Queen drummer and founding member Roger Taylor recently spoke out about the original plan to make “Bohemian Rhapsody” with Sacha Baron Cohen starring as band frontman Freddie Mercury. Years before Rami Malek won an Oscar for playing Mercury in the Queen biographical drama, the film was a long-running passion project for “Borat” mastermind Baron Cohen. The comedian’s Freddie Mercury movie started as an idea from “The Crown” creator Peter Morgan and courted the likes of David Fincher, Tom Hooper, and Stephen Frears to direct. The latter director ultimately landed the job.
“I think he would have been utter shit. Sacha is pushy, if nothing else,” Taylor recently told Classic Rock magazine (via Metro). “He’s also six inches too tall. But I watched his last five films and came to the conclusion he’s not a very good actor. I might be wrong there. I thought he was an utterly brilliant subversive comedian, that’s what he’s great at. Anyway, I think Rami did a brilliant job in an almost impossible role.”
As Frears said in a 2018 interview with Vulture, Baron Cohen’s Queen movie fell apart quickly because Taylor and band co-founder Brian May had a “certain amount of caution” over Cohen’s vision, which they feared would not preserve Mercury’s legacy the way they intended. Frears said Cohen was committed to making a biopic that was a “gritty R-rated tell-all.”
“Sacha wanted to make a very outrageous film, which I would imagine Freddie Mercury would have approved of,” Frears said at the time. “Outrageous in terms of his homosexuality and outrageous in terms of endless naked scenes. Sacha loved all of that.”
Frears added, “You could always tell there would be trouble with the rest of the band. Because [Sacha] was so outrageous and they weren’t. They were much more conventional.”
Baron Cohen eventually left the project. The comedian told Howard Stern in 2016 that one of the band members wanted the film to tell the entire life story of Queen, putting Mercury’s death in the middle of the film and having the second half continue telling the stories of the surviving members.
“Listen, not one person is going to see a movie where the lead character dies from AIDS and then you carry on to see the band,” Baron Cohen said at the time.
Baron Cohen’s Freddie Mercury film is now a part of history as one of the more intriguing movies never made. Fincher revealed earlier this year that the photos of Baron Cohen as Mercury that he saw were “spectacular” when he was circling to direct the project. The filmmaker added of Baron Cohen, “He’s so deft and specific. He’s such an intellect about the things he’s doing. He’s so thoughtful. He’s so quiet and thoughtful and chooses his words so specifically.”