The Verge: Rami Malek

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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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Comments

  • ramimalekfan says:

    rami malek is just awesome. u go dude will always be there for u.

  • CheddarWerth says:

    That drawl is as annoying as it is fake. His scenes bother me in The Pacific enough so it makes me wanna chat with my parole officer. He actually sounds like the Canadian kid from Bart Simpsons developmental class when Homer works for Hank Scorpio. Follow that?

  • Donna Baker says:

    I think Rami's role in the Pacific should catapult him into superstar status. Congratulations kid.

  • Siranda says:

    I started watching The Pacific at episode 5, when Rami Malek first comes into the series. thank God my son had DVR'd the whole series. Because of Malek, I started over with the 1st episode and got completely hooked. Malek is incredible. Even before I knew his character's background I recognized his accent as being from southern Louisiana. Contrary to what a previous poster's comments, his accent is spot on. Being from Alabama, home of Eugene Sledge, I've spent a great deal of time in Cajun country and practically grew up on the gulf Coast. Malek is the best.

  • Jay Hynek (Omaha, NE) says:

    Rami was outstanding in "The Pacific". I seemed to enjoy his and Joe Mazzelo's chemistry and scenes the most out of the whole show. Rami if you are reading this you kicked ass bro. I'll be checking out your new flick for sure.

  • krispro says:

    Yeah, because all of us Canadians sounds like Louisiana born, disheveled, broken down young men, who have stuck on a hellish island for months fighting an unbeatable enemy, fearing for our lives and more importantly our sanity. Jealousy doesn't get you very far in life. Neither does being living in some inbred trailer park where you think you know everything about people based upon television and movies INSTEAD of personal experience. Get out once in awhile. Just remember that when you see Rami at the Emmy's this coming year. BTW Rami, I hope get nominated AND win an Emmy for your wonderful role.

  • john.armstrong@state.de.us says:

    FYI
    I thought this kid did a fabulous job in acting the character of
    "Snafu". Thought you might find this interesting.
    BTW, the book "With the Old Breed" came in the mail today.
    Looking forward to reading it soon (as soon as I finish the book
    I'm presently reading).

  • edfu says:

    Rami's acting in "The Pacific" blew my mind. Indeed, he does deserve an Emmy nomination. I believe he will become--actually, he already is--one of the greatest character actors of his generation.

  • Phill says:

    He's the only guy in the room. As magnetic as it gets. His face represents so unique a vision of an America we all know. Can't say enough about how terrific he is in 'Pacific'.

  • T Cobb says:

    I have always been a fan of Mazello...but to be fair and honest, Malek stole the show with his fine acting. He fleshed out that character so much that the guy I initially loathed I came to truly like because he was able to portray a subtle tender side without being cheesy. I think the scenes with Malek had more depth. Good job. He deserves an Emmy.

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