At 41 years old, Rami Malek has this physical status:
After his college graduation, Malek wanted to attend grad school for theater; with college debt growing, he moved to New York, where he shared a one-bedroom Lower East Side apartment with friends who were also in the theater community. His network of friends included writers and directors, many of whom would come together to form the Slant Theatre Project, and they would perform their own plays around the city. While visiting his family in Los Angeles, Malek met casting director Mali Finn, who convinced him to stay and look for work in Hollywood. After moving back in with his parents, he took jobs delivering pizzas and making falafel and shawarma sandwiches at a restaurant in Hollywood to make ends meet. Despite sending his resume to production houses, he found it difficult to get work as an actor, which led to bouts of depression and a loss of confidence. He considered getting a real estate license instead of pursuing an acting career.
After a year and a half, Malek finally received a call from casting director Mara Casey. She asked to speak to his agent. When he confessed he did not have one, she told him to get one first. After having a pleasant conversation, however, Malek suggested they meet anyway. She agreed, and the meeting led to him getting his first role in the TV sitcom Gilmore Girls; the episode he acted in first aired in January 2004. That same year, he starred in the theater production Johnny Boy at the 130-seat Falcon Theatre in Burbank, California and, later, in the production Shoes opposite Kelli Giddish with the Slant Theatre Project in New York City. He also voiced "additional characters" for the video game Halo 2, for which he was uncredited. In 2005, he received his Screen Actors Guild card for his work in two episodes of the Steven Bochco war drama Over There. Later that year, he appeared in an episode of Medium and was cast in the prominent recurring role of Kenny, on the Fox comedy series The War at Home. Kenny's "coming out" story earned accolades from GLAAD. In 2006, Malek made his feature film debut as Pharaoh Ahkmenrah in the comedy Night at the Museum. He reprised this role in the sequels Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian (2009) and Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb (2014). In the spring of 2007, he appeared on-stage as Jamie in the Vitality Productions theatrical presentation of Keith Bunin's The Credeaux Canvas at the Elephant Theatre in Los Angeles.
Malek returned to television in 2010 in a recurring role as the suicide bomber Marcos Al-Zacar on the eighth season of the Fox series 24. Growing weary of playing characters he called "acceptable terrorists", he instructed his agent to reject any role that painted Arabs or Middle Easterners in a "bad light". Later that year, he received critical acclaim for his portrayal of Corporal Merriell "Snafu" Shelton in the Emmy Award-winning HBO World War II mini-series The Pacific. After the intensity of filming The Pacific, he chose to leave Hollywood and lived briefly in Argentina, though he says it was unsuccessful and he has "since found better ways of coping". During the filming of The Pacific, Malek received a letter from executive producer Tom Hanks praising Malek's performance. Hanks would then cast him as college student Steve Dibiasi in the feature film Larry Crowne, released in July 2011.
Those opportunities led to Malek securing supporting roles in a series of major films. In August 2010, it was announced that he had been cast as the "Egyptian coven" vampire, Benjamin, in The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2. In 2013 he played Nate, a new employee at a group home for youths, in the indie film Short Term 12, opposite Brie Larson. He appeared in two Spike Lee films during this period, the 2012 remake of the South Korean film Oldboy, in a part that was trimmed significantly, and later in the crowdfunded picture Da Sweet Blood of Jesus. The two men have remained friends. He also had minor roles in Battleship, the Oscar-nominated The Master, and Ain't Them Bodies Saints. He appeared as Josh, one of the main characters in Until Dawn, a horror game released for the PlayStation 4 on August 25, 2015. He lent his voice and likeness to the character and was fully motion-captured for the game.
Screenwriter Sam Esmail had auditioned over 100 actors to play the lead character of Elliot Alderson (a mentally unstable computer-hacker) for a show he was developing. Having failed to cast the part, he considered re-writing the character altogether. However, after seeing Malek's audition in late summer 2014, Esmail said, "It opened my eyes to who Elliot really was". The resultant psychological drama, Mr. Robot, premiered on June 24, 2015, on the USA Network, with Malek in the lead role. To accurately play the character, who suffers from mental and social disorders, he met with a psychologist. The role drew immediate acclaim from critics, with USA Today calling it his "breakout performance". Entertainment Weekly called Malek's "magnetic performance" the "best reason" to watch the show. Backstage remarked that Malek "anchored the drama" and that his "spin" on the anti-hero trope "promises a fresh direction for prestige TV". His performance earned him nominations for the Dorian Award, Satellite Award, Golden Globe Award, and Screen Actors Guild Award. He won the Critics' Choice Television Award for Best Actor in a Drama Series and the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series. He was the first non-white actor to win an Emmy in that category since 1998. The show concluded in December 2019 with its fourth season, for which Malek received a third Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor in a Television Series – Drama.
