Oscar-winning actor, subscriber to non-standard roles, he remains as amazed as when he started. Meeting in Paris with a model artist, ambassador of Cartier’s French Tank.
Rami Malek enters and the room – a vast suite of a Parisian palace – becomes too small. Not that he imposes himself in a celebrity way: it’s the opposite, he offers a chair, a drink, offers to put away our belongings. Nor that he is a man whose build obstructs the light; the actor is slender, his arms and legs dancing in a slender feline ballet. The explanation is different. In a word, one would say: charisma, but that is not enough. The magnetic charm of this new champion of American cinema comes from a disconcerting mixture. On the one hand, old-fashioned politeness – he keeps your hand tight for a long time, his round blue eyes fixed on you, wants to know the first name of the photographer’s assistant to greet her properly on arrival and departure, Speaks in a low, smooth, calm voice. On the other, a hard-to-contain, vibrating energy. Sitting, standing, Rami Malek does not stay in place, a rascally smile still in the corner. In this bewitching hot-cold, one would not have believed possible the emotion, which however arises at the very end of the interview, undisguised tears about childhood and the hidden and burning desire to become an actor.
On video, Rami Malek meets Catherine Deneuve in the Cartier ad
This recognized place in Hollywood, which no one contests for him now, he conquered from high fight, first against himself, and what he thought was his duty as a “good son”, then through hard work. His performance as Queen frontman Freddie Mercury for the biopic Bohemian Rhapsody (2018), bewitched critics: even those disappointed with the film praised the actor, a disturbing reincarnation of accuracy. Unanimity, again, when Rami Malek camps the chilling adversary of James Bond in Dying can wait (2021). We have seen him since as a Machiavellian dandy for amsterdam by David O. Russell, we expect it in July with OppenheimerChristopher Nolan’s blockbuster, while other projects jostle…
It’s a TV series Mr Robot (2015-2019), which took off his career, previously confined to supporting roles: a pharaoh in the three volumes of Night at the Museuma student in It’s never too lateby Tom Hanks (2011), a vampire in the last chapter of the saga Twilight (2012). The success of Mr Robot, where he is almost of all plans, asocial but humanist hacker hero, allows him to win, in 2016, the Emmy Award for best actor in a drama series. It had been twenty years since a “non-white” performer, underlined the American press, had not won this prestigious trophy.
Rami Malek grew up in Los Angeles, the son of an Egyptian immigrant couple who arrived there shortly before he was born. At the origin of their exile, the hope of offering their children a “better life” than theirs. For Rami Malek as for his twin brother, Sami, and their older sister, Yasmine, the parents want a “serious” job: a lawyer or a doctor. But the shy child who “invents characters” has other dreams. When he received, in 2019, the Oscar for best actor to Bohemian Rhapsody, Rami Malek spoke in his speech to the kid “lost on his identity” that he was. Today, at the age of 41, on the occasion of the reissue of the Tank Française de Cartier watch, of which he is the ambassador, he talks to us about this “little Rummy”, his career and the power of cinema.
Miss Figaro. – You shot an advertising film with Catherine Deneuve, directed by Guy Ritchie, celebrating the reissue of Cartier’s Tank Française watch. What memories of this experience?
Rami Malek. – An enchanting memory! I have been working with cartier. I love everything the brand stands for: timeless elegance, luxury without arrogance, and commitment to women’s rights through the Cartier Philanthropy Foundation. For me, no other brand achieves this degree of both sophistication and respect, of presence in the world. We shot on the Alexandre-III bridge. Having this chance to work with Catherine Deneuve and Guy Ritchie was magical. It was also my first shoot in Paris, where part of my family lives. My cousin Virginie came to the set with her daughter Gaby. Virginie is one of my best friends. When I went on the program “Quotidien”, three years ago, I made a joke to him. I arranged for her to be filmed in the audience. We had a good laugh, she was so embarrassed! The next day, all her friends called her. I apologized, but she said, “No, it was embarrassing, but it was worth it!”
You started by selling falafels in Hollywood by chaining the castings, it seems today that you become a producer?
I’m going to produce an action movie in the spirit of movies like The fugitive Where The memory in the skin, that is to say a thriller, but with emotion and something elegant, sophisticated. We start filming in March. The great thing about becoming a producer is that I can directly call the people I like, that I trust, to direct the photography, the costumes… I called the makeup artist who was working on Bohemian Rhapsody. No need to go through his agent, just: “Do you want to do my film?” This is the dream ! I looked for places in Paris, because we are going to shoot all these incredible things there that I would never have imagined to do.
