And the winner is … Rami Malek.
He figures it comes out that way whether or not he goes home with Oscar gold on Sunday night.
Malek, 37, knows how far he has come. Not so many years ago, he was sleeping on a futon in his friend’s kitchen. Back in L.A. and living with his parents, he worked at a local fast food joint.
“If anyone looked like a producer or director in the drive-thru window, I’d slip my headshot into their to-go bag,” the actor recalls. “When I delivered pizza, I’d tape my resume and headshot to the pizza box.”
One day he got a call from the casting director for “The Gilmore Girls.” “She asked to speak to ‘Rami Malek’s agent,’” he said. “I said, ‘Speaking.’ She said, ‘We’d love to have Rami come in for a small, co-starring role. Is he a SAG actor?’ I said, ‘Currently, no.’ She said, ‘And you’ve been representing him for how long?’ I said, Quite a long time.’
“Finally, she said, ‘Is this Rami Malek?’ And we both started to laugh.”
From those tiny three lines on “Gilmore,” he went on to work with Tom Hanks, Steven Spielberg and Paul Thomas Anderson. Malek also won an Emmy for playing a computer hacker on “Mr. Robot.”
Now, as Queen frontman Freddie Mercury in “Bohemian Rhapsody,” which is out on DVD, Malek might hear his name when the Oscar for best actor is announced.
Review-Journal: What is your idea of a great Sunday?
Rami Malek: When I’m not working, I’m home in New York. It’s great to just spend a Sunday walking around and having encounters with people. I like nothing better than hearing someone else’s story. That’s a good day.
What was your first reaction to being nominated for an Oscar?
Just total elation. Walking on cloud nine. It feels like being in a dream. I was in Paris when the nominations came out. It was snowing. It was such a beautiful place to hear such beautiful news. I shut my eyes and gave a thank you to Freddie Mercury.
How much did you know about Freddie Mercury going into “Bohemian Rhapsody”?
In the spring of 2016, I met with producer Graham King and hung out for six hours in his office. He called me in because he had watched “Mr. Robot,” a show about a profoundly alienated human being with social anxiety who has trouble stepping out from his monitor — the antithesis of Freddie Mercury. I said, “Listen, man. I don’t sing. I don’t play the piano. Honestly, I don’t know all that much about Freddie Mercury.” I was offered the role and I just said yes. Someone offers you something this big and you have to do it. I thought it’s a big risk, but what’s life all about? What was Freddie all about? He loved a big risk.
How did you tap into the inner side of Freddie Mercury?
I scoured every performance he had ever done. If there was a guy recording it in Japan in 1980 for his own home video usage, I saw it. But what helped me to identify with who he was privately was the lyrics. He wrote straight from his heart and soul. His themes were loneliness and the search for love.
How did you learn to move like him?
I had a movement coach named Polly Bennett. We would sit in a dance studio in London. She got me to a point where I had to buy a pair of tights and walk around with a mic for six months. We’d work on the smallest of hand gestures. Sometimes, we’d watch Liza Minnelli. Freddie was such a fan of hers. I’d even do “Killer Queen” as a soliloquy in the style of Marie Antoinette with a British accent.
The film shows where Freddie got his drive. Where do you get your drive?
I grew up in Sherman Oaks, California. My parents were from Egypt. We came to California and my dad worked door to door to sell insurance and my mom took three buses to get to work. All they wanted was to give their children an opportunity to be special. My sister became an ER doctor and my brother is a teacher. Here I am today. I just wanted an opportunity. Now, I just want everyone — no matter how you grew up — to have an opportunity and not be stifled. I want them to be given a chance like I was given a chance.
What do you remember about winning the Emmy for “Mr. Robot”?
I remember I was hugging Jimmy Kimmel and crying at the same time. I was just trying not to get anything on his suit. I do remember I was sitting there and the category came up. I was incredibly nervous. I was truly waiting to hear someone else’s name. There are so many fantastic actors. Then when I heard my name, I said, “Do not move because it wasn’t you.” Then all of these faces started to turn toward me. I must have looked like I was in shock.
What drew you to acting?
So many parents want their kids to be doctors and lawyers. Acting was not an option or a thought in my family. It seemed radical and not the reason my parents would say they came to America. My dad would have me watching old movies and CNN. Dad would say, “You have this opportunity to do something special.” I think he meant in politics. He was thrilled when I took this debate class in high school. At one point, my teacher said, “You’re not very good at debate. But you can do humorous or dramatic interpretations.” He handed me this play to read at home. I read it and I could feel myself becoming this other human being.
You moved to New York City to get your BFA in acting, but it was a struggle.
At one point, I was sleeping with two other actors in a one-bedroom apartment. I had the futon in the kitchen. Finally, I said, “I’m from Los Angeles. I should go back there and see if breaking into acting is a bit easier there.” Eventually, I got that call from the casting director of “The Gilmore Girls.” She finally said, “Call me when you get an agent.” I said, “Why? We can cut out the middleman. It’s three lines.” When she wasn’t convinced, I said, “I’m in Sherman Oaks right now. Warner Brothers is so close. I’ll be there in 10 minutes.” She finally said yes and I got the job. The same day an agent called and wanted to represent me.
So, you can never give up.
Never give up. You don’t know what tomorrow will bring.