Rami Malek first got attention playing the Pharaoh Ahkmenrah in the 2006 adventure-comedy Night at the Museum. Since then he’s appeared on the television series 24, was a regular on the sitcom The War at Home, and reprised his role in the Night at the Museum sequel Battle at the Smithsonian. But his biggest role to date was playing the cocky U.S. Marine Merriell ‘Snafu’ Shelton in HBO’s 10-part World War II miniseries The Pacific.
Produced by Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg as a follow-up to their 2001 miniseries Band of Brothers, The Pacific is based on the memoirs With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa by Eugene Sledge and Helmet for My Pillow by Robert Leckie, and focuses on the U.S. Marines battle with the Japanese in the Pacific during WWII. It’s an intense look at what these young men went through physically and emotionally, and doesn’t glorify the war or create false heroes.
Criticize This!: How did you get involved with The Pacific?
Rami Malek: I was working on a TV show and one of the make-up artists was dating a producer from The Pacific. She told him I had an affinity with history and war, and she got me in touch with him. We started to hang out and got along and he brought me in.
CT!: How much research did you do on the real Merriell Shelton?
RM: I tried to learn as much as possible by reading the book [With the Old Breed]. There was a lot of information in that story and it gave me a good idea as to who this man was. I researched where he was born, where he came from, what he was doing during the depression, and I learned a lot about him and got to know him very well.
CT!: Did you have to do much training for the part?
RM: After we got the parts they told us we had to be between six to eight per cent body fat. Tom Hanks wanted us to have the look of the period and the era. We took it a little bit too far sometimes and everybody was having contests to see who could get the thinnest.
CT!: On TV it looks like a real war going on. How was it behind the scenes for you?
RM: We did this boot camp which was great for comradery and that really translated into the show. You had to try to get away from all this misery you were portraying by having some laughter. There was a lot of kidding around.
CT!: How was this role different for you than your previous film and television work?
RM: The scope of this project was enormous and being under the tutelage of Tom Hanks and some incredible directors, such as Tim Van Patten, was an experience that I will learn from and treasure [always].
CT!: How much involvement did Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg have with you on set?
RM: With me on set hardly any. But they would get all the dailies and were very involved in the production. Tom was doing a lot of rewrites on the scripts as well and kept in contact with some of us.
CT!: You obviously made an impression on Tom Hanks as you’re in his next film Larry Crowne.
RM: We all had joked when we were working on the miniseries how we just wanted to get on a rom-com when we got home. [Larry Crowne] is not so much a romantic comedy, but it’s definitely a very funny and enjoyable film. To be working alongside him again is just a testament to who he is.
CT!: What do you hope viewers get out of The Pacific?
RM: I hope the audience will be able to find another way to acknowledge what these men went through for their children and grandchildren and for all of us.