Six years ago, The Brothers Grimsby star and Freddie Mercury lookalike Sacha Baron Cohen signed on to play the iconic Queen frontman in a biopic. After years of false starts, Baron Cohen officially left the project in 2013, and in a new interview with Howard Stern, he explained why the long-gestating project never went anywhere.
Baron Cohen told Stern that he and the surviving members of Queen didn’t see eye to eye on the project’s tone, as the band wanted a PG-rated look at Mercury’s legacy, while Baron Cohen planned a grittier, R-rated drama that fully explored Mercury’s wild lifestyle — complete with all the sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll.
“The problem is — and I think it’s with any biopic, and I fully understand why Queen wanted to do this — if you’re in control of your rights and your life story, why wouldn’t you depict yourself as great as possible?” Baron Cohen said.
Not only did the band members not agree on the film’s proposed rating, but they had a specific vision of the biopic’s narrative structure, too. Mercury died in 1991 at the age of 45 due to complications from AIDS, and Baron Cohen told Stern that an unnamed member of Queen wanted Mercury’s death to happen somewhere in the middle of the movie, with the second half focusing on how the band forged on in the aftermath of Mercury’s loss.
“I said, ‘Listen, not one person is going to see a movie where the lead character dies from AIDS and then you see the band carry on,’” Baron Cohen said.
Even with Baron Cohen and the band’s differing viewpoints, the project did move forward for a while, and Baron Cohen said that he initially tapped Frost/Nixon writer Peter Morgan to pen the script and that David Fincher and Tom Hooper both expressed interest in directing. But ultimately, creative differences put the entire project on an indefinite hold.
“The remaining members are still great musicians,” Baron Cohen added. “Brian May is an amazing musician; he wrote half their stuff. But he’s not a great movie producer.”
Listen to a clip from Baron Cohen’s interview with Stern below.