We Are the Champions
Cast: Rami Malek, Tom Hollander, Allen Leech, Aidan Gillen, Lucy Boynton, Joseph Mazzello, Ben Hardy, Gwilym Lee
Director: Dexter Fletcher
Genre: Biography, Drama
Rated: M - Coarse language
Running Time: 134 minutes
Synopsis: The iconic intro of "We Will Rock You," the soaring chorus of "We Are the Champions," the mesmerizing operatics of "Bohemian Rhapsody"...
Who isn't moved to sing along when they hear these anthems? Who can't fail to stamp their feet at such heart-stirring beats? Who can forget that moment the Live Aid concert of 1985 suddenly moved into fifth gear when Freddie Mercury strutted onto the stage and sent the crowd into frenzies of communal singing?
It's been over 25 years since the death of lead singer and flamboyant front Freddie Mercury, yet the music lives on. Freddie redefined and transcended stereotypes, just as Queen's music refuses to be slotted into any traditional genre. Perhaps that's why the band is such a cross-generational, multicultural and global phenomenon.
Now, Emmy®-winner Rami Malek (Mr. Robot) dons the skintight catsuit and grabs that microphone stick to take on the role of the king of pop rock in Bohemian Rhapsody, a footstomping celebration of Queen's music and lead singer Freddie Mercury's extraordinary life.
Release Date: November 1st, 2018
Once in a while there comes a movie that moves you in ways you didn't anticipate, Bohemian Rhapsody is a powerful biography of Freddie Mercury and Queen's journey from humble beginnings to their powerhouse performance at 'Live Aid' in Wembley Stadium London.
Rami Malek's portrayal of the quirky and charismatic Freddie Mercury will 'rock you' to your very core, as he reveals Freddie's inner most secrets, showcasing the highs, the lows, his creativity and rare magnetism that drove Queen up the charts and into the hearts of millions with their unique sound. Raw moments in the film provide a looking glass into Freddie's internal struggles with love, loneliness and his own identity.
By far my favourite movie this year, Bohemian Rhapsody will resonate with fans, dreamers, strugglers and those who cherish love and family. Get ready cause it's set to top the charts 'again', plus box offices too, what an incredible must see movie.
Michelle Warmuz - Editor Female.com.au & Girl.com.au
About The Production
Producer Graham King was persuaded to buy the rights to the story of Freddie Mercury and the band Queen by award-winning writer Peter Morgan. I was shooting the film Hugo, and Peter called me and asked me if I liked the band Queen,' he recalls. "I said, yes, I love Queen! And he told me he was writing this script on spec and that no one had the rights to their story and that I should think about getting involved."
King knew something about Freddie's life from having grown up in London in the 1970s and 1980s and after a long phone conversation with Jim Beach, Queen's lawyer, King was introduced to Queen founders, guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor, and the deal was sealed. '' As King expected, May and Taylor were apprehensive at first about the project, but King's track record as the man who produced award-winning films about such notable figures as Howard Hughes with The Aviator and Muhammad Ali with Ali, as well as former CIA officer Tony Mendez with Argo, went a good way to assuage their anxieties. "I come from an area of big Hollywood films, and I thought the story deserved to be told on that level," says King. "The film is a celebration of the music as well as carrying on the legacy of Queen and Freddie and showing a whole new generation who Freddie was-his background in Zanzibar, his coming to London as an immigrant, the prejudice he dealt with growing up, his shyness and insecurities about his looks, how he battled on so many different fronts, his brilliance as a songwriter and musician, how he found another family in the band, his reinvention as a larger-than-life performer, while always remaining someone everyone loved who could get away with some very outrageous behavior-all framed by the creation of a sound that was innovative and groundbreaking for the time. The period from 1970 to1985 felt like the most important part of Freddie's and the band's life story, and it ends with the triumph of Live Aid."
Brian May and Roger Taylor were part of the team throughout the entire creative process, just as King wanted it, and their involvement ensured the film remained true to history. "The film is telling their life stories, and no one knows it better than them," he says. "You can read as many books and magazine articles and watch as many videos and interviews, but when you can actually sit with the guys who can take you through the history, who can tell you anecdotes about Freddie that you'd never find out today, that meant the world to me. We all felt that we shouldn't make the film unless everything was right-story, cast-everything else had to fall into place. The bottom line for me is for everyone involved to be proud of the storytelling, to be proud of a movie about their life stories that's going to be shown around the world." The project went through several incarnations until it finally reached the screen, and May and Taylor were impressed by King's tenacity and commitment. "Graham King is a wonderful producer who has been with us all along the way," says May. "There were moments when Roger and I thought it was never going to happen. So the fact that Graham has managed to pull it together with such a great team and cast is very exciting."
