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

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.”

Sheikha Alyazia’s ‘mishmash’ of ancient and modern

Her “Mishmash Trails” featured cave-like shapes cut in marble, with the treasure taking the form of imagined ancient eastern coins. (Supplied)
Updated 23 July 2019

Sheikha Alyazia’s ‘mishmash’ of ancient and modern

  • Inside the Emirati artist’s inaugural solo exhibition in London, ‘I Met a Traveler From an Antique Land’

LONDON: You are searching for treasure. Several potential locations are marked with an ‘x’ on your map. You move methodically from site to site, always to be met with disappointment — never striking gold. Are you, in following trails set by others, missing the treasure ‘hidden’ in plain view?

This is one of the conundrums posed in the artworks of Sheikha Alyazia Bint Nahyan Al-Nahyan, whose inaugural solo exhibition in London presented a thought-provoking range of work fusing the ancient past with modern life.

Her “Mishmash Trails” featured cave-like shapes cut in marble, with the treasure taking the form of imagined ancient eastern coins, reflecting Arab, Roman and Phoenician influences. She described the coins, embedded in the marble, as symbolic of the great treasures buried in secret locations that were sought out and fought over by many. 

Al-Nahyan named her exhibition — held at Pi Artworks from June 25 to July 7 — with the opening line of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s famous poem “Ozymandias”: “I met a traveler from an antique land.” (Ozymandias is the Greek name for the Egyptian Pharaoh Ramesses II.)

Mishmash Dirham. (Supplied) 

The poem, published in 1818, imagines a meeting between the narrator and a traveller who describes a ruined statue lying in the desert. The description of the statue is a meditation on the fragility of human power and on the effects of time: “My name is Ozymandias, king of kings/Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!/Nothing beside remains: round the decay/Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare/The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

“Maybe a positive thing from looking to the past is that it proves it is only human to repeat the mistake and the lesson,” Al-Nahyan told Arab News. “Studying the past is a realization of human nature, individually or in groups, right or wrong. This natural feeling of connectivity is something I usually aim for.”

There is humor in some of her work — particularly the depictions of old commercial airline advertisements from the 1950s and 60s with ancient figures superimposed in the frames. They certainly give the viewer pause for thought about how much our world has changed in the short time since air travel became widely available.

The exhibition’s curator, Janet Rady, said of Al-Nahyan: “She has been practicing art from a very young age and is self-taught. She is incredibly talented, and you see this in the wide range of her work, which uses all sorts of different media. I can’t necessarily call her a pop artist or a collage artist or an installation artist; she is in fact all of these things, but it is the concept behind her work — connecting the past with the present — which is important.”

The UAE’s UK ambassador, Mansoor Abulhoul, was present at the opening and he particularly admired Al-Nahyan’s works based on the classic wooden board game Carrom paired with a modern video game.

Carrom Station in Motion. (Supplied) 

“I first played Carrom with my cousins as a boy, and she has combined it with modern computer games, which is very creative,” he said. He pointed out that her innovative work ties in well with the dynamic of the UAE.

“Next year we have EXPO 2020, with its theme ‘Connecting Minds, Creating the Future.’ It’s very much about our roots and how we take them forward, how we develop the mind and global cooperation,” he said. 

The exhibition included a short clip from Al-Nahyan’s upcoming film “Athel,” written by Al-Nahyan’s sister, Sheikha Shamsa. It centers on a strange encounter in the desert between a pre-Islamic poet and a modern-day TV presenter. “Athel” is set for release later this year and stars Hala Shiha and Mansour Al-Fili.

“The idea behind it all is taken from the tradition of Arabic poetry — its wisdom and, sometimes, risks,” Al-Nahyan explained. “And ending with a realization of one tribal law putting redemption and family before all.” She added that there are some “light-hearted” moments in the film too.

Arabic poetry is an ongoing inspiration for Al-Nahyan’s work, adding another layer of meaning to many of her pieces.

“The Arabic language is poetic, and Arabs and other cultures around the world have documented their lives through poetry,” she said. “So, for example, when tackling the topic of what is considered treasure, we found different meanings in various verses. Like when (pre-Islamic poet) Zuhair Bin Abi Salma refers to glory as the only true treasure.”

There is a much to absorb and reflect on in this exhibition which opens windows into many facets of Arab history and culture and poses universal questions about humanity and what constitutes real treasure.