Before Bohemian Rhapsody was a film directed by Bryan Singer and starring Mr. Robot lead Rami Malek as Freddie Mercury, it was a project with Borat mastermind Sacha Baron Cohen attached to play the legendary Queen frontman.
That casting was first announced back in 2010 when Cohen — who bears a striking resemblance to Mercury during his later years (the Boart mustache certainly helped) — was still riding a large wave of popularity from 2006’s Borat. But no less than three years later, Cohen had left the project.
In the fallout, Queen guitarist Brian May, who serves a producer on the film, claimed that Cohen’s presence would have “distracting,” despite parting on good terms. Cohen told another story to Howard Stern during a radio interview last year. According to him, there were warning signs early on, when a member of the band indicated that Mercury would die halfway through the film. The focus would then purportedly shift to the remaining members’ efforts to carry on as a band.
“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?” Cohen said at the time.
Since Cohen left the project, it has gone through a number of changes, including a rewrite and a brief affair with Skyfall‘s Ben Whishaw playing Mercury, before finally landing with Singer as director and Malek as star. Production is starting, and a release date is set for Christmas 2018.
But do Cohen’s complaints about the film remain?
Speaking with EW for a first look at Malek in full wardrobe ahead of the production’s start, Singer laid out his vision for the movie, acknowledging the difference in opinions of how Mercury’s life should be portrayed on screen.
“Let’s make an accessible movie that celebrates the music,” he says. “Tell the story — of course — the hero’s journey story of Freddie’s trajectory through that music and his life and make it in a way where as many people who love the music can experience the film, a film that is for all ages but doesn’t shy away from the story.”
Singer’s Bohemian Rhapsody covers the 15-year span, from Queen’s formation to their iconic performance at Live Aid in 1985, six years before Mercury’s AIDS-related death. That timeline would seem to negate Cohen’s “halfway” dilemma, though reports dating back as early as 2010 mark Live Aid as the film’s climax.
According to Singer, having the movie built to a moment years before Mercury’s death doesn’t necessarily mean that his demise will be ignored. “I’m not shying away from the specifics of Freddie Mercury’s dilemma and health dilemma,” he says. “The emphasis of the film is on the music and the journey that Freddie took with these three other incredibly talented men.”
“It won’t just be the dark Freddie story, but that being said, that [aspect of him] also will be honored,” Singer continues. “I would be remiss not to. There’s a way to do it—without getting into the specifics of how I’m doing it—which has been discussed among all participants and we feel it’s being honored, but at the same time, it’s about the music.”