In Rami Malek’s interview with Seth Meyers last week, the Mr. Robot star detailed a recent incident at the barbershop, in which the barber “came by, and she looked at me, I hadn’t been in there before, and she started laughing at me, which made me feel kind of awkward.”
“As it would!” Seth Meyers, slightly stanning, agreed.
“And then a few minutes later she came by and said, ‘I’m sorry for laughing at you, that was weird, but everyone comes in here and asks for your haircut, and now you’re here, asking for your haircut.”
This encounter establishes a few truths: one, while Malek’s hair situation is not as new as some would have you believe, it has indeed exploded in popularity—yet with all his emergent fame, Malek still seems to go to a regular-human barbershop. (We can surmise this because he did not say “salon” or specifically call out, like, “Sally Hershberger”; the possible fact of his regular-human barbershop, however, does not necessarily connote anything substantial about his character other than Mr. Robot is in the off-season.)
2) Even without the irony of his presence, his barber was definitely feeling him a little bit, which we can surmise because
3) Everyone, including Seth Meyer, is presently feeling Rami Malek.
Malek’s appeal was established in the popular consciousness last year, during the first season of his hit hacker TV show Mr. Robot, through a series of somewhat googly-eyed posts declaring him your “No. 1 Crush” and your “Emmy-Nominated Crush” and, because he is exceptionally well-dressed, “Your Fashion Man Crush.” (On Late Night, he wore a suit by Dior Homme, a moment that was followed up with a palpably enthusiastic email to press letting us know that Dior Homme was “pleased to announce” that he wore the brand.)
But Mr. Robot’s first season ended a few months before it took the spotlight at the Golden Globes in January—winning Best TV Drama and Best Supporting Actor for Christian Slater, and a nomination for Rami Malek for Best Actor—and for the “Mr. Robot isn’t about a robot?” crowd, it initially had a few characteristics working against it.
For one, it was on USA, a network that, before Mr. Robot, was not necessarily known for its prestige television, Suits notwithstanding; other than Slater, the primary cast members hadn’t yet been visualized as leading actors (though those of us versed in the minutiae of Twilight and the great Suburgatory at least knew of Malek and Carly Chaikin). Also, empirically: though it’s an excellent show, there seems to have been a problem with how it’s been framed. Several members of the Jezebel staff apparently still think Mr. Robot is about robots despite this helpful tutorial; other of my coworkers feel like there are already too many shows to work this one into rotation, and still others summarily rejected it even after watching because “I felt like I was being lectured by a Bernie bro” and, more succinctly, “men.”
Overall, though, Mr. Robot has much better renown coming into Season 2, including a recent run of six Emmy nominations that include Best Drama Series and, for Malek, Best Actor. At the risk of sounding too lofty, it’s probably more resonant in this contentious election year, as well. For those of you who don’t know what it’s about but are somehow still reading (don’t worry, I’ll get to Malek-as-boyfriend in a second), the plot is briefly thus: Malek plays Elliott, a brilliant hacker whose focus on taking down Evil Corporation (it’s literally called that, a megalith based on big banks) is thrown off only by his mild morphine addiction and, hmm, possible schizophrenia. That Berniebro scent a Jezebel staffer whiffed comes from its somewhat broadstroke antiestablishment themes, which would probably be lightly untenable were it not for Malek’s gifted way of making Elliott’s acute paranoia seem complexly empathetic and, I’m sorry, hot on account of its urgency.
Is Mr. Robot a well written and compelling show, and highly relevant in a time of astonishing income inequity? Yes. Is it fascinating to, theoretically, watch a guy hopped up on opioids typing code on his computers? Not really for me. Will its brow-furrowed idealism and imitation Guy Fawkes masks seem quaint in five or even three years? Probably! (But we still love it.) Does any of this affect the fact that Rami Malek is well on his way to replacing Oscar Isaac as the internet’s primary collective boyfriend, the hook on which we hang our celebrity crush? No, it does not! Not at all. (For one: I can’t imagine half the industry fashion people who fete Malek’s style instincts sitting through even half an episode of Mr. Robot, particularly in this season, when the character’s mental state is so fraught and the revolution against corporate infrastructure—at this point, mainstream fashion’s lifeblood—so momentous.)
It’s not that Oscar Isaac will be replaced; he’s just too big now, having racked up Ex Machina and both Star Wars and X-Men roles. The key to this level of crush obsession is that the person in question, while no doubt a celebrity, retains a certain level of perceived attainability; the very reasons you may not watch Mr. Robot are the same reasons you thirst for Rami Malek. Famewise, he’s not yet a Clooney; not even close to an Idris. His first leading role in a film won’t come until 2017, in a “surreal mystery” called Buster’s Mal Heart; until then, he’s shooting Mr. Robot in Brooklyn and Chinatown, walking around New York, and being 35, a pretty good transitional age for a man settling into his manhood.
It’s this illusion of commonality that, I think, ropes the masses into the internet crush. Even Matt Damon was once a Rami, an Oscar; he married a barkeep he met on location in Miami. Rami even dates his coworker—just like us! He’s on the precipice of someone we might know (or at the very least, someone we might run into at Baby’s, like an adult Penn Badgley) and someone upon whom we can superimpose all our wishes and desires—even if, or maybe because, he plays a gravel-voiced, hoodie-wearing hacker on a show whose ennui and confusion mimics our own.