Rami Malek insists it's not unexpected that his latest project, following his Best Actor Oscar win for his performance as Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody, is a fictional podcast. "I feel like we are going to see a lot of actors coming to tell their stories via podcasts," he told Refinery29 during a recent phone call. And he's right — podcasts are transforming beyond the typical talk show and true crime genre, and Malek's new podcast with Endeavour, Blackout, is part of the shift.
Following in the footsteps of Homecoming (a podcast that Malek's Mr. Robot director, Sam Esmail, brought to life as an Amazon series starring Julia Roberts and Stephan James), Blackout is an impressive fictional podcast that will appeal to the following groups of people: fans of Rami Malek, fans of the dystopian genre, and fans of modern storytelling.
Blackout drops the listener in the town of Berlin, NH with Simon — local radio DJ, husband, father of teenage twins — who has seen something strange in the isolated woods. He witnesses a pilot crash into a tree and a stranger shoot down the town's cell phone tower, all before getting shot in the shoulder with a stray bullet. As the host of an indie music radio show called The Moose, it is safe to say this is not part of his average day. With the distinct feeling that something is terribly wrong, Simon returns home to realise that the power is out everywhere, and that the safety of his family is in danger. By episode 3, we learn that New York is in flames, Chicago is flooded, and Canada's borders are closed. Is there more to this blackout than a freak accident?
Written and created by Scott Conroy, whose time covering the ideological battleground in the state of New Hampshire as a political journalist helped inform the potential state of panic and conspiracy that would take over a small American town faced with the terror of being cut off from the world, Blackout feels like a thriller one would only expect to experience on screen. It's dynamic and loud and has helped Malek reach the next part of his career, he explained to R29.
"As I’ve developed and matured in this industry, I wanted to express my opinion as much as possible without altering someone’s initial vision," Malek said of his involvement as star and executive producer of the project. He added that, not unlike his Mr. Robot character, Elliot, he's only gotten more skeptical of technology and the power it wields. "I feel like I grew up in a world that was nothing like [this]. I didn’t have a cellphone, I think, until I was in college."
Ahead, Malek talks about fearing technology, turning Blackout into a TV series, and, yes, Queen. (I swear I didn't bring it up.)
Refinery29: How did you first get attached to the project? It’s pretty dark, and it's a little unexpected to hear you on a podcast.
Rami Malek: "I don’t know how unexpected it is because I feel like we are going to see a lot of actors coming to tell their stories via podcasts. It is almost easier to get something accomplished this way. Somehow it doesn’t lose all the production value in the way that you think it would. I met Scott in Los Angeles [a few years ago]. I had read a script that he wrote, and I found him to be a very unique writer. He felt I had a voice that would lend itself to being on [a podcast] as well. We got together and kept talking about it until it was time to put our money where our mouths were."
What is it like voice acting for a podcast? Is it more freeing?
"It’s not as time consuming. You don’t have to go in and do hair and makeup and all that stuff before you go on camera. You’re not waiting on anybody to set up lighting and all those aspects — everything is there and it’s immediate, so you can jump right into it and feel fully immersed. There is a freedom that comes with it."
Did you do anything to get into Simon's headspace like wear certain clothes while recording?
"I didn’t do anything like that. I just started to think what that world be like. You can see what it might be like, considering how [much] technology has begun to takeover our lives. We are just utterly attached to all of our devices. It’s not difficult to put yourself in a place where you revert to a world that you knew before that. I feel like I grew up in a world that was nothing like [today]. I didn’t have a cellphone, I think, until I was in college."
Is the podcast meant to scare people or just make them consider their dependency on technology?
"It does bring up something that we all should consider. We all do gravitate towards these dystopian stories at the moment. I don’t think it’s meant to cause any panic [laughs], but it is there to make us more aware that these things can happen, and are a very serious threat."
In episode 3, there’s a great scene between your character and his wife where they talk about conspiracy theories. Were you familiar with that area, and their ideologies?
"No, I wasn’t. That area is Scott’s expertise. It’s unique because this really could be about anywhere in America. We definitely have this feeling right now of an "us versus them" mentality, and you can imagine what that would be like in a crisis, where people would look for someone to blame...without due cause."
Did you bring any suggestions or additions to Simon’s character since you're also executive producing?
"I wanted to be as involved in this as possible, not just in name only...As I’ve developed and matured in this industry, I wanted to express my opinion as much as possible without altering someone’s initial vision. I was happy to direct the trajectory of where we were going with the characters, the storyline, and shape it for what I thought the audience would want and what felt very real. I’m always going for absolute authenticity."
If you had your own radio show like The Moose, what kind of music would you play?
"Me? I would play a lot of Queen music."
Still going strong?
"Still going strong. I would play a lot of music from that era."
The podcast is reportedly being considered for a TV show. If it’s true, can we expect to see you in it?
"I don’t know exactly what is going on with that, but it might happen...Everyone is always looking for intellectual property to find and develop...[T]hese things are a possibility. I'd also like to add that I think we are vulnerable to not only someone hacking into our power grids, but to how we would react and be utterly unprepared for it, and how we might take that out on one another, especially when we are clinging to technology the way we are. It would throw us incredibly off kilter to have the immediate loss of the devices that now tether us together."
Interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.