Mercury Rising

Mercury Rising

With his turn in 'Bohemian Rhapsody', Rami Malek split-kicks from cult stardom to leading-man status.

With his turn in 'Bohemian Rhapsody', Rami Malek split-kicks from cult stardom to leading-man status.

Photography: Carin Backoff

Styling: Anna Trevelyan

Text: SAMUEL ANDERSON

This interview appears in the pages of V116, our Winter 2018 issue, arriving on newsstands November 8!

Calling in from a car in Spain, Rami Malek has just taped an episode of El Hormiguero, a popular Spanish variety show which, as actor Jesse Eisenberg once described it, “humiliates and laughs at the American guests.” But Malek, whose exuberantly boyish features exude universal appeal, has clearly left the taping unscathed. “It is the wackiest, most fun thing. Every actor has done it,” he says. “You just have to prepare yourself [for the] hand puppets and crazy stunts.” Minutes later, Malek is confronted with another by product of his increasingly global profile: “Sorry—some guy was chasing the car for a photo,” Malek says after a pause. “I had to do it; he ran all the way from [the studio]. Incredible.”

By the time Bohemian Rhapsody—in which the 37-year-old actor plays Freddie Mercury, late frontman of rock quartet Queen—is released in November, Malek will likely have experienced many more strange, surreal rites of passage on the way to becoming a leading man. Despite having enjoyed a few years of cult fame in the States as the star of USA’s prestige series Mr. Robot, the transition from playing a hacktivist on TV to embodying Mercury, the unfathomably talented pied piper of glam, is a quantum leap by any stretch. But zipping around Madrid in an SUV, Malek’s triple-threat chops have already been tested and proven—largely on the first day of shooting Rhapsody, when, surrounded by three cranes and hundreds of extras, he recreated move-for-move Queen’s performance at Live Aid, Bob Geldof’s charity mega concert televised in 1985. “I only knew four weeks prior that that’s what we would start with,” he says (though reportedly, he’d already been regularly wearing dentures to mimic Mercury’s distinct bite). “My thought process with it all was, if you put in the work, you can accomplish it.”

Instead of a traditional choreographer, Malek worked with movement specialist Polly Bennett. “It was frustrating for me, because as much as I wanted to learn the choreography, there was no way to do it without understanding the inspiration and impetus behind all of his movements,” he recalls. Malek also rewatched relevant performances—namely, Eddie Redmayne as Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything. “It’s a matter of articulation,” he says of the connection between his and Redmayne’s character studies. Malek’s invoking of Hawking’s tragic end raises the specter of Mercury’s own physical demise (which is not seenin the film)—and its role in defining his legacy. Is his story, despite being that of a semi-closeted child of immigrants who achieved a celestial level of mainstream success, ultimately a tragedy? Malek falls somewhere in the middle. “What was tragic was the premature theft of life from a horrific disease,” he says. “Of course there are themes of identity and struggle and resilience. But the aim of this film is to celebrate the beauty and magic [Mercury] created.”

SHIRT, JACKET, SCARF, NECKLACE SAINT LAURENT BY ANTHONY VACCARELLO, RING JOHN HARDY
Credits:
Hair Cheri Keating (The Wall Group), Production Heather Robbins, Alice Franchi (CLM), Digital technician Denis Vlasov, Photo assistants Kyle May, Jeremy Young, Stylist assistants Kristtian Chevere, Willyum Beck, Location Root Brooklyn

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