Why Bohemian Rhapsody Almost Bit the Dust: Inside the Controversial Freddie Mercury Movie
It's been quite the journey to get Bohemian Rhapsody to the finish line, with over eight years of casting and directorial struggles, as well as creative differences, plaguing the project.
Queen fans got a fresh look at Rami Malek’s take on legendary rockstar Freddie Mercury in the new trailer for Bohemian Rhapsody, which dropped Tuesday. And while the movie looks promising, it’s been quite the journey to get to the finish line, with over eight years of casting and directorial struggles, as well as creative differences plaguing the project.
The movie chronicles Queen from 1970, when Mercury teamed with Brian May and Roger Taylor, until the band’s performance at Live Aid in 1985, six years before the singer died of complications from AIDS.
Sacha Baron Cohen — originally cast as Freddie Mercury — quits the movie
In 2010, Queen guitarist Peter May publicly confirmed the project’s development following rumors it was in the works. He announced comedian Sacha Baron Cohen would be portraying Mercury, a decision he told BCC “would shock a lot of people.”
Cohen unexpectedly quit the project in 2013, following a dispute with the band members over the film’s focus. Speaking to Howard Stern, Cohen claimed that May’s intentions for the biopic centered around protecting the band’s legacy rather than a “gritty R-rate tell-all centered around the gifted gay singer,” according to Deadline.
“A member of the band – I won’t say who – said: ‘You know, this is such a great movie because it’s got such an amazing thing that happens in the middle,’” Cohen told Stern, alluding to Mercury’s death, “I go: ‘What happens in the second half of the movie?’ 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.”
Following Cohen’s comments, May shot back, calling the Borat star an “arse,” claiming A Very English Scandal star Ben Whishaw would be replacing the comedian. “We decided he wasn’t right for the role for very good reasons, which will become apparent if you watch what he’s done recently,” he told the Daily Mail.
Whishaw never took on the role, with Malek officially cast in 2016.
Another one bites the dust as screenwriter Peter Morgan jumps ship
Morgan, who’d been collaborating with Cohen from the start, left the project at nearly the same time as the actor. “Sacha was the one who asked me to write it. He was the guy who rang me up,” the Frost/Nixon and The Queen screenwriter told Cinemablend in 2010.
In 2015, Anthony McCarten was hired to produce the movie’s script, now titled Bohemian Rhapsody, despite lacking a lead actor,
Director Dexter Fletcher bails over differences with producer
Eddie the Eagle director Dexter Fletcher, hired in 2014, quit the film citing creative differences with producer Graham King over what he believed should have been an R-rated film centered on Mercury’s life, according to Deadline.
“We got quite far down the line with my version of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody,’ which unfortunately, never came to fruition,” Fletcher later told IndieWire in 2018.
In a surprising turn of events, Dexter ended up returning to the film following the dismissal of X-Men director Bryan Singer in 2017.
“[The producers] sort of said, ‘Look, this is a film that needs to be finished,’ and they trusted me with that responsibility,” he told Indiewire. “It was really about watching what had been already created and being part of that. It wasn’t like changing and reinventing the wheel.”
Director Bryan Singer gets let go for unprofessional conduct
Production was halted on December 4, 2017, when director Bryan Singer was reported missing from set following the Thanksgiving break, The Hollywood Reporter announced. Twentieth Century Fox terminated his contract due to his “unexpected unavailability.”
While some reports tied his repeated absences to a family-related issue, THR reported producers and Malek had “grown tired” of Singer’s onset behavior.
The movie’s first trailer gets slammed as “straight-washed”
The film’s first trailer sparked controversy online as Queen fans, including writer and producer Bryan Fuller (Hannibal), criticized the montage for outwardly “straight-washing” the late singer’s sexuality.
Fuller expressed his grievances online, tweeting “Anyone else mildly annoyed (enough to tweet about it) that the #BohemianRhapsody trailer features gay/bi superstar Freddie Mercury flirting with and twirling with a woman but no indication of his love of men?” His tweet sparked a debate, with many agreeing while others argued that the trailer deliberately kept certain aspects of the film a mystery.
RELATED VIDEO: Rami Malek Is Freddie Mercury in ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ First Look
Fuller later shared a screenshot from the trailer’s YouTube description referring to Mercury’s AIDS diagnosis as “facing a life-threatening illness.” He tweeted: “Dear 20th Century Fox, yes, it was a life-threatening illness, but more specifically it was AIDS. From having gay sex with men. Do Better.”
The new trailer hints at Mercury’s sexuality more overtly.
Bohemian Rhapsody opens in theaters on November 2.