Ra­mi Ma­lek, Catching Mer­cu­ry

Ra­mi Ma­lek dans la peau de Fred­die Mer­cu­ry.

Vocable (Anglais) - - Sommaire - CA­RA BUCKLEY

Ra­mi Ma­lek, ré­vé­lé au grand pu­blic grâce à son rôle dans la sé­rie Mr. Ro­bot, est ce mois-ci à l’af­fiche du film Bo­he­mian Rhap­so­dy, qui re­trace la car­rière du groupe bri­tan­nique Queen. Pour son pre­mier grand rôle au ci­né­ma, l’ac­teur amé­ri­cain in­ter­prète Fred­die Mer­cu­ry, le cha­ris­ma­tique lea­der du groupe de rock lé­gen­daire. Comment s’est-il im­pré­gné de son per­son­nage ?

Los An­geles — This sto­ry was sup­po­sed to be­gin dif­fe­rent­ly, but Ra­mi Ma­lek stole my line. Af­ter spen­ding more than an hour chat­ting with him on the Fox Stu­dios lot here, I had to ask why he had been so jum­py at the in­ter­view’s out­set. “Ra­mi Ma­lek couldn’t sit still,” he said, in an exag­ge­ra­ted­ly sten­to­rian voice. The line wouldn’t have been the grea­test way in to this tale, but it would have done, es­pe­cial­ly since he pro­ved ex­tre­me­ly re­luc­tant to dish about him­self du­ring the course of our talk.

CRAVING FOR PRI­VA­CY

2. Fi­nal­ly, he of­fe­red a scin­tilla of self-dis­clo­sure. Ma­lek’s pre-exis­ting pre­di­lec­tion to­ward pri­va­cy had been stron­gly rein­for­ced, he said, by his per­for­mance as Fred­die Mer­cu­ry, the bom­bas­tic and bra­zen­ly car­nal front­man of the rock group Queen, who died of AIDS-re­la­ted pneu­mo­nia in 1991, and whom Ma­lek plays in Bo­he­mian Rhap­so­dy. “It’s nice to be able to own pri­va­cy, some bit of ano­ny­mi­ty,” Ma­lek said. “That’s a Fred­die thing.” 3. Fred­die Mer­cu­ry, pri­vate? Ons­tage, he was a pree­ning cock of the walk with a ma­jes­tic voice. Off­stage, he was a chee­ky Dio­ny­sian who told an in­ter­vie­wer that one of his hob­bies was “a lot of sex.” But in stu­dying the sin­ger, Ma­lek conclu­ded that Fred­die, as he calls him, had mas­te­red the art of the ver­bal par­ry, ne­ver gi­ving a jot of in­for­ma­tion more than he plea­sed, no mat­ter how much an in­ter­vie­wer pres­sed.

DIF­FI­CULT MA­KING

4. Bo­he­mian Rhap­so­dy comes to the screen af­ter a de­cade of fits and starts, with plen­ty of in­figh­ting and a ro­ta­ting cast of key play-

ers. First Sa­cha Baron Co­hen was poi­sed to star, though no­thing was shot, and Co­hen la­ter clai­med he drop­ped out af­ter the band sought to su­gar­coat Mer­cu­ry’s he­do­nism, promp­ting Queen’s lead gui­ta­rist, Brian May, to call him “an arse.” Then word came that Ben Whi­shaw was on­board, but that didn’t last ei­ther.

5. The script was writ­ten by one pres­ti­gious wri­ter, (Pe­ter Mor­gan, The Queen, Frost/ Nixon), re­writ­ten by ano­ther (An­tho­ny McCar­ten, The Theo­ry of Eve­ry­thing, Dar­kest Hour) and la­bo­rious­ly re­vam­ped. “This is why it took so long to bring the mo­vie to life,” said Gra­ham King, one of the film’s pro­du­cers.

