It seemed almost too good to be true. Years ago, Sacha Baron Cohen became linked to play Freddie Mercury in a biopic about the wild life of the lead singer of Queen, who tragically died from AIDS in 1991 at the age of 45. It’s a story that has everything —sex, drugs, rock ‘n roll, tragedy and a lead character who was larger than life— with a pretty inspired choice in Cohen to play the starring role. Unfortunately, the project got stuck in development hell and eventually Cohen left the film, with the word on the street being that there was a clash of creative visions. Today, the actor talked about what went down today on "The Howard Stern Show," and it’s pretty remarkable stuff.
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“There are amazing stories about Freddie Mercury. The guy was wild. He was living an extreme lifestyle [of] debauchery. There are stories of little people with plates of cocaine on their heads walking around a party,” Cohen said, before adding that was exactly the kind of thing the surviving members of Queen didn’t want depicted in their biopic. “It [becomes] a less interesting movie, but you’ve got to remember that they want to protect their legacy as a band, and they want it to be about Queen. And I fully understand that.”
However, the actor admitted to Stern
that he should’ve listened to the warning bells that were going off right from the start. “[After] my first meeting, I should never have carried on because a member of the band —I won’t say who— said, ‘This is such a great movie, because such an amazing thing happens in the middle of the movie.’ I go, ‘What happens in the middle of the movie?’ He goes, ‘Freddie dies.’ I go, ‘So you mean it’s a bit like ‘Pulp Fiction
,’ where the end is the middle and the middle is the end? That’s interesting.’ He goes, ‘No no no.’ So I said, ‘Wait a minute. What happens in the second half of the movie?’ And he said, ‘Well, we see how the band carries on from strength to strength.’ And I said, ‘Listen, not one person is going to see a movie where the lead character dies from AIDS and then you carry on to see [what happens to the band].”
Yes, the members of the band (this would have been either Brian May or Roger Taylor) wanted Freddie Mercury to die midway through the movie, with the latter half of the picture focusing on how Queen continued. And Cohen fully comprehends the mindset that powers such a viewpoint. “I fully understand why Queen wanted to do this. If you’re in control of your rights of your life story, why wouldn’t you depict yourself as great as possible?”
And even in light of the massive talent Cohen wrangled for such a movie, nothing worked in getting the movie made. “They asked me to write the movie, but I said, ‘I don’t know how to write a biopic.’ So I got in Peter Morgan
’], [but] they didn’t like that. I brought in David Fincher
who wanted to direct it, then Tom Hooper
[‘The King’s Speech
,’ ‘The Danish Girl
‘] —they were very specific about how they wanted to do it. But at the end of the day, it really was an artistic difference."
It’s a quite story, and the future of the project perhaps lies at Cohen’s assessment of one of the film’s producers: “Brian May is an amazing musician, but he’s not a great movie producer.”
Listen to Cohen talk to Stern about the Queen biopic below. The actor’s "The Brothers Grimsby" opens on Friday.