Rami Malek ‘profoundly humbled’ by recognition in ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’

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Rami Malek as Freddie Mercury in "Bohemian Rhapsody." (Supplied photo)
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Rami Malek posing with his BAFTA for Leading Actor. (AFP)
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US actor Rami Malek poses with the award for a Leading Actor for his work on the film 'Bohemian Rhapsody' at the BAFTA British Academy Film Awards at the Royal Albert Hall in London on February 10, 2019. (AFP / Ben Stansall)
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Rami Malek with his mother, Nelly, at the film’s premiere. (Getty Images)
Updated 22 February 2019
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Rami Malek ‘profoundly humbled’ by recognition in ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’

  • “Bohemian Rhapsody” picked up five Oscar nominations in total, including Best Picture
  • Malek’s transformative performance has helped bring Queen's Freddie Mercury to life for a new generation of fans

DUBAI:  Rami Malek is no stranger to breaking ground for Arabs in Hollywood. In 2016, he became the first actor of Arab descent to win Best Actor in a Drama Series at the Emmys for his performance in the hit television show “Mr. Robot.” In 2019, Malek has become the star of awards season for his turn as the legendary Queen singer Freddie Mercury in the film “Bohemian Rhapsody,” picking up Best Actor at the Golden Globes, the Screen Actors Guild Awards and the BAFTAs. 

But it is Malek’s nomination for Best Actor at the 91st Academy Awards, to be held on February 24 that may be the biggest honor of all, as an Oscar has long been the most coveted award in the field, transforming careers and capturing international attention like no other. 

Malek, 37, born to Egyptian immigrant parents in Los Angeles, has been hugely deferential to his collaborators throughout the process. And when Arab News speaks to Malek about the honor, he remains as respectful as ever.

“I want to say thank you to the Academy for recognizing the work of so many from the cast and crew who made all of this possible, I’m beyond grateful to Graham King, Denis O’Sullivan, 20th Century Fox, New Regency and to Brian May, Roger Taylor and Queen,” Malek tells Arab News. 

Though Mercury died in 1991, his legacy has loomed large, and though Queen has remained popular since his death, the film “Bohemian Rhapsody” has helped make Mercury and Queen a global phenomenon all over again. On the streaming giant Spotify, Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” became the platform’s most popular song from the 20th century. The film itself has currently grossed $844 million worldwide at the box office, making it the most popular musical biopic of all time. 

Malek’s transformative performance has helped bring Mercury to life for a new generation of fans, and, in his eyes, his award wins and nominations are a testament to Mercury’s enduring popularity.

 

“I have absolutely treasured playing Freddie Mercury and I am so profoundly humbled and thrilled to honor him this way,” Malek tells Arab News.

 

“Bohemian Rhapsody” picked up five Oscar nominations in total, including Best Picture. Graham King, the film’s producer, is just as grateful as Malek for the Academy’s recognition.

“A heartfelt thank you to the Academy for recognizing a film that has been a true collaboration from a team with a specific vision and determination to honor Freddie Mercury and Queen. I’m extraordinarily proud of all of the nominations and the entire ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ team. It has taken nearly a decade to bring this project to the screen, so to see the world celebrate this film is incredibly thrilling,” King tells Arab News. 

The global reach of Freddie Mercury and Queen is awe-inspiring — even Malek has been continually surprised to see their profound reach.

“I knew that Queen was massive and Freddie Mercury was an icon and a hero to so many, but I don’t think I completely understood just how important he is to so many people across the world,” he says.

In order to become Mercury, however, Malek had to forget the daunting size of Mercury’s shadow, and instead tried to put all of that out of his mind and focus on the core of his character. 

“I stripped out his achievements in terms of his performing — his ability to rule the stage, his singing, his piano playing — and found a very complicated man at the center, who was trying to discover his identity. That was something I knew how to tackle. If I could start there I would be able to have the initial building blocks that get you the confidence to do all those other things,” says Malek.

Rami Malek at the New York premier of 'Bohemian Rhapsody.' (AFP)

What made Mercury such an incredible performer, in Malek’s eyes, goes beyond just his incredible magnetism.

“What was magical about him was the exchange with everyone in the audience where everyone was allowed to feel the same thing — he could reach you as if you’re the only person in the room — and it’s that exchange that makes him one of the most unique and remarkable and revolutionary artists of our time or any time,” says Malek.

In order to capture the physicality of the role, Malek worked extensively with a movement coach. Together, they studied not just Mercury, but every influence upon him, from his early days in Zanzibar to his love of Liza Minnelli, David Bowie and Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones. 

“We didn’t want an impersonation of Freddie, but rather to understand why he did what he did. So looking at all those performers and films and choreographers who influenced him was incredibly useful in getting to the heart of how he moved and performed,” says Malek.

The film climaxes at what is widely considered the band’s greatest moment, and according to a 2005 poll, the greatest live performance in the history of rock — Queen’s 21 minutes on stage at the 1985 benefit concert Live Aid. 

Rami Malek and members of the rock band Queen pose at the 'Bohemian Rhapsody' film premier in London. (AFP)

Organized by British musicians Bob Geldof and Midge Ure as a fundraising venture to tackle the Ethiopian famine, the concert was reportedly watched by nearly two billion people across the world. Capturing that moment was for Malek perhaps the most surreal and powerful experience of the entire shoot. 

