In the history of pop music, there is no other leader like Queen's Freddie Mercury, and it's not just about his extraordinary voice, his singular presence on stage or that magnificent sobriety.
Mercury is like something out of a comic, a rock superhero & # 39; n & # 39; n & # 39; whose audacious life and death related to AIDS, which was only 46 years old when he succumbed, in 1991, make him an almost mythical figure, completely human and yet strangely unknown. .
The fact that Hollywood has taken so far to tell the story of the origin of the singer is surprising, but "Bohemian Rhapsody" begins on November 2. Rami Malek, best known for his role in the television drama "Mr. Robot," plays Freddie, and the film's soundtrack is a powerful reminder of how popular Queen was at its peak.
Malek, 37, stars in a feature film for the first time and says he approached the project with a real sense of fear. Recently, during lunch at the Verb Hotel, Malek said that Mercury casts an intimidating shadow. What if the fanatical followers of Queen, the band has sold hundreds of millions of records, have not bought it as Mercury? What would happen if his performance on screen hits such as "We Will Rock You", "Another One Bites the Dust" and "Under Pressure" hit an incorrect note?
"It was scary," says the actor. "I had all the worry I could have about doing justice to Freddie and doing justice to the band."
That concern was shared by at least two of the three surviving members of Queen, guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor, who took an active role in approving the cast of the film, reviewing the script and overseeing the music. (Queen bassist John Deacon gave his blessing to "Bohemian Rhapsody," but otherwise he stayed away.)
On one level, the film, which takes its name from Queen's work in 1975 and continues to be one of the most unconventional hits of pop music, is a direct biographical biography, the story of a young man who abandons his work as a baggage handler at Heathrow airport to join. a band.
But there is not much about Mercury that is simple. Born of Farrokh Bulsara of Indian parents, the would-be singer was an immigrant, which made him more exotic and, for a predominantly white audience, potentially less easy to relate, than the pale-faced private school boys who played rock & # 39; n & # 39; roll In England at that time.
And then there is the matter of their sexuality. In his 20 years, Mercury had a long-term romantic relationship with Mary Austin, played in the film by actress Lucy Boynton. Finally, he began to have relationships with men, many of them, but his bisexuality, although he boasted of the fans, was not something he or the band discussed publicly, even after the singer tested positive for HIV / AIDS in the middle of the 80
Some would undoubtedly enjoy a movie that focuses on the furtive Freddie Mercury, the evil carousel. (I used to frequent gay clubs in Boston when Queen was in town to perform at the Garden). But "Bohemian Rhapsody", executive production of his bandmates, is not that movie. And that, says Malek, is fine.
The actor, who joined the Verb for two of his costars, Gwilym Lee, who plays May, and Joseph Mazzello, who is Deacon, says the goal was to make a film about Mercury that is honest and respectful in equal measure.
"I think, first of all, we wanted to celebrate the human being, and if you explore the illicit side, the free side, the salacious side, you really can not experience Freddie in all his strength, joy and glory." says Malek. "You can immerse yourself in those parts that some might call sordid, but that's not the only story I want to tell about Freddie Mercury."
The immigrant aspect of the singer's story resonates especially with Malek, whose own parents are Egyptians.
"I know that guy," says the Mercury actor. "I said:" We're going to tell a great story about a loser who is trying to discover his identity and flourishes in such a unique way. "
"Bohemian Rhapsody" was not an easy movie to get with green light. In fact, executive producer Graham King, whose credits include the Oscar-winning films "Argo" and "The Departed," had tried to do so for several years, but investors and studio bosses were skeptical.
It also took time to get the correct script and settle into a cast. Before Malek came on board, "Borat" star Sacha Baron Cohen joined the star, and then it was rumored that the English actor Ben Whishaw was ready for the role of Mercury.
Even after filming began, there were delays. Although Bryan Singer is credited as the director of "Bohemian Rhapsody," the American filmmaker known for directing the big-budget superhero movie "X-Men" and his sequel "X2," he was fired a few months into production, replaced by English Director Dexter Fletcher. Variety reported that Singer had appeared late on the set, sometimes not, and Malek had become increasingly unhappy with the director.
When asked about the dismissal of Singer, neither Malek nor his costars mention him by name. Instead, they give credit to Fletcher and director of photography Newton Thomas Sigel for having assembled the cast and crew to move forward.
"Dexter brought an energy to the whole that was contagious. It was very positive, "says Mazzello, who played Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz in David Fincher's" The social network. " There were all these problems, but it came and it took everyone's energy to the first day. He put us all back on the move. "
"We were all convinced that we were going to finish this," adds Lee.
The music, and the voices, in "Bohemian Rhapsody" are Queen, but before the filming began, Mazzello, Lee and Ben Hardy, who plays Taylor, spent several weeks taking music lessons and learning to play their respective instruments. Meanwhile, Malek studied Mercury manners, working with a movement trainer to mimic the exaggerated gestures and rigid strut of the singer, and observed hours and hours of concert footage.
"All in all, I think we've seen most of the archival footage that exists, I would see the recording of a 50-line guy's camcorder at a concert in Japan in the 70s," says Malek. "I studied Freddie almost the way you went to school and analyzed an animal."
The first day the actors acted together as a band, recreating Queen's extraordinary performance at the 1985 Live Aid concert – May and Taylor appeared on set.
"They wanted to see us play," says Mazzello, laughing. "We were a little nervous."
Before filming, Malek was also fitted with dentures that mimicked Mercury's distinctive overbite. The prosthesis took a while to get used to (making certain words were difficult at first), but its prominent helicopters are such an important part of Mercury's public persona as the sleeveless white t-shirt, cape and crown he often wore in the stage.
Careful observers will note that Mike Myers makes a cameo in the film, playing a fictional recording executive who refuses to release "Bohemian Rhapsody" as a bachelor because he believes the operatic passage of the song is a self-indulgent puppet. Myers is actually a big fan of Queen: "Bohemian Rhapsody" was used to great effect in the opening scene of "Wayne's World", the 1992 comedy starring Myers and Dana Carvey.
"He's a fan of the queen," says Malek. "He came with all the character worked and with his own make-up artist".
"The world of Wayne" made "Bohemian Rhapsody" a success again, and it is likely that the new movie will do the same. It's been many years since Queen ruled the Billboard charts, but the band is still popular. Since 2014, May and Taylor have teamed up with former "American Idol" contestant Adam Lambert to act as Queen + Adam Lambert, selling shows around the world.
Asked if May or Taylor has seen the movie, Malek nods.
"I received an email from Brian after the screening that said how proud he is of the work we had done," says the actor. "It was very nice to listen."
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