Though he was among 3000 actors considered to play Han Solo in Solo: A Star Wars Story, Malek had his first starring role in Buster's Mal Heart, which premiered in September 2016 at the Toronto International Film Festival to positive reviews. In it, Malek plays a man who leads two lives, one as Jonah and another as Buster. Casting him in the role before his success with Mr. Robot, the director, Sarah Adina Smith, said, "I had no idea how huge and adored he would become". Reviewing the actor's performance, John DeFore of The Hollywood Reporter wrote, "Fans of Mr. Robot won't be disappointed in the least by this vehicle for Emmy-winning series star Rami Malek, which both fits in with Mr. Robot's delusion-prone paranoia and lets the charismatic actor stretch out in his first feature lead". Malek next starred as Louis Dega in Papillon, a remake of the 1973 film, co-starring Charlie Hunnam. It premiered at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival, and had a limited box office release in August 2018. In 2017, Malek joined the cast of the Netflix animated comedy series BoJack Horseman (season 4), voicing the character Flip McVicker, a writer who does not trust email.
In 2018, Malek portrayed Freddie Mercury in the Queen biopic, Bohemian Rhapsody. The film premiered in London on October 23, 2018, and became a major box office success, grossing over $900 million worldwide on a production budget of about $50 million. It became the sixth highest-grossing film of 2018 worldwide, and the highest-grossing musical biographical film of all-time. Though the film received mixed reviews overall, Malek's performance was acclaimed by critics. He won the Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Motion Picture Drama, the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role, the BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role and the Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance in the film. In preparation for the role as Mercury, Malek moved to London where he worked with a dialect coach and a movement coach, and took piano and singing lessons. For four hours each day, he studied videos of Mercury with his movement coach, Polly Bennett. This included watching the 1985 Live Aid concert video on YouTube at least 1,500 times to perfect his performance for the film. He also had to get used to speaking and singing with a set of false teeth that mimicked Mercury's overbite. Brian May, Queen's guitarist who often attended filming, is quoted as saying that Malek's performance was so accurate that "we sometimes forgot he was Rami". Malek considers his role as Mercury the most important of his career, saying:
In December 2018, it was announced that Malek would produce and star in an eight-episode podcast called Blackout. Scott Conroy was the writer of the podcast, a thriller about a small-town radio DJ who must "fight to protect his family and community from a coordinated attack that destroys the power grid and upends modern civilization". The podcast debuted with two episodes on March 19, 2019, with six subsequent episodes premiering weekly. It won the 2020 Webby Award for Best Scripted Podcast (Fiction). Malek also voiced Chee-Chee the gorilla in Dolittle, starring Robert Downey Jr.; the film was produced in 2018 and released in January 2020. In May 2019, Malek joined the cast of the crime thriller The Little Things, opposite Denzel Washington and Jared Leto. The film was released on January 29, 2021. On April 25, 2019, Malek was cast as the main villain in the James Bond film No Time to Die; he plays the "supervillain" Lyutsifer Safin. Principal photography on the film began in April 2019 and wrapped that October. It had an initial release date of April 2020, but, due to COVID-19 related delays, was moved to October 2021. To support the release of the film, Malek hosted Saturday Night Live in October 2021.
Malek is part of an all-star ensemble cast in David O. Russell's Amsterdam; the film was produced in early 2021 and will be released November 2022. In December 2021, Malek was announced as having joined the ensemble cast of Christopher Nolan's Oppenheimer.
From 2018, Malek was developing a film for Universal Pictures with Mr. Robot creator Sam Esmail based on the memoir American Radical by Tamer Elnoury and Kevin Maurer; the story centers on an undercover Muslim FBI agent working for the agency post-9/11. Nazrin Choudhury was chosen to pen the screenplay. In April 2022, Esmail stated that the project was not going ahead, but that he and Malek were determined to collaborate on something else, and previously mentioned their talks about another movie project. During the press tour for Bohemian Rhapsody, Malek said he is working on a film, one he plans to write, produce, and direct himself on a small budget, since it is a story that he says "might get passed on by studios looking for something a bit more broad and commercial".