Rami Malek: From 'Gilmore Girls' to the Oscars' Best Actor Frontrunner
By Stacy Lambe
Rami Malek: The Life and Career of the First-Time Oscar Nominee
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A frontrunner for Best Actor at the 2019 Academy Awards, Rami Malek has gone through quite the career transformation, going from a bit TV player on an episode of Gilmore Girls to an award-winning leading man in Bohemian Rhapsody -- and making history along the way.
It’s a 15-year journey that started in 2004, when Malek made his screen debut on the WB, the original network of Amy Sherman-Palladino’s hit dramedy about witty thirty-something single mother, Lorelai (Lauren Graham), and her intellectual teenage daughter, Rory (Alexis Bledel).
Appearing in the episode, "In the Clamor and the Clangor," the actor donned a sweater vest and a goofy smile as Andy, a classmate of Lane (Keiko Agena). It's a blink-and-you-miss moment for an actor just starting out, but it proved pivotal to Malek’s career.
Recalling to ET about how he earned his Screen Actors Guild card, Malek revealed he got the job by pretending to be his own agent.
"I was submitting myself for roles, stuffing manila envelopes with my headshot and resume to anyone who would listen,” Malek shared. “And I got a call one day from a casting director, she said, ‘Can I speak with Rami Malek's agent?’ And I said, ‘Speaking.’ She said, ‘All right, can you give me some information. Is he a part of the Screen Actors Guild?’” he recalled.
"I said, ‘No not yet,’" he continued. "She goes, ‘Well, we need to talk further about this.’ I said, ‘Listen, this is Rami Malek and I am representing myself.’ And she laughed a little bit and I said, ‘We can work on getting me a SAG card. It's a few lines in the show Gilmore Girls, and you're kind of laughing right now. So I'm going to hop on the bus and be there in 10 minutes, if that's cool with you. And maybe we can see how this goes.’"
Lucky for him, the casting director was charmed and his role on Gilmore Girls led to more episodic TV work until he landed a recurring role on Fox’s The War at Home, which ran for two seasons. On the 2005 sitcom, Malek played a closeted Arab-American teenager -- his first gay onscreen role and an even rarer one on network TV at the time.
"It was a challenge for Rami playing this character," creator Rob Lotterstein told The Hollywood Reporter. "He was given this big responsibility of being a teen character coming out of the closet on network TV. It really elevated the show to some of our best work." Ultimately, it helped lead to a GLAAD Media Award nomination for the show -- Malek’s first brush with critical acclaim and awards season attention.
Soon after starring on The War at Home, Malek found himself playing Pharaoh Ahkmenrah in the Night at the Museum films opposite Ben Stiller and Merriell "Snafu" Shelton on The Pacific, executive produced by Tom Hanks.
In fact, it was Hanks who saw potential in Malek. After The Pacific wrapped production in Australia in 2007, the actor recalled Hanks saying to him, "We’re going to work together one day." Soon after the HBO series won the Outstanding Miniseries at the 2010 Primetime Emmys, Malek landed a supporting role in Larry Crowne, opposite Hanks and Julia Roberts. "It’s put me over the moon," Malek said at the time.
Shortly thereafter, Malek began landing more high-profile projects, with roles in Battleship, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2, Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master, Spike Lee’s remake of Oldboy and Need for Speed. By the time he wrapped production on his third Night at the Museum film in 2014, Malek was cast as the lead in Sam Esmail’s new USA series, Mr. Robot.
On the cyber thriller about a group of hackers attempting to take down one of the world’s largest conglomerates, the actor played the hacktivists’ de facto leader Elliot Alderson, a network engineer suffering from social anxiety disorder and delusions. Coming out at a time when the network was rebranding itself, the show was given "the freedom to do something that’s pushing the envelope," Malek said of the series ahead of its debut. That freedom paved way for one of TV’s most complex and unreliable characters at the time.
Earning near-universal acclaim, the show became a critical and ratings hit for USA and put Malek on the map. Less than six months after its finale, Mr. Robot won the 2016 Golden Globe for Best Dramatic Series and earned Malek his first nomination for Best Actor – Television Series Drama. "I know I am not going to hold back and say I have dreamt about this moment my whole life," Malek said on the Golden Globes red carpet.
