Between Bohemian Rhapsody, A Star is Born and the up-and-coming Rocketman, you could certainly say that we’re truly spoilt for choice right now when it comes to music-fueled biopics centered on great singer-songwriters.
A Star is Born is the real outlier, of course, as it’s already been made several times, but in the case of Bohemian Rhapsody, we’re given a chance to watch Rami Malek disappear into the role of Freddie Mercury, Queen’s iconic frontman who redefined the parameters of pop music.
But things could’ve turned out very differently if the original iteration of the project went ahead, as Sacha Baron Cohen was once set to star and now, in an interview with Vulture, Stephen Frears (who was initially set to direct) has opened up about what the actor had envisioned.
“Sacha wanted to make a very outrageous film, which I would imagine Freddie Mercury would have approved of. Outrageous in terms of his homosexuality and outrageous in terms of endless naked scenes. Sacha loved all of that. You could always tell there would be trouble with the rest of the band though because [Sacha] was so outrageous and they weren’t. They were much more conventional.”
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Meanwhile, a studio exec added this:
“I’m not sure whether Sacha was attached from the very beginning of Sony’s involvement, but there was definitely a period where [he] was meant to star and he and the studio met with directors,” the executive says. “It was a biopic of Freddie more than the story of the band, although a portion of the structure dealt with the ups and downs of the band, but always from Freddie’s POV.”
People often forget how crazy and wild Mercury was in his life. He threw parties with little people walking around with platters of drugs, had an aborted collaboration with Michael Jackson and found himself caught up in all kinds of other misadventures. Cohen could’ve nailed the pinball like energy of Mercury in his sleep and as such, it’s a shame he ended up departing the project.
Thankfully, though, Malek delivers one of those rare performances that can still be appreciated in light of the muck surrounding it. That’s not to say that Bohemian Rhapsody is a terrible movie, but by playing it too safe and making it a Queen biopic more than a Freddie Mercury biopic, it certainly misses the mark.