Rami Malek says he grew up in a world where he never thought he would ever get a chance to play leading parts because people onscreen did not look like him. The actor, who broke out with TV show Mr. Robot, said his immigrant roots helped him identify with Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody, a role that helped him win his first Best Actor Oscar.
Mercury, whose real name was Farrokh Bulsara, was of Parsi descent and spent his formative years in India before the family shifted to Britain. Malek's parents hail from Egypt. "I grew up in a world where I never thought I was going to play the lead on 'Mr Robot' because I never saw anyone in a lead role that looked like me. I never thought that I could possibly play Freddie Mercury until I realised his name was Farrokh Bulsara, and that is the most powerful message that was sent to me from the beginning," Malek told reporters backstage after his Oscar win.
The 37-year-old actor said after knowing about Mercury's immigrant past, he realised that like him the great rock musician had also struggled with his identity. "... He was struggling to identify himself. And all of that passion and virtue and everything burning inside of him allowed him to look to everybody else and say, 'Hey, I see you'... It's not about being from one place or looking like one thing, one race. Any of that. We are all human beings. And forgive me for this, but collectively we are all the champions," Malek said.
The actor said he has come to admire the cultural heritage of the Middle East but as a child, he felt like shedding some of it. "I didn't feel like I fit in. I definitely felt like the outsider. And as I got older, I realised just how beautiful my heritage and my tradition is, and the wealth of culture and magic and music and film and just pure art that comes out of the Middle East. And now I'm so privileged to represent it," he said.
He also alluded to the controversies surrounding the film, including the firing of director Bryan Singer from the project just before the shooting finished. There were reports that Singer and Malek did not get along on the sets of the film. Malek called the film's journey to the finish line "a tough battle". "The fact that I'm here celebrating with you is proof that a lot of things can be overcome, and that anything is possible," he said.