Rami Malek is most known for dark, dramatic characters, often with cavernously-seated disturbances. In real life, the LA-born, Egyptian actor radiates lightness of being with a warm, deeply considered but open disposition, a game-for-anything demeanor and an easy, infectious laugh. And he’s just as quick to turn that humor on himself.
We sat him down for some off-the-cuff, rapid-fire insight into some of his favorite things and the cultural staples that helped shape him.
What do you read daily?
I’ve always read The New York Times every morning without fail.
Favorite book growing up?
Hatchet by Gary Paulsen. It’s a young adult wilderness survival story. It’s always stuck with my brother and I. He has the kids read it at the school where he teaches.
Song, band, or album that brings you back?
Lucinda Williams. The song is called Drunken Angel.
Album that is the soundtrack to your life?
Is it a cheat to say every Townes Van Zandt album ever?
It wasn’t until a couple of weeks ago, but the Aston Martin DB5 that’s in the movie [No Time to Die], with all the bells and whistles.
Your first car?
A 1986 Toyota Camry with maroon paint and a white hood. It was mismatched. I ended up trying to spray paint the hood to match it, but it somehow ended up looking even worse.
Favorite garbage food?
Nachos. I went bowling with a group of friends and bought so many nachos for everyone. I thought everybody liked them. I was the only one who ate them.
Favorite dish your mom or grandma makes?
There are three. One, which is passed from generation to generation, very very Egyptian, is called Molokhia. Mom, Grandma, everyone makes it. It’s been passed on for years. The one that everybody eats every single day is Ful Medames; it’s the peoples’ food. And then there’s Koshary; Anthony Bourdain went and sought out the best Koshary place—Koshary Abou Tarek—in Cairo when he was there, and it’s one that we all go to when we’re visiting.
Dish you make when showing off for guests?
I have so many good go-to’s, but I would say Paella.
Your go-to cocktail?
A Cadillac Margarita. I like it cause you have to know what’s in it to make it. It’s similar to a classic Margarita, but what makes a Cadillac special is it’s always poured with quality ingredients, so you use a good triple sec like Cointreau or Grand Marnier.
Movie you have seen the most times and why?
I guess it truly is Die Hard because I love showing it to people who haven’t seen it. Of course, I love Bruce [Willis] in it, but Alan Rickman is just amazing. It’s an unexpectedly great film, and secretly a Christmas movie.
Favorite movie you were in and why?
Bohemian Rhapsody because I met some of my best friends that I’ll treasure for life. And I met Freddie.
TV series you can binge watch more than once?
Veep I think is hilarious. It’s just such clever writing. Julia Louis-Dreyfus is a genius. She’s on another level.
Favorite TV show growing up?
Mork & Mindy and The West Wing… admittedly, bit of an odd pairing.
Actor or artist that had the most influence on you?
Philip Seymour Hoffman.
Favorite bar in the world?
Napoleon House in New Orleans. There’s a payphone in there, and I have the phone number so I can call anyone when they’re there.
Place that makes you feel nostalgic?
When I look out the airplane window as I’m landing in Cairo, it’s the closest I would imagine time travel to feel like.
Favorite restaurant anywhere?
Chez Jay in Santa Monica. It’s the kind of place where you can throw your peanut shells right on the floor. Tim Van Patten recommended it. He’s the coolest, so I pretty much just try to emulate him.
Best sports moment of your life?
I was in a bar in Seville when Spain won the World Cup.
Morning person or night owl?
Night owl, but I prefer the term night hawk.
How many hours a night of sleep do you need to function?
Character you dressed up as as a kid?
I love Halloween. I’ve done every Tim Burton character known to man. I did a pretty good Edward Scissorhands one year. I also went as young Forrest Gump once; one of the first projects I ever did, I got to work with Tom Hanks and mustered up the balls to show him the photo, and I think he enjoyed that visual.
Person you look up to the most?
Obama. I’ve read all his books and most of his speeches. He’s the essence of a humanitarian.
In another life I would have been…
A fisherman. I’m not afraid of long swaths of time being alone.
Advice to your future son or daughter?
I stole this from Lucy [Boynton]: there’s an Aldous Huxley quote that just says, “Go lightly.”
What would you tell your 13-year-old self?
Ask Judy Williams out on a date; she probably would have said yes.
CHECK OUT RAMI
As Lyutsifer Safin in No Time to Die
As Elliot Alderson in Sam Esmael’s USA Network Emmy-winning Mr. Robot
As Freddie Mercury in the Oscar winning Bohemian Rhapsody
As Louis Dega in Michael Noer’s remake of Papillon
As Nate in Destin Daniel Creton’s Short Term 12