'Bohemian Rhapsody' star Rami Malek used to make falafel, deliver pizzas to make ends meet

Rami Malek
Slaven Vlasic | Getty Images Entertainment | Getty Images

Rami Malek won his first Academy Award on Sunday night for his critically-acclaimed role playing the late-Queen singer Freddie Mercury in the biopic "Bohemian Rhapsody," which previously earned him a Golden Globe award, in January.

Malek, 37, reached new heights with his acting career in 2018, as "Bohemian Rhapsody" made over $740 million in global box office sales on the way to the movie's surprising underdog victory over popular films like "A Star Is Born" and "Black Panther" at the Golden Globes last month. ("Bohemian Rhapsody" fell short in the best picture category at the Oscars this weekend, losing to "Green Book.")

But, Malek's acting career got off to an uncertain start more than a decade ago. In his early 20s, Malek was an aspiring actor who had to work part-time jobs delivering pizza and making falafel sandwiches at restaurants in Hollywood in order to make ends meet.

"I dreamed to work in [Hollywood's] studios, not its restaurants," Malek told Egyptian newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm in a 2015 interview that has been translated into English. (Malek was born in Los Angeles to Egyptian immigrant parents.)

Malek, who moved back to his hometown of Los Angeles not long after graduating from the University of Evansville in Indiana with theater degree in 2003, tried and failed for about a year-and-a-half to land meetings with Hollywood casting directors despite not having an agent to represent him.

"There were times when I was depressed and started losing confidence, especially when I did not receive any responses for the many resumes I sent out," Malek said in the 2015 interview. "Also, working in a falafel shop when I have a university degree was not easy."

At one point, the aspiring actor even considered putting his acting dreams aside to get a real estate license. "When you're young, everything is very hit-and-miss, and it makes you very leery if it's ever going to be stable," Malek told Empire magazine in 2018.

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Fortunately for Malek, in 2004, he finally got a call back from a casting director and landed his first TV role, on "Gilmore Girls," in 2004.

Malek told NPR about the life-changing phone call in November: "I got a call from Mara Casey, who was a casting director for the 'Gilmore Girls.' And she asked to speak with Rami Malek's agent, and I said, 'Speaking.' And she said, 'Well, can I talk to — about Rami Malek coming in and — for a role on the 'Gilmore Girls?' And I said, 'Yeah.' And she said, 'And, who am I speaking with?' I said, 'This is he.' And she said, 'You don't have an agent, do you?' And I go, 'No, but we can work on that.'"

Malek's career steadily picked up steam over the next decade, but he truly broke out in 2015 as the star of "Mr. Robot," USA's psychological thriller TV series about hackers. Malek won a 2015 Emmy award as the top lead actor in a drama series for his work on "Mr. Robot."

It was a big turnaround for Malek, who told Glamour magazine in 2018 that he ended up paying money to appear in his first role on "Gilmore Girls," because he had to pay a nearly $2,000 fine for appearing on the show without first obtaining a Screen Actors Guild union card. "It took me forever to pay that off," he says.

Meanwhile, used his first paycheck for his work as the lead character on "Mr. Robot" to pay off another long-standing debt, as he was able to clear out all of his student loan debts, he said on "The Tonight Show" in 2016.

Now, Malek is riding high as the star of an award-winning, blockbuster movie that earned him his first Academy Award. It's an exciting time for Malek.

UPDATE: This story was updated on Feb. 25 following the 91st Academy Awards.

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