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(Credit: 20th Century Fox)

Music

How Rami Malek transformed himself into Freddie Mercury

Rami Malek may have played a James Bond villain, but to some of us, he’ll always be Freddie Mercury. Indeed, Malek was the best thing about an otherwise dull movie, bringing bravado, gumption and bravura to the part. Sure, he’s no Sacha Baron Cohen, but the Queen guys weren’t convinced by Ali G’s efforts to cast him in the role.

But they were won over by Malek. Drummer Roger Taylor felt Malek embodied the spirit of Mercury, although he noted that the actor lacked the singer’s physicality, and guitarist Brian May considered Malek the perfect cast member to play their deceased bandmate. In an interview with Jimmy Kimmel, Malek recalled the nerves he endured putting on the outfits and moustaches for the first time.

“The greatest honour I think from playing someone like Freddie Mercury is getting the acceptance of the legendary bandmates, Brian May and Roger Taylor,” Malek told Kimmel, describing the experience with as much integrity and excitement as he could muster. “I’m not gonna lie and say I wouldn’t consider [an Oscar] a massive accomplishment.”

And what was his first contribution to the film? “We shot the most iconic performance in rock history — Queen playing at Live Aid — on day one,” he said. “Our first shot was the four of us coming out onto Wembley Stadium stage as the members of Queen.”

Well, that’s nerve-wracking for any actor, and I wager Al Pacino might have felt sheepish about playing such an iconic scene. Sure, he played Hamlet, but everyone’s played Hamlet. There was only one Freddie Mercury, which replacement vocalists Robbie Williams, Paul Rodgers and Adam Lambert have discovered. So, to play the singer, the laureate, the composer, the man who made the moustache so damn awesome is a tall order. But Malek nailed it, delivering one of the most psychologically complete performances in some time.

The actor made an impression on the Hollywood elite, bagging an Oscar for himself in the process, making him the first actor of Egyptian heritage to win the coveted role. In an interview, Malek described himself as Egyptian through and through, stating that there is no first or second-generation attachment to it.

In some ways, it made sense to hire Malek, because he could relate to Mercury’s plight of being a person of colour in a caucasian centric England. It’s unlikely that either Cohen or Ben Whishaw – who was also tested for the part – could have realised the truth with as much pathos as Malek did.

Born in Zanzibar to Parsi-Indian parents, Mercury moved to England in late adolescence. He attended graphic art and design at Ealing Art College, becoming friends with songwriting bassist Tim Staffell. As it happens, Staffell was in a power trio with May and Taylor, but Staffell left the orbit to join another group.

Mercury agreed to sing for the band and after a collection of bassists, the trio agreed that John Deacon should join the band. Deacon became an asset, and in his interview with Far Out, May claimed that Deacon had the best “batting” average of any Queen songwriter. I mean, he only wrote ‘Another One Bites The Dust’…

Watch the interview below.