Rami Malek is talking frankly about how physically punishing the role of Freddie Mercury turned out to be in the world-dominating Queen movie Bohemian Rhapsody.

He’s rumored to be in the running for an Oscar after his performance helped the production become the biggest-grossing music biopic of all time. The film was also listed among the Top 10 best sellers of the year overall.

The difficulties began with re-enacting Queen’s 1985 Live Aid appearance as the first recorded sequence. Malek and his co-stars spent five days on set, working song by song before he persuaded the producers to let them deliver the entire scene in one take during an additional day.

“I didn’t really want to bulk up, per se,” Malek told the Wrap. “I just wanted to get my body into a place where I could do a 22-minute concert over and over for five days and not be out of breath. Well, it’s highly impossible to do that. There were days when I found myself laying on my back trying to just absorb as much air as possible.”

He added that he’d put himself on a “very specific diet” in order to present the appropriate build. “I bulked up for that first week and immediately had to drop muscle and weight and go into shooting young Freddie, who is very scrawny,” Malek said. “I just had to be really cognizant of when to work out and when to crash diet. I don’t recommend it for anyone.”

The actor endured the risks because he felt he had one main responsibility: “to do this human being justice and to make him proud and to make Queen proud. And to have had this experience and to feel some kinship with Freddie Mercury. It means everything to me.”

Malek also remembered the experience of going into character as Mercury while taking part in a mock press conference at London’s Abbey Road Studios. The goal was to convince Queen members and movie co-producers Brian May and Roger Taylor that he was good for the role. “I wasn’t prepared for it, but I started to answer with my best Freddie, so to speak,” he said.

Reflecting on his work, Malek added: “I think that’s the most important takeaway from all of this – that the music and his story are going to outlive us all. … The gift of playing him is everything to me. He’s a human being who struggled so much, with every aspect of his identity, his heritage and obviously his sexual identity. And he found a way to be one of the boldest, most audacious, confident, spectacular, authentic, defiant human beings the world will ever know.”

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