Before [accepting the role of Safin in the upcoming No Time to Die], I wanted to have a discussion with Cary [Joji Fukunaga, the director]. I didn’t want the character to identify with any act of terrorism that reflected an ideology or religion. If that had been the case, I would have said no – but he made it clear that that wasn’t his vision. After that, it was easy to say yes. I mean, which actor doesn’t want to play a part in a Bond movie?
[James Bond] is about as iconic as a film series gets, and has produced some of the most memorable villains in movie history. My character is unique and very complex. Daniel [Craig] called him misunderstood, and I think there is some truth in that.
Cary is a hugely talented director, and I am a big fan of his work. What he has done in No Time to Die is figure out what fans love about Bond movies and put it all together.
[The awards campaign for Bohemian Rhapsody] was a surreal time, but the biggest thing for me was getting to play Freddie [Mercury]. I know he is no longer with us, but I felt that I got to know him while preparing for the role, and I will always feel I have this connection with him.
After certain roles, it is inevitable things are going to change for you, and there isn’t much you can do about that. Having people in your life like family and friends [is] so important, because things do get a little crazy, and it happens almost overnight.
Critically, I think TV series are now getting the respect they deserve. They are getting bigger budgets, so I am sure we will see some big new ones in the future.
It was a lot of fun [working on the video game Until Dawn]. Of course, gameplay is important – but I think we also achieved the creation of really unique and interesting characters within it.
Get used to the word “no”: that’s my advice [for non-white actors in Hollywood struggling to find their breakthrough]. I can remember being in my parents’ apartment stuffing résumés and headshots into envelopes, only to keep hearing the word “no”. I remember my dad saying, “This boy is tenacious!” And that stuck with me. So, keep on going and keep on believing.
Arabic was the language spoken in my family home when we were growing up. If I did do anything through film [that represented this part of my heritage], I’d want to make sure it was authentic.
I keep getting dream roles like Freddie [Mercury] and now a Bond villain. Of course, I have aspirations, but I am just open to the future because you just don’t know what is around the corner.
Not everybody knows this, but Los Angeles – where I grew up – has a big Egyptian community. I think that’s probably because the climate is similar to [that of] Cairo. Even now, the city holds so many memories for me, and I spend Thanksgiving there with my family each year.
After college, I did the stereotypical actor thing and moved to New York, doing plays around the city. A lot of the series Mr. Robot was filmed there, plus they do the best pizza in the world, so what’s not to love?
I love London as well – it’s where I learnt to become Freddie. The more I walked around the city and discovered it, the more I fell in love.
[To feel like a flight has been productive] I might read a script, maybe binge-watch a TV series or try and listen to some music.