Rami Malek on saying goodbye to 'Mr. Robot' & hello to Mr Bond
"I never dreamt I'd be in this position. I always dreamed of just getting a job."
Rami Malek is filming season 4 of the hit show Mr. Robot and has signed on as the villain in the 25th James Bond movie.
It's almost 9pm on a sodden night in New York. Rami Malek, Academy Award winner for his role as Freddy Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody has put in a full day's work on the final season of Mr. Robot. He's got to be back on set at 6am tomorrow.
He's an Oscar-winner gosh-darn-it. He doesn't have to turn up to promote the final season of a television show. But there he is in St Laurent black trousers and shirt - appropriately spotted with stars, in the Art Deco Room of the Essex House on Central Park South to do just that.
I first met him before Mr. Robot secured him the award hardware that is "sharing a shelf somewhere" in his home. Where, he won't say, "in case someone tries to take them" (that would be the Globe, the Oscar, the BAFTA and the Emmy.)
Back then he was a fresh faced American-Egyptian who did his very first press conference with the Hollywood Foreign Press Association which has seen every incarnation of "stars-on-the-rise" that fizzle and burn before they've stepped out of the starting gate, but this guy, you just knew: if he had any acting talent - big things were afoot. It was palpable in the wide-eyed gratitude he expressed at getting a chance to perform and advocate, and he wasn't taking anything for granted; that is still true.
Unlike most Oscar winners, Rami was not eager to get out of his TV gig. "Mr. Robot was a crowning achievement for me. When I heard it was ending, I was disappointed. I asked Sam, 'Is there any way we can extend this?' "
His eyes scan the back of the room searching for words. "What I love about Elliot [Malek's character in Mr. Robot] is that he should not be surviving in the world, let alone trying to save it. He's socially anxious in a debilitating way, he's grieving, he is going to have discoveries in his life in this last season that will be shocking to him and yet he still finds a way to look at the world and say, 'I can help'."
It's clear that Malek identifies with Elliot's outsider status. Because of his heritage he had been typecast, early in his career, and refused work rather than take on another role as a terrorist or bad guy.
After the Oscar win, an American fan shared his own experiences: the man's Lebanese wife had become emotional during Malek's acceptance speech which had highlighted the immigrant's journey. The man's child, like Rami, would be perceived as an outsider because of his mother's immigrant status. Malek's speech made the father understand that he'd have to look at the world differently and prepare his child for an alternative reality.
WATCH | Rami Malek's Oscar acceptance speech for his performance as Freddie Mercury in 'Bohemian Rhapsody'.
Rami's voice quivers a little as he shares the story. He pauses struggling for control. "That shows you the impact a story like this can have. I don't ever want to abuse it, but I am not afraid to share it."
So it was doubly important to him that if he take on the role of the villain, even for a prestigious franchise like Bond, his ethnicity not be stigmatised. "I didn't want him identified with terrorism reflecting an ideology or a religion. I told director Cary Fukunaga, if that's why I'm your choice then count me out," said Malek.
"Bond is a franchise we've grown up with. I felt a substantial weight," then he grins, "but if I played one beloved Brit in Freddie Mercury and pulled that off, I can possibly have a shot at playing the villain in a Bond film."
He has been shooting Bond while completing Mr. Robot, which helped inform both characters. "They can both be very malicious, though they don't think they are. I think that's what makes a great villain. They can never see themselves as the villain, right? It's a great character, I'm very excited."
What can he share? "It's another extremely clever script from the people who have figured out exactly what the audience want in those movies. We shot in Norway for a week but I haven't shot the parts with Daniel yet," whose injury has altered the filming schedule while he heals.
"Daniel is exercising and looks fit." Is all Malek will say. "I watched Fincher's The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, to be inspired for Elliot in Mr. Robot so I'm thrilled to be working with Daniel." His huge eyes reflect the wonder of where he is now. "I keep having these pinch-me moments. But I will not lie, it's taxing to shoot Bond while wrapping Mr. Robot."
There are perks to his newfound status. He was able to "call up Elton [John's] people and say, 'Hey, could I get tickets to the show and surprise the lady with them?' " That would be girlfriend, Lucy Boynton who he met on Bohemian Rhapsody.
There'd been talk that he would shoot a cameo as Freddie in Rocketman - also directed by Dexter Fletcher, because "Freddie and Elton used to compete to throw the most outrageous parties - but it didn't work out."
Malek continues the story, "Lucy didn't know we were going. I took her through the back door, walked her right in and Elton blew us a kiss. The perks of playing a rock star!" He laughs delightedly. Lucy returned the favour by flying "Queen" in for his birthday.
Then he gets serious, searching for words when I ask him if he's afraid fame will break the young couple apart or corrupt him. "I think with any relationship you have certain things that are necessary that you can't do without; we have those. I'm not going to outline our relationship but we have communication and consideration, so things are going well."
His twin brother and his sister, an ER doctor, also ground him, but life is filled with special moments that "make time stand still". One of those moments was after the Globes with the surviving members of Queen in "that little bar at the Chateau Marmont. It was almost as if we didn't have to ask anyone for it, they just gave us the space to enjoy. Lucy and I have an exceptional photograph of us grinning ear to ear holding the Globe. I framed it for her because that was our favourite moment of the evening. To not only have the award, but that picture of us, looking eye to eye, knowing the battle we fought to get there - to have the recognition, was something you can't take away.
"All these moments can't help but tug at my heartstrings. I am a romantic. I wear my heart on my sleeve, so everything, especially Mr. Robot, is on the surface. I find myself getting very emotional. I think I could get emotional now." He blinks hard, smiling, covering, his voice straining.
I connected with him [Elliot in Mr. Robot] on a very spiritual, emotional level. I don't know if I'll ever be able to say goodbye to him; it will be devastatingRami Malek
"It's taught me a lot about myself, about what it means to do something special and fulfilling despite the obstacles you have going on as a human being, feeling both connected and desperate at times and feeling like you are very different, at times. Here's a human being that spoke to feeling alienated, unusual and very different. I have felt that way even more than I've let myself express in speeches, truly. So I connected with him [Elliot in Mr. Robot] on a very spiritual, emotional level. I don't know if I'll ever be able to say goodbye to him; it will be devastating.
"I'll miss that voice, that true, gritty underdog story. The entire last season takes place over Christmas. The whole series has taken place over only eight months, so Elliot will have aged a lot." He covers his large teeth with his lips and let's the laughter fill his huge eyes. "Elliot has an agenda, and he's hellbent on seeing it through."
Again the character's words are brushed with the truth of the man. "I'm extremely happy with the ending. It could be polarising, but I think, 'Why not? It will have you thinking.' "