In Michael Noer’s prison escape movie Papillon, two actors (Charlie Hunnam and Rami Malek) are put through the ringer portraying two men sentenced to life in prison within the shores of a South American penal colony — French Guiana. In the real-life story based on a classic memoir, author Henri Charrière, wrongly accused of murder (or so he claimed), and his friend Louis Dega, a white-collar criminal whose fraud convictions exiled him from France, become partners in crime — or, more accurately, partners in escape, as the lure of freedom endlessly called to them during their lives in the jungle.
Rami Malek, who plays Dega, talked to Uproxx about what it was like shooting a film inside a prison and the joys of collaborating with a co-star to tell a story.
What was the thing that first drew you to this project?
I was captivated by that book as a young man, and I saw the original film with my father growing up, so there’s a solid amount of nostalgia, I would say. And usually you leave nostalgia in its place for viewing purposes only. But Michael Noer has that rare combination of intellectual and artistic creativity. He’s a big documentary filmmaker and he’s made Northwest, and just the perspective he takes in his films is not like anything you really see out there. He has a very unique way of capturing spontaneous moments. And I will say that he’s unique in that he captured them more than some others I see.
Had you met your co-star Charlie Hunnam before this?
No, we just had a phone conversation. I think I was shooting Mr. Robot when we — no, where was I? I can’t remember, but we had a phone conversation, and we got to know each other over the course of an hour on the phone, and I just appreciated the level of dedication he already had in talking about the role, the work, the collaborative nature. I dunno, there’s something where you obviously can’t predict chemistry, it’s one of the few things you might not even know exists until you watch the film. But there was something right from our jumping off point that I knew was going to create some type of chemical interaction that would produce hopefully something remotely interesting.
You said that this was a collaborative project. How did that work?
Yeah, we shot six-day weeks, and we had the privilege of shooting almost the entire film in sequence, which is rare. What that offers is going home every day and actually knowing what preceded the events to tomorrow’s work. And that causes individuals like us to sit with that and absorb it, talk about it, and bring it to the next day. There’s this sense of camaraderie, obviously, that that creates, and there’s also the ability to influence the film in a way that you don’t often get the chance to. Oftentimes, as an actor, you go back and say, “Oh, knowing how I played this scene later, I wish I could go back and do that.” And we were afforded the ability to not have that feeling that I am always quite disturbed by.
I remember when I first learned that people didn’t really shoot movies in sequence, that was just insane to me.
It is insane. With Mr. Robot, we do — I do this television show, with Sam Esmail, and he directs every episode of it. And in order for him to direct everything, we shoot the entire ten episodes as if it was one film out of sequence. So, to get this rare treat, when you’re trudging through mud or doing continuous days of night shooting in rain, you have one rare thing working for you.