“Stepping out onto that stage for the Live Aid scenes was the most remarkable feeling. Even though there wasn’t an audience there, it was completely nerve-wracking. But also invigorating. I mean, they had recreated that stage perfectly, so you got the feeling that it’s the real deal,” says Malek.

Malek and the cast and crew were not alone in recreating the band’s most remarkable moments — original Queen band members Roger Taylor and Brian May have been a part of production from the beginning, personally approving Malek for the role and working with him to help learn more about Mercury and the band’s adventures.

“Their insight was invaluable. It was also a terrific boost to our confidence just having them there cheering us on. Knowing that they were there and watching raised our game,” says Malek. “It’s very difficult putting your story in the hands of strangers, but we really got to know them, and there was this trust level where we did not want to let them down.”


Blame it on Bieber: Iceland canyon too popular with visitors

Updated 19 May 2019
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Blame it on Bieber: Iceland canyon too popular with visitors

  • Iceland received around 2.3 million tourists last year
  • The influx of visitors can disturb the natural landscapes in the country

FJADRÁRGLJÚFUR, Iceland: A large sign warns motorists that Iceland’s Fjadrárgljúfur canyon is closed to visitors but drivers keep on coming down the narrow gravel road. A ranger at a roadblock has to explain why no one can pass: The vulnerable landscape cannot sustain more visitors.
Blame Justin Bieber, the Canadian pop star with a worldwide reach.
Bieber’s magical music video “I’ll Show You” was filmed at the canyon and seen by millions, creating overwhelming demand for the once-pristine spot. For a chance to follow in Bieber’s footsteps, his fans are not letting a few fences, signs or park rangers keep them away.

Eager visitors try to sweet-talk ranger Hanna Jóhannsdóttir into opening the gate. Some offer bribes. They should know in advance it’s not going to work.
“Food from people’s home country is the most common bribery,” said Jóhannsdóttir, who recently turned down a free trip to Dubai in exchange for looking the other way at trespassers.
The Bieber-inspired influx is one part of a larger challenge for Iceland — the North Atlantic island nation may be too spectacular and too popular for its own good.
Last year 2.3 million tourists visited Iceland, compared with just 600,000 eight years ago. The 20% annual uptick in visitors has been out of proportion with infrastructure that is needed to protect Iceland’s volcanic landscape, where soil forms slowly and erodes quickly.
Environment Minister Gudmundur Ingi Gudbrandsson said it is “a bit too simplistic to blame the entire situation on Justin Bieber” but urged famous, influential visitors to consider the consequences of their actions.
“Rash behavior by one famous person can dramatically impact an entire area if the mass follows,” he told The Associated Press.
Bieber has the third-largest Twitter account at over 105 million followers, after Katy Perry and Barack Obama, according to friendorfollow.com — and he has over 112 million followers on Instagram.
In the viral video — watched over 440 million times on YouTube since 2015 — Bieber stomped on mossy vegetation, dangled his feet over a cliff and bathed in the freezing river underneath the sheer walls of the canyon.
“In Justin Bieber’s defense, the canyon did not, at the time he visited, have rope fences and designated paths to show what was allowed and what not,” Gudbrandsson said.
Over 1 million people have visited the area since the release of the video, the Environment Agency of Iceland estimates, leaving deep scars on its vegetation. After remaining closed for all but five weeks this year, it is expected to reopen again this summer only if weather conditions are dry.
Icelanders are reluctant to fault the pop star, who enjoys enormous support on the island. About 12% of Iceland’s entire population — 38,000 people — attended his two concerts in Reykjavík, the capital, a year after the video was released.
Locals underestimated the canyon’s potential as a major attraction because it’s relatively small compared to those formed by the country’s powerful glacier rivers. But unlike others, it is easily accessed and requires less than a kilometer of trekking.
The selfies and drone images have stopped — for now — but more exposure is coming. The latest season of the popular HBO drama “Game of Thrones” features scenes filmed at the canyon. The nearby Skógar waterfall and the Svínafells glacier are also backdrops in the fictional Thrones world of warriors and dragons.
Inga Palsdottir, director of the national tourism agency Visit Iceland, said a single film shot or a viral photograph has often put overlooked places on the map.
The most extreme example, she said, is the Douglas DC-3 US Navy plane that crashed on the black sand beach at Sólheimasandur in 1973. The seven Americans on board all survived but the plane wreck was never removed.
“Then someone decided to dance on it and now it’s one of the most popular places in the country,” said Palsdottir.
On a foggy Wednesday morning, ranger Jóhannsdóttir observed fresh footprints on the muddy pathway to the Fjadrárgljúfur canyon, indicating that someone had jumped the fence overnight.
She predicted that more people would trespass that afternoon when she left the roadblock to give a presentation at a community center. She was right. Less than 30 minutes passed before tourists began ignoring the fences and signs.
“We came because of Justin Timberlake,” said Mikhail Samarin, a tourist from Russia, traveling with Nadia Kazachenok and Elena Malteseva, who were quick to correct the artist’s last name to Bieber.
“It was so amazing,” said Malteseva about the Bieber video. “After that, we decided it was necessary to visit this place.”
The three took turns posing for a photograph, standing at the edge of an Icelandic cliff.