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Egyptian-American Actor Rami Malek on Fighting Prejudice in Hollywood

Rami Malek

Rami Malek at Paris Fashion Week. (Photo by Francois Durand/Getty Images)

“No” is not a word actor Emmy award-winning actor Rami Malek listens to, earning him a tenacious reputation among his family, who never needed to worry about his “unstable career.” As the third season of Mr. Robot comes to the small screen this month, Hollywood’s favorite anti-hero talks about how his Arab heritage has inspired him and why playing Freddie Mercury in an upcoming biopic, Bohemian Rhapsody, will truly showcase his wide talents.

My big break came with Mr. Robot. It’s not like I didn’t work before – but it changed things up for me. Certainly it changed things with getting recognized and privacy but there’s always a tradeoff, and the little bit of adjusting was worth it.

Rami Malek

Rami Malek in Mr Robot.

I couldn’t believe it when I won the Emmy for outstanding lead actor in a drama series for Mr. Robot. I can remember when they read my name out I was thinking, “Don’t move. That was not your name they just said.” To get recognition for your work is immensely humbling. It wouldn’t have happened without the brilliance of series creator Sam Esmail and the rest of the cast, but to be recognized in that manner does open doors, for sure.

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It’s an honor to portray Freddie Mercury in the new Queen movie. He is one of the most iconic men there has ever been in music. There has been a lot of preparation because you want to make sure you do Freddie justice. That’s why we have been so fortunate that Queen have agreed to be involved with the movie.

Rami Malek

Rami Malek as Freddie Mercury.

I will have to sing a little in the movie. I’ll tell you a little story that’s one of the most surreal of my life. I’m in London recording at Abbey Road Studios, and as I am walking to the recording studio I’m go past all these signed photos of The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, and, of course, Queen. When I met Queen, I thought they would have heard my recording, but they hadn’t. So I had to stand there and watch Queen listen to a tape of me sing as Freddie Mercury for the first time. That’s something you never expect to happen in your life.

I think pretty much everybody is a Queen fan. But yes, I was a big fan, even of their lesser-known songs. “Somebody to Love” is an absolutely beautiful piece of songwriting.

My brother is a teacher and my sister a doctor. My parents’ reactions to my career were a result of them caring about me, but at the start they let me know that they didn’t think it was a stable career.

Egyptian heritage hasn’t seen me typecast in Hollywood. If anything, I’m getting darker, more quirky roles, but those are the roles I enjoy.

In an ideal world, there would be no discrimination. There are people who have these preconceptions about countries they hear about on the news but have never visited. I’ve encountered prejudice. There have been comments, but it toughened me up.

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It’s important to represent my Egyptian heritage. I grew up in Los Angeles, which not everybody knows has a big Egyptian community. I think that’s probably because the climate is similar to Cairo. We spoke Arabic in the family home while growing up.

What’s happening in parts of the Gulf and the Middle East is on a lot of people’s minds. My heritage is close to my heart. I do feel an obligation as an American-Egyptian to highlight the struggles that are going on there because it needs changing.

The biggest hurdle in my career has been getting used to the word “no.” I can remember being in my parents’ apartment stuffing résumés and head shots into envelopes, only to keep hearing the word “no.” I remember my dad saying, “This boy is tenacious” – and that stuck with me.

My top style tip is to have a little fun with fashion. The suit I’m asked about the most is the bright red Dior Homme I wore to the Met Gala in May this year. I get asked about it because it was bold. So that’s my advice: go big. You want your kids to look back at photos and say, “Yeah, that’s my dad rocking a bright red suit.”

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