Rami Malek is hearing a lot of Oscar buzz about his magnetic portrayal of British rock star Freddie Mercury in the biopic Bohemian Rhapsody. But the most meaningful accolades he’s heard so far have come from Queen’s band members, Brian May and Roger Taylor, themselves. The legendary guitarist and drummer executive produced the film and served as creative consultants. For years, they hoped to find an actor who could capture the essence of the charismatic, fearless, flamboyant, and super-talented Mercury.

Likewise, for years, producers Graham King and Denis O’Sullivan had been searching for an actor who could pull off Freddie. Luck came knocking one day in Los Angeles when O’ Sullivan met USA Network’s Mr. Robot star, Rami Malek. It didn’t hurt that the Egyptian-American actor won both a Primetime Emmy Award and received a Golden Globe nomination for the role of the vigilante hacker Elliot Alderson. So, Malek was asked to put himself on tape to play the Queen frontman. Drawn to the role, Malek watched every interview and documentary he could find featuring Mercury and he read books about him. 

“I sent [the tape] in, and that got shopped around [to Hollywood studios as the film wasn’t financed yet]. And then I didn’t even wait to hear what was going to happen. I just flew out to London and I took singing lessons, dancing lessons, and it turned out to be movement because [Mercury] wasn’t choreographed. It was all spontaneous with Freddie. It was like going back into theater school. Every day was a regimen,” Malek told Australia’s ABC.

Soon, the film’s producers invited Malek to Abbey Road Studios to conduct audio recordings and to take video footage of him singing. Then, the actor had to take those tapes to May and Taylor for them to view. Malek found himself in the incredible position of being present when the Queen members watched his tape for the first time. Much to his relief, they approved of his performance.

May insists, “[Malek]’s amazing! Thank God we found him. He’s just an incredible guy–in every way. You know, he’s lovely to be around, dedicated utterly, and he’s incredibly talented. He got Freddie to a T.”

Preparation for the role, Malek said, was “like going to school just to study, to get a degree in Queen and Freddie Mercury.” After discovering Mercury’s more quiet, vulnerable side, including his relationship with his soulmate, Mary Austin, Malek said, “That was my way in. I thought, ‘Let’s get in there from this human that I can understand, and then become this superhuman thing on stage.” He also paid close attention to Mercury’s lyrics, viewing them much like a diary.

As a child, while growing up in India, Mercury was called “Bucky” because he was born with four extra incisors. So, Malek wore false teeth to help transform into the famous singer. And, as far as the movie’s song list is concerned, the singing that audiences hear is actually a combination of three different voices: Freddie Mercury’s impressive voice with its over three-octave range, YouTube singer Marc Martel who sounds strikingly like Mercury, as well as Malek’s voice.

On the first five days of the shoot, the actors who played all four band members essentially recreated the legendary 1985 Live Aid performance when Queen famously stole the show, enrapturing the audience at Wembley Stadium. “Every part of me was terrified,” Malek recalls. “But then, what are you going to do? It’s an opportunity of a lifetime. I couldn’t pass it up,” he told the Belfast Telegraph.

“I started to think about how everything [Mercury] did was spontaneous, in the moment. He is someone who lived every moment as if it was his last, I feel. I think that’s what makes him so gorgeous. He’s so authentic, and I wanted to be that authentic on stage, so I tried never to just copy his moves. I wanted them to spring from me as if they were happening to him.”

Bohemian Rhapsody is in theaters now.