Rami Malek was in Paris when he first heard about his Best Actor Oscar nomination. “I didn’t realize it was today, because I try never to ask anybody when these moments are,” the Mr. Robot star tells EW. There are considerable risks involved when playing a legendary rock star. But as frontman Freddie Mercury, Malek managed to perform with all the pizzazz and zeal of one of the singer’s famed sequined jumpsuits.
“I thought about his upheaval of an upbringing — this conflicted man getting to London as a young adult,” says Malek, about how he prepared to play the iconic figure. “What a brand-new world to be thrust into — not knowing exactly how you fit in or how to identify yourself. All that conflict inside was just brewing into a powder keg that was ready to explode.”
Ahead, the actor reflects on the honor of being nominated for an Academy Award, and what it’s like being friends with Brian May and Roger Taylor.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Congratulations!
RAMI MALEK: Thank you, thank you, it’s a once in a lifetime moment. I think people will say you never know, but it’s pretty once-in-a-lifetime.
I have to ask the requisite “where were you when you heard about the nomination?” question.
I’m in Paris working…. Then the telephone started fluttering away, and it’s a beautiful snowy day, so there’s something quite magical the way it’s happening. It’s just something you never expect to happen. It’s like a distant dream that actors have and hope for to some degree. But it’s never really felt in the realm of possibilities — it’s a pretty joyous occasion to say the least.
Did it not feel in the realm of possibilities after your Golden Globes win?
I guess at that point, you start to consider it. I’m always so thankful that I get to be a working actor. The percentage of people who get to do this is so small that getting accolades like this seems so distant always, whether you’ve received awards in the past or not. But I think perhaps after getting the Globe, it seemed more attainable — but there’s something about hearing the words that you’re an Oscar nominated actor that are still going to be incredibly shocking. It’s a profoundly humbling moment for me.
And that “Oscar-nominated” title sticks with you for the rest of your career
Yeah you can’t take that away. I’ve got to thank the Academy for that, being in the cream of the crop — and such phenomenal performances this year I’m being considered with. And this film did so well, we’re a Best Picture nominee. I’m just so proud of the work on this [movie].
You’ve mentioned that even after the film finished production, and following this long press run, you’ve continued to want to learn more about Freddie Mercury and who he was as an individual. Have you picked up anything over the last few months that you hadn’t while initially researching him?
I’ve got to become very close friends now with [Queen members] Brian May and Roger Taylor, and we celebrated one of the cast members birthdays the other day in London, and so of course there are stories that are revealed to me that are happening now that the move has concluded. It’s still beautiful to share in his story with the people that loved him.
Could you share any of those stories?
I’d rather not at the moment. I’ve shared so much about the film that I’d rather keep that.
The film received its fair share of positive reviews, but there have continued to be some very pointed critiques about the movie’s approach, specifically to Freddie’s sexuality and how it fails to really delve into that side of his life in a satisfactory way. What is your response to critiques about that?
I’ve honestly talked about that in the past, and I want to celebrate this award nomination with the cast and the crew any everybody that worked so hard on this. I’m not dodging the question so much as just…I talked about it over and over and It’s already out there. If you want to refer back to that…. I want to use this time to talk about [that]. I want it to be a celebratory moment, and I think the movie celebrates Freddie Mercury’s life. And that was the story that was on the page.
Last question: any dream Oscar hosts for this year?
Listen, to quote Hamilton, I’m just happy to be in the room where it’s happening. I’m sure they will find a very capable host.