Next Gen 2015: 'Mr. Robot's' Rami Malek on Role Model Tom Hanks, Kissing a Casting Director During an Audition

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The 34-year-old star of the critically acclaimed hacker drama — who admits that he's "notoriously a prankster on set" — reveals that if he didn't pursue acting, he'd be a jazz musician: "I can’t play an instrument — but that’s just half the battle."

A version of this story first appeared in the Nov. 13 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Despite a desirable résumé that includes work with Paul Thomas Anderson (The Master), Tom Hanks (HBO's The Pacific) and Spike Lee (Oldboy), Rami Malek did not really cross over until he committed to a TV series. The 34-year-old was tasked with carrying USA Network's big swing Mr. Robot — a starring role that quickly put the actor, who has a proclivity for intense characters, on the collective radar of nearly every casting director. "A lot of studio stuff has come my way, but I don't want to be the guy who picks every other job that comes along just because he's on a great show," says Malek, who's spending his hiatus between the lauded drama's first and second seasons on indie Buster’s Mal Heart. "We don't have a script supervisor, and I'm hoping we get a first AD. The budget is … tiny." 

The moment I knew I wanted to act: I remember doing a one-man show [Charles Fuller's Zooman and the Sign], and my family was in the audience. I could see my mother and father emotionally affected, and I thought, "If I could have this impact with something I love to do, as a career, why not run with it?" I was maybe 15 or 16, doing this in high school, and when you realize as a kid that you can become someone entirely different … it's hard not to want to return to that space. 

My industry role model: The first thing that comes to mind is Tom Hanks. I don't think there's a classier guy out there. He's one of the best actors to grace the screen — and one of the most dignified. I see the way he interacts with his fans, how much of a family man he is and how he's nurtured actors, myself included. It's something I try to emulate. 

My worst habit on set: They call me "the disappearing act." I can be nowhere to be found sometimes. It's just because I like quiet time, and I'll go find the most obscure place on set, a basement or a janitorial room. I'm also notoriously a prankster on set. I usually have everybody convinced that their character is being killed off. You just tell another actor that a third party's character is dying, and you'd be surprised at how quickly that gets around. But then they find out that they're dying, and I tell them I convinced the executive producer to make sure that their character lives on. Then I become the hero. 

Actor or director I’m dying to work with: I really dig Spike Jonze. I'd love to get down with some Spike Jonze. 

My worst audition: I once kissed a casting director in the room and realized pretty quickly that not all stage direction should be acted out in an audition. That was a pretty valuable lesson — the look on her face.

If I weren't an actor: If I weren’t acting, I’d be a jazz musician. I can’t play an instrument — but that’s just half the battle.

Career goal: I want to look back and have a list of characters that I was proud of and affected the people that watched them.