The Verge: Rami Malek
Just when you thought you had a handle on HBO's WWII miniseries The Pacific, along came Rami Malek to mess with your expectations. As the war-ravaged Merriell "Snafu" Shelton, Malek is haunting and morally ambiguous, with a Cajun drawl that's creepy one moment and heartbreaking the next. It isn't just the character, though; Malek seems to operate on an entirely different wavelength from the other actors, with an interest in discovering unique cadences and behavior that has helped to make his past roles as a suicide bomber on this season of 24 and a gay teen in The War at Home just as memorable.
As The Pacific draws to a close, Movieline spoke to the 28-year-old actor about how difficult the miniseries has been to shake, and what's next for him in the Tom Hanks-directed Larry Crowne.
You shot this so long ago, and it's such a juicy role for you. Have you been anxious for it to come out so that people can finally see it?
It was actually the opposite. When we finished, I was so torn up by the whole thing that I was not in the mood to go out and get another job or another audition. I was very depressed, to put it frankly. It took time to get over all those feelings and clear them out because I was so submerged in all of that. It was an advantage to have some time to really put it behind me, and to deal with it in a manner that I wasn't really able to while I was out there.
Does that tend to happen to you when you take a role, that you absorb it to that degree?
It does, it always does. I never think I fully shake any. I'll even watch them later on when it airs, reluctantly, and I'm still moved by it and brought back to the exact same place where I was when I was shooting. That becomes another difficulty as well.
Snafu was a real person, but The Pacific isn't afraid to delve into the darker parts of his character. This isn't some straight-up hagiography. Did you ever feel hemmed in by the responsibility you had to his actual memory and family?
I didn't, because it was a way of showing what the brutality of war can do to a man. If I shied away from that, I don't think I'd really be able to express that sentiment. A lot of these men have a really hard time speaking about the truths of war, and in my own way -- not having been in battle -- I got to do it with a certain hindsight. I did a lot of research and I put together what these ravishing effects of war would have on a human being, and what they might cause someone to end up doing when they're trapped in the middle of it, feeling like there's no escape. For me, I looked at Snafu and I thought, "Here's a guy who probably never thought there was any hope of leaving these islands." It began to be his own world, in which he could practically get away with anything, knowing it was his only way to survive.
His relationship with Eugene Sledge is very interesting. It's almost as though Snafu is protecting him.
Early on, I realized that we were going to have a relationship. It was written that way in the book, it was written that way in the script, and I thought if there was any way to salvage [Snafu's] humanity, it would be through the character of Sledge. He's this man who reminds him of who he used to be, or the man he lost on the mortar, the man Sledge was probably replacing. Once I realized that, I thought there was a part of [Snafu] that wants to make sure that he doesn't lose the beauty inside of him, the way that [Snafu has]. Even selfishly, maybe [he] could redeem some of that, in some weird way.
You said you relive the shooting when you watch your performances. Have you been watching it as it airs every week on HBO?
I remember first coming in to watch early cuts that [the producers] had put together. I think they just wanted to ask me what my thoughts were, but it was very, very difficult to watch. I remember wanting to leave the screening room at a few points. I think that was a good way to break it in, so now when it does air, I do watch it. There are some parts that are difficult to watch, and I might pull away and go grab some water or feign having to go to the bathroom just to escape. It's become a little bit easier to watch, but it's still kind of difficult.
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