Freddie Goes To Hollywood: How “Bohemian Rhapsody” finally got made

'Bohemian Rhapsody' biopic
Caption: How the ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ team found their Freddie Mercury – and endured the long,
hard road to bringing the Queen biopic to the screen. Alex Bailey/Twentieth Century Fox

19 July 2018 by Andy Greene

Rami Malek and producer Graham King on the long, hard road to bringing Queen’s biopic to the screen When the teaser trailer for the upcoming Queen biopic Bohemian Rhapsody hit the Internet in May, the entire world finally got to see Mr. Robot star Rami Malek’s stunning transformation into Freddie Mercury. What they didn’t see was the long, torturous journey this movie took before filming wrapped – which included casting dilemmas that went extremely public, the near impossible task of cramming the entire saga of a legendary rock band into a two-hour movie and the departure of director Bryan Singer near the end of the production. “It was frustrating,” says producer Graham King. “By hook or by crook I was determined to make this movie.”

The saga begins nearly a decade ago, when 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. “I go, ‘What happens in the second half of the movie?’” the actor said. “He goes, ‘We see how the band carries on from strength to strength.’ “I said, ‘Listen, not one person is going to see a movie where the lead character dies from AIDS – and then you see how the band carries on.’” (May emphatically denied Cohen’s version of events at the time.)

“Sacha was never officially attached to this project,” King says. “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.”

There was briefly talk of Ben Wishaw taking on the part, but that changed when King’s fellow producer Denis O’Sullivan phoned in one day and said three words: “I found Freddie.” He sent over a video of Malek doing his best Mercury. “I was like, ‘That’s him,’” says King. “‘Done. Found him.’ There was never a second look or waiver from our side that this guy wasn’t Freddie Mercury.”

That sort of enthusiasm was completely shocking to Malek. “I thought someone was playing a joke on me,” he says. “But when I spoke to Graham I got the sense this could actually be real. That was flooring. I felt massive excitement … [which] was followed by the extreme, daunting weight of the thing. It felt like something that could go away in a heartbeat.”

CAPTION to trailer:
To prep for the role, Malek got his hands on as many Queen books, documentaries and interview clips as he possibly could. He also spoke to Brian May and Roger Taylor in great detail about their bandmate. “They told me he was the peacemaker,” he says. “You could tell there was a unique bond between them that will exist throughout time in their music. It was a beautiful thing to get it from them in person and see how much they cared for him.”

Getting into character also required extensive work with a movement coach to nail his distinct dance moves and a dialogue coach to get the accent right. He also was fitted with prosthetic teeth because Mercury had a famous overbite and four extra upper teeth. “He had a real insecurity about that,” says Malek. “If you watch an interview with him you see how often he’s trying to cover up his teeth with his lips or his hand.”

One thing he couldn’t recreate, however, was Mercury’s singing voice. Most singing scenes in the movie rely on either vocal stems from Queen master tapes or new recordings by Marc Martel, a Canadian Christian rock singer whose voice is practically identical to the late frontman’s. “Literally, you could close your eyes and it’s Freddie,” says King. “And that’s a very tough thing to do.”

And long before Malek signed on, the filmmakers wrestled with basic questions about the screenplay. How much of Mercury’s pre-fame life should be shown? How much time should be devoted to his personal life and sexuality? Should the audience see Mercury in the final years of life as AIDS ate away at his body? “It was just about getting the balance right of the storytelling,” says King. “It was a very complicated film to put together.”

In the end, they decided to center the movie around the group’s historic set at Live Aid, which is recreated in stunning detail near the climax of the movie. Great attention is paid to key moments like the painstaking recording process for “Bohemian Rhapsody,” but the story doesn’t extend beyond 1985. “We felt there was no need to go up to his death,” says King. “We didn’t want to go that dark. What we did want to do was really do get into the underbelly of Queen and how they worked together and how they put these amazing library of songs together.”

Shortly before filming wrapped, director Bryan Singer left the project after persistent rumors he was clashing with the cast and crew. Dexter Fletcher finished it off, though Singer will receive sole credit. “I felt a little bit like Freddie throwing hurdles at me all the way during this film,” says King. “Of course it was hard [when Singer left the project], but it was what it was. We were never going to not finish the film.”

When they did wrap, Malek says he had an even greater respect for Mercury’s talents than he did at the beginning. “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,” he notes. “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.”