Weeks later, at the Screen Actors Guild Awards, Malek reflected on how his life had dramatically changed. "A year ago, I would never have expected to be here, so it's really a dream come true," he said. "I know that people say that and it sounds cliche but truly [being at] all these awards shows getting all this type of recognition -- it's something that you worked for your whole career.”
By September, after picking up numerous accolades for both the series and Malek, Mr. Robot had aired a second, critically acclaimed season and was a major contender at the 2016 Primetime Emmys, where it was nominated for six awards. There, Malek won Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series, beating out veteran actors Bob Odenkirk (Better Call Saul), Kevin Spacey (House of Cards), Kyle Chandler (Bloodline), Liev Schreiber (Ray Donovan) and Matthew Rhys (The Americans).
Egyptian-American, Malek became the first non-white actor to win the award in 18 years. "I play a young man who is, like so many of us, profoundly alienated,” he said while accepting his award. “I want to honor the Elliots. There’s a little bit of Elliot in all of us.” Backstage, while speaking with ET, Malek reflected on the impact Mr. Robot has had: "People feel really disenfranchised. Their society is not doing them a service...[The show] speaks to so many people."
Three years later, as Mr. Robot prepares to air its fourth and final season, Malek is now an awards season frontrunner and continuing to make history as he’s recognized for his unflinching portrayal of Freddie Mercury in the Queen biopic, Bohemian Rhapsody.
"The film is an immense celebration of his life and the band," Malek said of the film, adding: "It's an immense responsibility to take on the legacy of a human being and obviously Freddie Mercury has a giant legacy that he's left behind. To try to step into those shoes required singing lessons, movement coaching, had to change my dialect obviously and I just watched as much Freddie as I could."
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How Rami Malek Landed the Role of Freddie Mercury in 'Bohemian Rhapsody' (Exclusive)
Despite a controversial journey to the screen -- director Bryan Singer was fired with two weeks left on production after reports of on-set clashing between him and Malek -- and mixed reviews, the film became a box office smash.
"My situation with Bryan, it was not pleasant, not at all," Malek reportedly said at the Santa Barbara Film Festival, where he was being honored with the Outstanding Performer(s) of the Year Award. Even allegations of sexual misconduct levied against Singer hasn’t slowed down praise for the film. (Singer has denied all accusations.) "My heart goes out to anyone who has to live through anything like what I’ve heard and what is out there,” the actor also said. “It’s awful, it’s remarkable that this happens, I can appreciate so much what they’ve been through and how difficult this must be for them. In light of the #MeToo era, that this somehow seems to exist after that, it’s a horrible thing.”
To date, the film has grossed over $850 million at the worldwide box office, making it the third highest-grossing Best Picture nominee at the 2019 Oscars (behind Black Panther and A Star Is Born). On the awards season front, it’s earned numerous nominations and wins, including Lead Actor prizes at the BAFTAs, where all the acting prizes went to portrayals of real-life LGBTQ people, Golden Globes and SAG Awards.
"Thank you to Freddie Mercury for giving me the joy of a lifetime," he said while accepting his Golden Globe. "I love you, you beautiful man. This is for and because of you, gorgeous."
Now, he’s nominated for Best Actor at the 2019 Oscars, making him the second Egyptian-American performer nominated for an acting prize behind Omar Sharif, who was recognized for his performance in 1962’s Lawrence of Arabia.
With so many wins under his belt, Malek is now believed to be hard to beat at the Oscars, where he’s up against Bradley Cooper (A Star Is Born), Christian Bale (Vice), Viggo Mortensen (Green Book) and Willem Dafoe (At Eternity’s Gate). (If he wins, on Sunday, Feb. 24, when the awards are handed out live from the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles on ABC, it’ll also mark the first time a non-white actor has won the award since 2007, when Forrest Whitaker won for The Last King of Scotland.)
"There is only one Freddie, but there was a great joy in being able to emulate him as well as I had the opportunity to," Malek said.