream or aspiration".
Malek has been nominated for and won several major industry awards. For his work on Mr. Robot, he has been nominated for three Golden Globes, an Emmy, two Satellite Awards, and two Screen Actors Guild Awards, among others, winning an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series in 2016. He won an Academy Award for Best Actor, a Golden Globe for the Best Actor in a Motion Picture Drama, the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role, and the BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role for his performance as Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody.
He is the first actor of Egyptian heritage to win the Academy Award for Best Actor. While his win was celebrated in Egypt by the media and some government officials, Member of Parliament Mohamed Ismail criticized Malek's win: "I was surprised by the Egyptian media’s celebration of Rami Malek, because the role played by Rami Malek in the film is far from his real character. He is trying to [spread] homosexuality among the youth... The award has a specific goal, which is to corrupt morality in the Arab world. Rami Malek is a bad example. If he was in Egypt, he would have been hanged". The organization Human Rights Watch stated that the country deserved an Oscar for hypocrisy for praising Malek, given its prohibition on homosexuals being celebrated in the media.
|2006||Night at the Museum||Pharaoh Ahkmenrah|
|2009||Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian|
|2011||Larry Crowne||Steve Dibiasi|
|The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2||Benjamin|
|2013||Ain't Them Bodies Saints||Will|
|Short Term 12||Nate|
|2014||Need for Speed||Finn|
|Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb||Pharaoh Ahkmenrah|
|Da Sweet Blood of Jesus||Seneschal Higginbottom|
|2016||Project X||Co-Narrator||Short film; voice role|
|Buster's Mal Heart||Jonah / Buster|
|2018||Bohemian Rhapsody||Freddie Mercury||Academy Award for Best Actor|
|2019||The Ben Cobb Show||Harry Bardo||Short film|
|2020||Dolittle||Chee-Chee||Post-production; voice role|
|No Time to Die||Safin||Post-production|
|The Little Things||Detective Baxter||Post-production|
|2004||Gilmore Girls||Andy||Episode: "In the Clamor and the Clangor"|
|2005||Over There||Hassan||2 episodes|
|Medium||Timothy Kercher||Episode: "Time Out of Mind"|
|2005 – 2007||The War at Home||Kenny Al-Bahir||21 episodes|
|2010||24||Marcos Al-Zacar||3 episodes|
|The Pacific||Merriell "Snafu" Shelton||6 episodes|
|2012||Alcatraz||Webb Porter||Episode: "Webb Porter"|
|The Legend of Korra||Tahno||Voice role; 3 episodes|
|2014||Believe||Dr. Adam Terry||Episode: "Pilot"|
|2015 – present||Mr. Robot||Elliot Alderson||Main role
Also producer (seasons 3 and 4)
|2017 – 2018||BoJack Horseman||Flip McVicker||Voice role; 10 episodes|
|2002||Fascination||National Playwrights Contest: July 2002|||
|2002||The Bebop Heard in Okinawa||National Playwrights Contest: July 2002|||
|2004||Johnny Boy||Paul||Falcon Theatre: March 31 – May 23, 2004|||
|2004||Shoes||Slant Theatre Project: August 2004|||
|2007||The Credeaux Canvas||Jamie||Elephant Theatre: March 22 – April 8, 2007|||
|2004||Halo 2||Additional Voices||Uncredited|||
|2014||The Legend of Korra||Tahno|
|2015||Until Dawn||Joshua "Josh" Washington||Also likeness|||
|2019||Blackout||DJ Simon Itani||Also producer|||
For a long time I thought maybe that would be it," says Rami Malek, the American actor of Egyptian descent, of the stereotypical roles to which he was limited early in his career
Excerpts from minute mark 0:30 - 1:30, 9:00 - 15:00
I've gotten out of the shower a couple times and looked at myself pretty emaciated.