Film Journal October 2018

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into a 120-page script. And even up until the last second we were

changing dialogue and changing scenes.

“For me, it was about getting the script right and it was the

development that took so many years. When you’re developing

someone’s life story into a two-hour film, you’ve got to pick the

moments. And with Freddie’s life it took so much work, and so

many writers came in to help to build this story and hopefully tell

the right story. We all know you get one shot in a film at telling

the story and it was never quite right for a long time. I would keep

going off to do another movie, then coming back to the drawing

board and figuring out how we can get this done.”

Growing up in London, King remembers seeing Queen

on the “Top of the Pops” television show and marveling at

the flamboyance of Freddie Mercury. “I was just mesmerized

watching him because of his looks and voice and the chemistry

he had with an audience,” he recalls. “I always said that if he

was a politician he could go in front of 400,000 people and just

command respect and show them and teach them where to go.

No one cared if he was straight or gay, which you couldn’t say

about many entertainers. So, for me, it was all about telling the

life story of someone that people don’t know a lot about.”

After much negotiating and difficulty, King managed to

obtain the movie rights from Brian May, Roger Taylor and

Queen’s longtime manager, Jim Beach. “But they were very

opinionated in the early days about the movie they wanted,” King

recalls. “I told May, ‘We’re making a film, not a documentary,

and if you don’t stick to every minute of history and every song it’s

okay, you can get away with it.’”

He finally won over May and Taylor, but then, he says, “the

whole Sacha Baron Cohen thing happened.”

He was shooting Hugo at the time, which co-starred Baron

Cohen. “Sacha clearly had a passion to play Freddie Mercury, but

there was no script and there was nothing done at the time,” King

says. “As a producer, until I have a screenplay and until I have a

director, I’m not going to ever hire a cast member. Sacha wanted

me to sign his deal and I didn’t, and he got mad and it all kind of

kicked off from there.

“There was a lot of talk from him about how in the script

Freddie dies halfway through and then the movie is about the

band. Well, that’s never, ever been the case. The movie is bookended

with the Live Aid concert and starts and ends with Live Aid.

“Then the whole Sacha and Brian May thing became a war in

the press, and for me it was always about Brian May, who anytime

could say, ‘Let’s not bother making this film.’ Queen didn’t need

to make the film. They didn’t need money, so the friction between

Sacha and Brian May became nerve-wracking to me, because any

minute he could have just pulled the plug.”

King spent hours and days sitting with the band and asking

questions about Freddie and their lives with him. But all the time

he was worried that they might change their minds. “Whether

I had the rights or not, if they weren’t going to support the film

and didn’t want to get involved, I would never make the film. So

that was always the big tension for me. Other than that, I think

they’ve been terrific.

“But there were times where they would be like, ‘Are we

actually going to make this movie?’ And I don’t think Brian May

ever thought we were going to make the film. And when I said I’d

got it green-lit at Fox, I think I called his bluff in a way.” He laughs.

“But it was a lot of meetings, a lot of getting together and

I realize that their life stories are going to be on 6,000 screens

around the world, so I understand how nervous they are.”

Ben Whishaw was mentioned as a possible Freddie Mercury,

but again, no script was ready. Then, King recalls, “I was in

London shooting a film and Denis O’Sullivan, who works with

me, called me and said, ‘I think I’ve found our Freddie Mercury.

I’d love you to fly back to L.A. to meet this guy Rami Malek and

spend some time with him.’

“So I did and I think he was really nervous, but there was a

little bit of Freddie in him then and he really wanted this gig.

And I think we would have been killed if we had a white Freddie

Mercury. Freddie was born in Zanzibar and went to school in

Mumbai, while Rami has an Egyptian and Greek background.

But it wasn’t about the look; I wasn’t looking for an impersonator,

there was just something about him.

“He put himself on an iPhone, copying one of Freddie’s

interviews and he sent that to me. And I was like, ‘Oh my

God, that’s Freddie Mercury.’ I knew right then that was it—

done, done, done! Sometimes it’s a gut feeling and I know it

sounds a bit corny, but I knew he was right for the part. I’ve

worked with Daniel Day Lewis and Leo and all these guys and

this performance I think is one of the best I’ve ever seen. It’s

unbelievable. Unbelievable.”

The songs in the movie are performed by Freddie, Rami and a

Freddie sound-alike named Marc Martel.

“Rami sings a little bit in the film, there’s a lot of Freddie

Mercury obviously, and a lot of Marc Martel. He sent a video to

Brian May and Roger Taylor and he sounds exactly like Freddie

Mercury. We knew that we had someone we could use for parts

that maybe Rami couldn’t do and obviously Freddie didn’t do.

So we were in Abbey Road recording studio for maybe two and a

half months with Marc and with Rami, recording bits and pieces

that we knew we needed. It’s hard to find someone who can sing

like Freddie Mercury and I’m not sure the movie would have

happened if we didn’t have Marc.”

But with a star, a singer, Queen’s cooperation and the script

problems solved and shooting well underway, the problems were

by no means over.

The famous Live Aid concert at Wembley Stadium, which

bookends the film, was an extremely tough location shoot on a field

in the north of England with 4,000 extras. It was, says King, a “heavy

load” on the shoulders of Bryan Singer. And then allegations of

sexual assault surfaced against him in Los Angeles.

Reports at the time said he was fired from the movie by 20th

Century Fox because of the allegations, but Graham King explains it

slightly differently. “I like Bryan Singer,” he says. “I think he’s really,

really smart and he did an amazing job on this film. Unfortunately,

he’s got a lot going on in his world and in his head—a lot of personal

issues, family issues and a lot of things. It came to a point where

he just wanted to take a break from filming. He came to me in

November and wanted a hiatus until after Christmas so he could

deal with his problems and come back after the holidays.

“But when you have momentum going on a film, it’s hard to

do that and tell the actors to come out of their character and come

back later. So obviously I discussed it with the studio and they were

pretty adamant not to have a hiatus. And that’s kind of when it

happened.” Dexter Fletcher took over the directorial reins for the

last 16 days of filming, but Singer retains sole directing credit.

Graham King currently has 20 projects in development, but it

is Bohemian Rhapsody that is consuming his thoughts and giving

him restless nights.

“Right now, my fear is making sure that people enjoy the film

that I’ve spent nearly a decade trying to get made,” he says. “I was

nervous about showing this footage here today, because it’s the

first time and it’s kind of like letting your baby go.”


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9/5/18 3:18 PM

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