LOS ANGELES--Queen may have opened the Oscars, but Rami Malek was the real champion of the night.
On Sunday, Malek, a graduate of the University of Evansville, picked up the Best Actor award for playing Queen frontman Freddie Mercury in “Bohemian Rhapsody.”
In his acceptance speech, Malek reflected on his journey and the importance of immigrant stories.
“I think about what it would have been like to tell little bubba Rami that one day this might happen to him and I think his curly-haired little mind would be blown,” he said. “He was struggling with his identity, trying to figure himself out. And I think to anyone struggling with theirs, and trying to discover their voice: Listen, we made a film about a gay man, an immigrant, who lived his life just unapologetically himself. The fact that I’m celebrating him and this story with you tonight is proof that we’re longing for stories like this.”
In his speech, Malek pointed out that he is a first-generation American. His parents are from Egypt.
“Part of my story is being written right now. And I could not be more grateful to each and every one of you, and everyone who believed in me for this moment,” he said. “It’s something I will treasure for the rest of my life.”
Malek’s win was a big win for the film, which had a well-chronicled battle to the big screen, but not its only statue of the night. “Bohemian Rhapsody” also picked up the awards for film editing, sound editing and sound mixing.
Malek also fell off the Oscars stage into the audience area after the ceremony had concluded.
The star did his best to hold on his Best Actor statue. Hitting the ground, Malek looked surprised and was helped up by those around him.
He had to be treated by paramedics. Despite the fall, Malek did not show any outward signs of being injured as he spoke to reporters after it happened.
Praise from the University of Evansville
“He was part of maybe our strongest class at that time,” said retired University of Evansville acting professor John Lutz, in an interview with Terri Stacy on WIBC’s First Day. “He was a very charismatic individual. That’s not only on stage or on film. When you meet a guy like Rami Malek, you know you’ve met somebody that you want to know more about.”
Lutz said Malek graduated in 2003, and decided to study there when he was recruited from Los Angeles.
“Several years ago we decided we weren’t going to be stronger if we didn’t do a pretty extensive approach to recruitment. So, we decided to go to New York and Chicago and Los Angeles and Texas,” said Lutz.
The University of Evansville already had a fairly strong record of success with actors, having turned out Ron Glass (“Barney Miller”), David McFadzen and Matten Williams (creators of “Home Improvement”), and Carrie Preston (“The Good Wife”, “True Blood”).
Lutz said the University did a good job teaching Malek, but it takes more than that.
“We were really pleased with the talent level that we had and I think that’s why Rami’s been so successful. He had a lot of competition in college and it wasn’t always easy for him.”
And, as the cliche goes, it was also getting the right breaks.
“We can tell whether they have the ability to do well. But, luck has a lot to do with it, you know. A person can be extremely talented and just not have the breaks.”
But Malek is quite talented, said his former professor. Lutz was impressed when he saw “Bohemian Rhapsody”.
“It’s not like there’s just one scene where he does spectacular things. It’s the whole film. And he’s playing somebody who’s not necessarily like him.” Lutz credits the performance partly to the research Malek said he did on Mercury before and during the filming.
Chris Davis and Terri Stacy contributed to this report
(PHOTO: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)