Brian May Says a Casting ‘Near-Disaster’ Almost Sank ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’
The worldwide success of Bohemian Rhapsody is undeniable. The film is now the highest-grossing music biopic of all time, with more than $500 million earned worldwide. Much of the movie's success can be attributed to the dynamic performance of Rami Malek. His turn as Freddie Mercury has already earned one major award nomination, with more likely to come. Still, Malek was not the initial choice to play Mercury. Famously, actor/comedian Sacha Baron Cohen was earmarked for the role.
Rumors about a Queen biopic started to emerge in 2010, with guitarist Brian May confirming that Baron Cohen was attached to the project. "We have Sacha Baron Cohen, which will probably be a shock to a lot of people, but he's been talking with us for a long time," the guitarist said to BBC at the time. However, the creative relationship between Baron Cohen and the remaining members of Queen soon soured. By 2013, the actor was no longer involved in the project.
During an interview with Classic Rock Magazine, May reminisced on Baron Cohen's early involvement. "Well, that was a near-disaster," the guitarist scoffed when asked about the Borat star playing Freddie Mercury. "I think we realized just in time what a disaster that was going to be. And it actually wasn’t rocket science to figure that out. But yeah, that’s one of the rocks that we nearly hit."
May's quotes echo previous comments regarding the band's displeasure with Baron Cohen. “There was a lot of talk about Sacha and stuff. It was never really on,” Queen drummer Roger Taylor remarked to the Associated Press shortly after the film's release. “I don’t think he took it seriously enough — didn’t take Freddie seriously enough.”
For his part, Baron Cohen tells the story a little differently. In a 2016 interview with Howard Stern, the actor explained that his desire to delve into Mercury's indulgent lifestyle caused a rift between he and the band. "The guy (Mercury) was wild. He was living an extreme lifestyle," Cohen said of the singer. "They are a band. They've got to protect their legacy as a band. They want it to be about Queen."
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