10-year journey: Rami Malek on 'Mr Robot', Tom Hanks, and his sex symbol status
We speak to the Mr Robot star about his rise to the top
Fame has been a very slow burn. I’ve had enough small successes that I feel have gradually propelled me into a place where I felt capable enough of carrying these larger roles. But when you hit something that’s a cultural phenomenon, with the social and political commentary in Mr Robot, it has a different type of reach and fame. Not only popularity, but also a sense of social heroism that people could latch on to and give that different kind of recognition.
To have to sometimes walk from point A to point B and not make eye contact or start a conversation has been quite devastating. I love walking around New York, just taking everything in – and I have been taking everything in, soaking it all up, especially given my career choice. It’s been quite the hobby to be an observer of human beings and of life. But the other side of that is, I look at what it has allowed me to do. I get to – what actors want to cut me for – play characters like [Mr Robot’s] Elliot. For that I’d sacrifice many things and anonymity is one of them.
I’ve never looked at myself as a kind of heart-throb or someone that people would clamber to get an autograph from. Growing up in an environment where a certain status was glorified, I never felt that I even had that status physically. But because the world is changing so fast, all of a sudden a cyberpunk outsider look who’s pale with big eyes can become the new cool. It’s a really fascinating evolution.
Mr Robot’s made me incredibly paranoid. I can’t even look at my phone without thinking that there is somebody in another country surveying every one of my text messages. I feel like everything is being watched or listened to.
When it comes to politics, people talk a good game. With my friends, that are the most, I would say, loud about what’s happening in the world, I sometimes question the sincerity of some things [they say], because I know what they’re doing on their weekends, and it doesn’t seem to be as charitable. Not my close friends, but people I know of in this kind of world we live in. The people with the ability to have a louder voice than others.
I question the legitimacy of my voice and getting to say something that perhaps reaches more people because of fame or celebrity. Don’t overstep yourself. Just because you have a platform from which to speak, does not mean that you understand.
I have never thought about my ‘brand’. I was one of those kids that never wanted to get all over Facebook or MySpace, if you remember that. But the evolution of creating a brand and this cache to having a following, this contradictory feeling of should I get the job on my own, or gather a certain amount of people who like me as a human being or a personality to get me in the door, to a place where producers and studios would feel comfortable knowing I have a presence and following, always felt absurd.
Making my name was a multi-tiered sad story. It’s not, because it has a happy ending, but it’s the rejection that really hits you in the most profound way, telling you you’re not good enough on a daily basis, lugging your things around and wearing your heart on your sleeve, putting so much preparation into material you think you have done some justice to. Maybe at a younger age, you think it’s the material as opposed to you. It’s just the sense of being told ‘no’ constantly after having invested so much of yourself.
I started out being a really good listener. I would sit back and pay attention to everything and soak it up and not really say anything until I found it absolutely necessary. And I’ve gotten to a situation now where I may have opened my mouth a few too many times in the wrong places. In the past year, I’ve had the realisation that the approach I had before was the smart play. A wisdom I should never try to contradict.
Christian [Slater] has given me good advice. I was a little frazzled at the Golden Globes – maybe not frazzled, but not in my usual form. He settled me and told me to take it all in, to just enjoy the experience and not ever take these things personally whether you win or lose. Now I’ve been fortunate enough to go back to those places and those events and really have fun at them, rather than having them own me.
Tom Hanks told me just to be kind. He’s the nicest guy and you see the effect it has on everyone else. But you learn by example, you learn on set, what makes a good leader. You can just see the good ones and how they take care of everyone on set and treat everyone equally, the way they want for themselves.
The thing I’ve learned in the past 10 years? To identify that you’re not as important as you think you are.
Mr Robot Season 3 is exclusively on Amazon Prime Video from 12 October