Rami Malek on Papillon: 'Surrounding yourself with actors playing inmates all day long is an assault to the senses'
- Henry Northmore
- 19 June 2018
Mr Robot actor and future Freddie Mercury in the upcoming music biopic explains how acting in a new version of Papillon took a heavy toll
Papillon is a gripping adventure story with its tale of resilience, courage and a desperate struggle for survival. Even more shocking is that the book, written by Henri Charrière and first published in 1969, is an autobiography rather than a work of fiction. Charrière was shipped to the penal colony of French Guiana in South America in 1931 and where he and his fellow prisoners endured years of unimaginable hardship. Despite being beaten down, starved and locked up in solitary confinement while eking out a living in this harsh tropical environment, Charrière (nicknamed Papillon due to a large butterfly tattoo on his chest) refused to bow down and break, trying to escape again and again, including one attempt from the infamous Devil's Island.
Despite the circumstances, Charrière formed a close friendship with counterfeiter Louis Dega. 'It is essentially a prison escape film about two men who make a superficial agreement for protection in exchange for money and end up being tethered together in the most compromising of circumstances,' explains Rami Malek who takes on the role of Dega in this new adaptation from Danish director Michael Noer. 'And through the most atrocious and deplorable circumstances, they create an unbreakable bond and through that experience reveal how indomitable the human spirit is.'
While interviewing Malek, it's hard not to think of his onscreen persona as genius hacker Elliot Alderson in Mr Robot. Considered, softly spoken, obviously intelligent, he thinks over every question before offering long detailed answers. Charlie Hunnam (Sons of Anarchy, Queer as Folk) takes on the lead role but this isn't the first time the story has been brought to the big screen. Steve McQueen starred alongside Dustin Hoffman in a 1973 version. Malek was understandably nervous about taking on a part made famous by another actor.
'Of course I wavered over involving myself with a decision that would inevitably bring on those comparisons [with Hoffman]. I thought I'm not going to shy away from this simply because there is an actor who I greatly admire and respect who has played the role beforehand. I thought we could make a captivating version of this for today's audience and maybe I wouldn't do the role the justice he did, but at least we could create something that could arguably be as riveting.'