Early Tuesday morning, Rami Malek was riding the “euphoric” feeling of receiving his first Academy Award nomination for his portrayal of Queen frontman Freddie Mercury in “Bohemian Rhapsody,” a performance that garnered the 37-year-old star his first Golden Globe earlier this month. “It’s hard enough to get a job as an actor,” he said by telephone. “I feel ridiculously spoiled and eternally grateful.”
But the blockbuster film that celebrates Mercury’s light and life with the rollicking tunes of Queen’s greatest hits has been equally plagued by controversies surrounding its credited director, Bryan Singer. Addressing allegations against Singer that have raised questions for the filmmakers throughout awards season, Malek said he was unaware of claims against the helmer when he began work on the 20th Century Fox musical biopic, which is nominated for five Oscars including best picture.
He acknowledged director Dexter Fletcher for stepping in to complete the film and thanked “Mr. Robot” creator Sam Esmail for helping him through the “extraordinarily challenging” journey to get “Bohemian Rhapsody” to the screen. “There have been exceptional people in my life that have gotten me to a place where I could be the leader that I needed to be in this situation that existed, that was incredibly difficult.”
Good morning and congratulations. How does it feel to be nominated?
(Pause) Unlike I’ve ever expected to feel in my life. I think this just never quite seemed within my reach. This is something that happens to other people! So the shock of it happening is quite euphoric, it’s otherworldly, it’s breathtaking.
Upon winning the Golden Globe you paid homage to Freddie Mercury. Who would you honor with this nomination?
I take every moment to honor him. The greatest appreciation I have is for him, and there’s no way of ever telling this story without him being such a revolutionary, special human being... so it’s always going to be him. After that I have to thank of course the band and our producers for never giving up on this, for 10 years. And all the people who have always had my back and given me the resolve and strength that I knew I had to just keep pushing myself in this field.
You chased down this role, worked to transform yourself physically and to emotionally convey the humanity of Freddie Mercury’s story, but also faced a series of well-publicized offscreen challenges during production. Along this journey what has been the most gratifying moment for you?
The behind the scenes of it all were extraordinarily challenging. I think the consensus is that everything that’s happened with this film from its inception to extremely challenging days on set, that we have come this far and people have responded the way they have to this film, and now from the academy, is something that must be unprecedented in a way. It feels like Freddie Mercury — a one-off.
I think the thing that I will take away the most from this is, I don’t know if this is self-aggrandizing, but I’m proud of the way I held myself in the most tumultuous, I would say dire circumstances. I tried to be as much of a leader as I possibly could. Sometimes I surprised myself with what I was able to accomplish, on- and offscreen.
To be present for the cast and crew, and marshal everything I had to make sure that this film and Freddie’s story and Queen’s story was completed, and had a sense of justice and honor behind it, every moment of being on set and telling that story.
Do you have any regrets about working with Bryan Singer? Did you weigh the allegations that were out there about him before signing on?
As far as I knew, I was considered before Bryan was even attached. So I had my head down preparing for this for about a year ahead of time, and I never really looked up. I didn’t know much about Bryan. I think that the allegations and things were, believe it or not, honestly something I was not aware of, and that is what it is. Who knows what happens with that … but I think somehow we found a way to persevere through everything that was thrown our way.
Perhaps that was Freddie himself doing it, because we wanted to make a product that was worthy of him. Who knows? I’m just proud that this cast and crew collectively raised their game and we depended on one another. It was a testament to everyone’s spirit and courage and skill. And one thing I will say about everyone — almost everyone — we never gave up. How about that?
The fan response to the film has been big, but there are also a lot of fans who don’t quite know how they should feel about the film given Singer’s involvement. What would you say to them?
I think they can understand that Bryan Singer was fired from the film. And that can be something that they can look at from a perspective of understanding why they can appreciate the film. And as far as I’m concerned, I never want to take away from Freddie’s story. I think that puts a button on it in a number of ways.
In light of what we’re talking about, I would also thank Dexter Fletcher, who is a tremendous talent and came on when we really needed someone to see this through, and did an extraordinary amount of work as well.
And one more person I really want to thank is Sam Esmail from “Mr. Robot.” There was a moment when things got difficult for me and I called him ... I just texted him right now and said, “This doesn’t happen without you.” I’ve learned so much from that man, and he’s been such an ultimate collaborator.
If anybody wants to talk about this in a certain way, just know that there have been exceptional people in my life that have gotten me to a place where I could be the leader that I needed to be in this situation that existed, that was incredibly difficult.
Congratulations again on your nomination, because it is huge recognition for you.
It is huge. It is huge. This is the cream of the crop for what we do, and to get this acknowledgment from the academy, it’s one of the most momentous moments I think I’ll have in life.