'The Pacific' star Rami Malek has friends in high places

For so convincingly playing a war-weary antihero in the Tom Hanks/Steven Spielberg produced Emmy-winning WWII mini-series "The Pacific," Rami Malek sure does like to smile.

And with another Hanks production in the queue, not to mention a juicy role in the next Twilight flick Breaking Dawn, the 29-year-old thesp has good reason to be sporting a sizeable grin.

In Toronto to help promote the mini-series’ release on DVD and Blu-ray (see sidebar for special feature details),decked out in a checkered shirt, tie, poppy and dark trousers, Malek’s excitement and pride over his work on the critically praised show is palpable as soon as he starts talking about it.

“I went in at least five times,” he offered, referring to the grueling audition process. “From the very beginning, it was with a casting director I knew, Meg Liberman, we did ‘Medium’ together, and I went in and I remember Tom Hanks looked at it and was like, ‘Okay this guy can move forward.’ And then it was a process of just waiting and waiting and getting a phone call every now and then saying, you’re still in it. And finally auditioning before Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg to get the part.”

Proving himself in front of two industry stalwarts was “incredibly challenging but very confidence-building” according to the Los Angeles native, who eventually won the role of Merriell “Snafu” Shelton, a real-life U.S. Marine whose experience on the front lines has left him jaded and seemingly numb to the horrors of war. It becomes clear, though, that Shelton has been just as affected as his brothers-in-arms but has internalized the pain and developed a hard shell in order to survive.

“I think he’s your war-weary marine who’s just been through a lot so far ...he knows how to survive at this point and that’s what guys who’ve made if this far [do]," Malek says of his character, whom he created with the help of historical books and biographies. “When the new guys come in, he knows from history that these are the guys who are not going to make it, so why befriend [them]? And when he meets this new kid, Eugene Sledge (Joe Mazzello) he gives him a hard time but after he proves himself I think he’s earned a certain friendship with him. He knows he can take the step, the next journey with him. He’s a bit of a hard ass but it’s out of necessity.”

Rami Malek
Malek in Toronto

After filming in remote parts of Australia – standing in for Iwo Jima and Okinawa – for a punishing 10 months, Malek describes a strong kinship developing between him and his co-stars, including Mazzello, James Badge Dale and Jon Seda and, an unlikely friendship with one Mr. Tom Hanks that lead to a role in the upcoming Hanks written-acted-directed Larry Crowne.

“He wrote me a letter when I was out there [filming 'The Pacific'] and I think he was very appreciative of what I was doing for the story as a whole. I was floored by it. I think I thought it was forged or somebody in the cast was playing a joke on me [laughs]. And then I decided to write him back and we started talking a little bit and we had this form of correspondence and it blew me away. It makes you want to create the best work you can possibly put forth. And there was opportunity to do it again.”

Going from “The Pacific” to a comedy was a welcome change for the actor who will soon become the object of affection for many a teenage girl when he enters the Twilight zone as Benjamin, the head of the Egyptian vampire coven. When asked if he was at all weary of losing his anonymity after Breaking Dawn hits theatres in 2011, he showed no signs of concern.

“I’d like to think that I can disguise myself well enough in the characters I play that maybe I’ll get away with this as well. I like my anonymity and privacy. If I can hold onto to a little bit of that, I’ll be pretty happy.”

With the way his career is skyrocketing – how many people can call Tom Hanks a penpal? – Malek may have to find a way to deal with fame sooner than he’d like.

Blu-ray goodies

Should you decide Blu-ray is the way to go, you'll be treated to some note-worthy extras, including Enhanced Viewing – an immersive picture-in-picture experience that includes interviews with historians, veterans, maps and more and something called the Field Guide, an interactive guide that allows you to navigate through major events featured in "The Pacific" by searching through four categories to watch animated maps, interviews, exclusive historical footage and photos.

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