Photo by VALERIE MACON / AFP
Photo by VALERIE MACON / AFP

Los Angeles: Rami Malek rocked his way to Best Actor Oscar glory for his exuberant portrayal of Queen’s frontman Freddie Mercury in “Bohemian Rhapsody” at the 91st Academy Awards.

In a tightly fought race, the actor was pitted against industry veterans — Christian Bale for “Vice”, Bradley Cooper for “A Star is Born”, Viggo Mortensen for “Green Book” and Willem Dafoe “At Eternity’s Gate”.

But he had already cemented his position as the front-runner by scooping up the precursor awards — Golden Globe, BAFTA and the Screen Actors Guild.

Academy members love physical transformation and Malek was at his peak when he brought to life one of the greatest musicians ever, eclipsing the metamorphosis by Bale, who gained considerable amount of weight to play former US vice president Dick Cheney.

Malek brought a heartbreaking vulnerability to Mercury in the quieter moments of the biopic while keeping the audiences spellbound in the bits when he was performing.

He was especially memorable in the last 15-minutes of the film as he recreated Mercury’s Live Aid concert, considered one of the best rock performances of all time.

The role was earlier supposed to be done by Sasha Baron Cohen but he left the project due to creative differences with Queen members, giving Malek a chance to step in and he alluded to this fact in his acceptance speech where he paid touching tributes to his immigrant parents and Mercury.

Malek, in one of the most emotional and heart-felt speeches of the ceremony, said the moment was “monumental” for him. “I may not have been the obvious choice but I guess it worked out. Thank you Queen for allowing me to be the tiniest part of your phenomenal, extraordinary legacy. I am forever in your debt,” he said in his acceptance speech.

The 37-year-old actor also spoke about how his younger self would be blown away by this moment. “That kid was struggling with his identity, trying to figure himself out and to anyone struggling with theirs and trying to discover their voice… We made a film about a gay and an immigrant who lived his life just unapologetically himself and the fact that I am celebrating him and his story with you tonight is proof that we are longing for stories like this,” he said.

Malek said being the son of immigrants from Egypt, he understood how important they are in a country’s history. “I am first generation American, applaus, and part of my story is being written right now. I could not be more grateful to each an everyone of you who believed in me for this moment. It is something I will treasure for the rest of my life,” he said.

He also thanked his co-star, girlfriend Lucy Boynton, calling her the heart of the film. Speaking to PTI about the challenges of playing Mercury in November last year ahead of the film’s India release, Malek had said it was a challenging task for him to do justice to Mercury’s portrayal.

Malek said his aim was to not only honour Mercury’s legacy but also reintroduce him to a new generation. “It was difficult to play Freddie, a challenge I would not wish on anyone. But it was a story worth telling. When you think about Freddie, you think about someone who was almost superhuman. He defied what we consider mortal humans to be capable of,” Malek had told PTI.

“I have never worked this hard on anything to honour a human being. I pushed myself to my absolute limit to play him. I did not want to lie awake at night thinking, ‘I did not do everything that I could while I was on the set.” Malek’s likeable persona and his complete ownership of the character may have warmed the Academy voters towards him but there was a time when the off-screen drama surrounding the biopic almost derailed the film and his Oscar chances.

Director Bryan Singer was fired just weeks before the film was to be completed for his alleged unprofessional behaviour, including an altercation with Malek during the shooting.

Dexter Fletcher eventually took over to complete the film even though Singer retained the directorial credit, making the film a tainted product by association as allegations of sexual harassment against Singer piled up in the run-up to the Hollywood awards season.

To add to the trouble, the film received negative to average reviews by the critics with many accusing the Queen’s surviving band members of glossing over Mercury’s life and his Indian roots.

Despite the not so good reviews, Malek was singled out for his performance in the film, helping it become one of the highest earning musical biopics of all time.

The actor, who burst on the international scene with his performance as a hallucinating hacker in TV show “Mr Robot”, is looking ahead at a great career in Hollywood after bringing home his first golden knight.

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