RISING TO FAME

6. Ma­lek was born a twin — his bro­ther, Sa­mi, is youn­ger by 4 mi­nutes; they al­so have an ol­der sis­ter, Yas­mine — to Egyp­tian im­mi­grants, and grew up in the Sher­man Oaks sec­tion of Los An­geles, shel­te­red and lar­ge­ly una­ware, he said, of the Hol­ly­wood that tee­med beyond the San­ta Mo­ni­ca Moun­tains. Af­ter stu­dying thea­ter at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Evans­ville, he be­gan lan­ding roles: a guest spot on “Gil­more Girls,” a pha­raoh in the Night at the Mu­seum films and a coun­se­lor in the in­die hit Short Term 12. He al­so played a few Middle Eas­tern ter­ro­rists, un­til he could no lon­ger sto­mach the ste­reo­ty­ping.

7. By the time Ma­lek au­di­tio­ned for the lead role of the tor­tu­red ha­cker El­liot in “Mr. Ro­bot,” Sam Es­mail, the show’s crea­tor, had seen about 100 ac­tors and was on the verge of re­wri­ting the part. El­liot was too cold, stan­dof­fish and un­li­kable, Es­mail conclu­ded, and that was why no au­di­tion had cli­cked. But Ma­lek brought a le­vel of vul­ne­ra­bi­li­ty and pain that made El­liot qui­ve­rin­gly hu­man. “It ope­ned my eyes to who El­liot real­ly was,” Es­mail said. “Mr. Ro­bot” would prove a hit, ma­king Ma­lek a star and an Em­my win­ner. And it even­tual­ly com­pel­led an exe­cu­tive pro­du­cer on the Queen pro­ject to come kno­cking.

PRE­PA­RA­TIONS

8. Of course the part car­ried en­or­mous risk; bad bio­pics in­vite a par­ti­cu­lar­ly glee­ful type of scha­den­freude. “It’s not lost on me that this could go ter­ri­bly wrong, that it could be de­tri­men­tal to one’s ca­reer should this not go the right way,” Ma­lek said. But this was an op­por­tu­ni­ty ac­tors dream of. He knew he had to grab it, and give it his all.

9. And to do that, he had to get him­self new teeth. Mer­cu­ry was born Far­rokh Bul­sa­ra to a Par­si fa­mi­ly in Zan­zi­bar, and went to boar­ding school in In­dia. His class­mates ni­ck­na­med him Bu­cky; he had four ex­tra up­per back teeth that pu­shed his front teeth in­to an ex­treme over­bite, and al­so, he be­lie­ved, gave his voice ex­tra re­so­nance. 10. To em­brace Mer­cu­ry’s phy­si­ca­li­ty, Ma­lek had a cos­tume de­si­gner create a set of Fred­die teeth that he car­ried around in a lit­tle black plas­tic contai­ner, and pop­ped in­to his mouth to prac­tice eve­ry night. He al­so flew to Lon­don and per­sua­ded King to pay for a dia­lect tu­tor and a mo­ve­ment coach, who had him stu­dy the ins­pi­ra­tions for Mer­cu­ry’s pea­co­cking: Ji­mi Hen­drix, Da­vid Bo­wie, Are­tha Frank­lin and Li­za Min­nel­li in Ca­ba­ret. “It was al­most more use­ful at times to watch Li­za than it was to watch Fred­die him­self,” he said. “You found the ins­pi­ra­tion and birth of those mo­ve­ments.”

11. All of this hap­pe­ned be­fore the film was even green­ligh­ted. Ma­lek wan­ted to be pre­pa­red if the film was a go, which tur­ned out to be a wise move. The first scene shot was a re-en­act­ment of Queen’s ap­pea­rance at Live Aid in 1985, consi­de­red one of the best rock per­for­mances in his­to­ry. For the sin­ging, Ma­lek’s voice was mixed with Mer­cu­ry’s and that of the Ca­na­dian sin­ger Marc Mar­tel.

12. Fil­ming Live Aid ear­ly slam-dun­ked the cast mem­bers in­to their roles. Ma­lek’s per­for­mance par­ti­cu­lar­ly as­to­ni­shed Mer­cu­ry’s band­mates, who felt the ac­tor was not me­re­ly por­traying Mer­cu­ry, but in­ha­bi­ting him. “We so­me­times for­got he was Ra­mi,” May, the gui­ta­rist, wrote in an email.

(Twen­tieth Cen­tu­ry Fox)

Ra­mi Ma­lek as Fred­die Mer­cu­ry in Bo­he­mian Rhap­so­dy.

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