These stories ofunderdogsof people that nobody expected and that we celebrate today are so important
But you also play the leading role in this film that you are going to produce?
(He bursts out laughing.) Yes ! Finally, I hope. I also have another project that I am writing. I’m halfway there. I don’t want to talk too much about it because it’s very close to my heart, it will be the first time I’ll realize… And my agent spends his time telling me: “Shut up, Rami, you talk too much!” It takes place in Los Angeles, the city in which I grew up, because I know it incredibly well and because it is in my blood. When I was a child, I criss-crossed it by bus. I would like to shoot in places that you don’t see in the cinema. But I don’t want to reveal all my favorite places either. With Paul Thomas Anderson (Rami Malek starred in his film The Masterreleased in 2012, Ed.), we both grew up there, and we bicker a lot. I tell him: “You’re the one who shows all our secret places in the cinema so that we can’t go back there afterwards! The film will take place over an evening. We will only shoot at night. I feel like I’m hatching at night, it’s when I blossom. I like the silence, the creative excitement. This is where I work on my roles, where I write. I sometimes see actors who suffer when they are told that there will be night scenes, for me it’s the opposite, I become elated.
Do you recover from a role like that of Freddie Mercury, are you tired of being talked about all the time?
I can’t get enough of it, it’s something I will always treasure. Because Freddie had such an influence, not only on me, but on human beings all over the world. These stories ofunderdogs, people that nobody expected and that we celebrate today are so important. I feel connected to Freddie, he is an inspiration to me. And I have a great relationship with the band, I had dinner with Roger Taylor again two days ago. It is an extraordinary gift that was offered to me.
On video, Bohemain Rhapsodythe teaser
“Perhaps not all roles need to be played at the edge of the cliff…”
Your three most famous characters in Mr Robot, Bohemian Rhapsody and James Bond are men who do not fit into the norms of society. is it a coincidence?
(He smiles, thinks.) I shot a movie in Belgrade in 2016, a remake of Butterfly. It was after theEmmy Award to Mr Robot. Arriving at the hotel, there was a group of young people waiting, fans of the show. They had this need to act, to express themselves… And what they told me about Elliot’s character was that he gave them hope. The feeling that they didn’t have to be just cogs. That everyone can play a part, even when history tells you otherwise, that your social and political environment makes it terribly difficult. I was amazed by their reaction. I thought it was worth playing these characters. Now…I’m not against shooting a romance, or anything lighthearted. I would never have said that a few years ago, but I learn with the job, and if these roles make people happy too, then that’s good. Maybe not all roles need to be played at the edge of the cliff… But these are still the ones that are the most attractive.
When you received your Oscar, you talked about yourself as a child, about “little Rummy”, do you often think about your childhood?
Yes, very often. It may sound tiring to hear actors say “I was so shy”, but it’s the truth, I was terribly shy. And I grew up in an environment where we didn’t have the latest toys or fashionable clothes. I’m not to complain, let’s say I had a lot of time alone with my thoughts. I was creating characters for myself that were totally outside of me, stories that I would never have dared to share with anyone. It was something very secret. So I was quiet and… there you go, there’s that time when you’re young and wayward about your identity, wondering why you’re a certain person in private and why you completely limit yourself in public. I remember on that stage at the Oscars thinking, “If only that kid could have seen this moment coming.”
Your secret desire to become an actor, do you remember when you first shared it?
It’s a long story. I will summarize. I had signed up for a “debate” class like there is in American high schools. Because I said to myself, my parents worked so hard to make it come to this, I must, for them, become a lawyer or a politician. But I was not good at debating. And the teacher felt that I would be better at acting… So he signed me up for some sort of theater competition. He gave me a monologue to learn, I immediately got into character. This is the first time that I invited my parents to come and see something in high school. The first time I had the courage to say (his voice is disturbed, he is crying), to say, “Can you come to this performance?”, they came, and they had an emotional reaction. I had never seen them like that with me. I thought: so it is possible. Doing theatre, acting can transform things. (He gets up, still moved.) Well, I have to stop.
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Rami Malek: “My agent spends his time telling me: ‘Shut up Rami, you talk too much!'”
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