The 1975 Queen song “Bohemian Rhapsody” is famously complicated. And, perhaps not surprisingly, the eight-year-long journey to the big screen for Bohemian Rhapsody, the movie about the legendary rock band Queen and lead singer Freddie Mercury, is a complicated one, with accusations, denials, and just strange tales flying.
Its release date is November 2, 2018, with the premiere of the trailer in July drawing a lot of excitement. Yet the stories of strife abound too.
“It was frustrating,” producer Graham King told Rolling Stone. “By hook or by crook I was determined to make this movie.”
Twentieth Century Fox’s own description of its film is: “Freddie Mercury defied stereotypes and shattered convention to become one of the most beloved entertainers on the planet.”
“The film traces the meteoric rise of the band through their iconic songs and revolutionary sound,” the description continues. “They reach unparalleled success, but in an unexpected turn Freddie, surrounded by darker influences, shuns Queen in pursuit of his solo career. Having suffered greatly without the collaboration of Queen, Freddie manages to reunite with his bandmates just in time for Live Aid.”
According to Rolling Stone, “The saga begins nearly a decade ago, when [Queen] guitarist Brian May began mentioning a potential Queen movie that would feature Sacha Baron Cohen playing Freddie Mercury.”
“Talks between the two camps broke down very early in the process, however; in 2016, the Borat star gave his side of the story to Howard Stern, claiming that a member of the band said that Mercury would die halfway through the movie.”
May had seemed to exult in the fact that Cohen playing Freddie Mercury would shock a lot of people. But Cohen later criticized him and claimed that May’s intentions for the biopic centered on protecting the band’s legacy rather than a “gritty R-rated tell-all centered around the gifted gay singer,” according to Deadline.
May shot back at Cohen, calling the Borat star an “arse,” claiming Ben Whishaw would replace the comedian. “We decided he wasn’t right for the role for very good reasons, which will become apparent if you watch what he’s done recently,” May told the Daily Mail.
Producer King had a totally different take on the casting. “Sacha was never officially attached to this project,” King said to Rolling Stone. “I never thought Freddie could be played by a white actor. And there was never a script where Freddie Mercury dies halfway through the movie. Never. I kept my mouth shut through that whole thing, but I’ll go official on that now.”
Rami Malek as Freddie Mercury
Ben Whishaw, however, never took on the role.
In 2016, Rami Malek, 37, was officially cast as Freddie Mercury, who was born Farrokh Bulsara of Parsi descent in Zanzibar City, Tanzania on September 5, 1946.
Malek, born in Los Angeles of Egyptian parents, is known for his versatility. He won early praise as a fearless New Orleans native serving in the Marines in The Pacific, and has impressed audiences and won awards for his role in Mr. Robot: “a brilliant but highly unstable young cyber-security engineer and vigilante hacker.”
The other controversy of Bohemian Rhapsody is over its director.
Eddie the Eagle director Dexter Fletcher was hired in 2014 but quit the film citing creative differences with producer King over what he believed should have been an R-rated film on Mercury’s life, media reports say.
The next director hired was Bryan Singer, famous for X-Men and The Usual Suspects. Near the end of the shoot, Twentieth Century Fox announced that Singer had been removed from the film. Rumors flew that Singer did not get along with King and some of the cast.
However, in his own statement, Singer said, “With fewer than three weeks to shoot remaining, I asked Fox for some time off so I could return to the U.S. to deal with pressing health matters concerning one of my parents.
This was a very taxing experience, which ultimately took a serious toll on my own health. Unfortunately, the studio was unwilling to accommodate me and terminated my services. This was not my decision and it was beyond my control.”
Remarkably, Dexter Fletcher was brought in to finish the directing of the film — and yet Bryan Singer will receive sole on screen credit.
Bohemian Rhapsody centers on the Live Aid concert in 1985 and does not show events beyond that year. Freddie Mercury died of AIDS-related illnesses in 1991.
Malek, who researched the part extensively, said in an interview that making the movie filled him with respect for Mercury. “Here’s a man that would sing ‘We Are The Champions’ in an arena to thousands of people and they’re all singing it back to him.”
“His ability to unify people, no matter who they are, was so far ahead of it’s time. I can’t think of anyone else that was capable of that.”
Nancy Bilyeau, a former staff editor at Entertainment Weekly, Rolling Stone, and InStyle, has written a trilogy of historical thrillers for Touchstone Books. For more information, go to www.nancybilyeau.com.