It's not surprising that Freddie Mercury still holds a special place in Brian May's heart. "There's too many memories of Freddie," he recalls fondly. "I remember that wicked smile and sparkle in his eye. And he would say something totally inappropriate and wicked. But he was just funny and nice, and he didn't have a bad bone in his body. He did have quite a quick temper, though, and he would react, but underneath that he was very shy, and if there was a confrontation, he would deal with it, and then he didn't want to know. I remember the great warmth Freddy had and how he wouldn't waste any time on anything. He was always focused, he always knew what he wanted to get out of a situation. And that's a good lesson to learn rather than trying to please everybody else in a particular situation."
King is also proud that the film succeeds in showing how the music came together. "How does a band create their music? That's a really difficult thing to show on screen," he says. "The audience is going to really enjoy seeing that. It's not just Freddie's story, it's also the story of how they created the sound. How did they invent 'Bohemian Rhapsody,' which was completely panned when it came out?"
One of the scenes that May was particularly pleased to see included was the band's first appearance on legendary BBC-TV program Top of the Pops in 1974 featuring "Killer Queen," which propelled the band to international stardom, despite or perhaps because of Freddie's outrageously suggestive performance and even more suggestive skintight outfit.
"Another band cancelled at the last minute, and we were suddenly in," says May. "But it was very strange for us because BBC policy then was that nobody played live, you played to track, and the singer lip-synced. It never felt comfortable for us because we were very much a live act. But it made us decide to make the video for 'Bohemian Rhapsody,' because we knew we would look ridiculous standing on the stage miming to that. Because the track got to number one and stayed there for six weeks, Top of the Pops played the video for six weeks. We didn't realise that it was going to go all around the world and have the same effect. In Australia for example, where we hadn't made much of a mark, it was enormous. That video really turned us into stars."
The film begins and ends with Queen's iconic Live Aid performance. Live Aid was one of the most important cultural events of the 1980s, bringing together the world's biggest superstars in a benefit concert on two stages, Wembley Stadium in London and the John F Kennedy Stadium in Philadelphia, on July 13, 1985. Organised by Bob Geldof and Midge Ure to raise funds for those affected by the famine in Ethiopia, the concert was one of the largest satellite link-ups and TV broadcasts of all time, watched by an audience totaling 1.9 billion in 150 countries around the world.
The decision to bookend the story with that incredible live performance made perfect sense to King and the team. The concert came at a pivotal moment as it brought the band back together after Mercury's move to Germany, where he recorded two solo albums. It also came at a time when Mercury was at his lowest ebb, under the influence of Paul Prenter, surrounded by hangers-on who were exploiting Mercury's generosity, and falling dangerously into a spiral of drug and alcohol abuse. Queen's performance was a shot in the arm for the Live Aid organisers. "People were watching in the UK, but they weren't calling in to pledge money, which was what the whole concert was about," says King.
"Freddie came on and did a set that the band had rehearsed for three weeks, so it was a perfect 20-minute set, and he brought everyone together. He made them realise what the event was all about."
King believes Mercury's multi-cultural background went some way to explaining why this happened. "I think Freddie was somebody who brought people together, no matter your race, your sexuality, your nationality; people joined together when Freddie came on stage. It was a moment that gave you the chills.
When Freddie told people to phone in, people listened and started phoning in. Queen got the largest single donation, around £1million, which in those days was huge!"
Everyone has their own personal memories of the day, but it had a special significance for those who performed there, especially Brian May. "I can remember the rush, everything's fast and it's exciting," he recalls. "Because it was a one-off and kind of terrifying in a very nice way. Like every gig, there was that great relief coming off the stage. You're just glad nothing terrible happened, there were no train wrecks, and you've kind of acquitted yourself well. It was a great feeling, and I remember Bob Geldof was very pleased. It's a great memory because everyone brushed their egos aside and supported and encouraged each other."
Casting The Film
Finding the right actors to take on the roles was a daunting experience, particularly when it came to casting Freddie Mercury. The role is challenging. Not only did the actor have to be able to convey Mercury's emotional complexity, but, given the film's many recreations of Queen's live performances, he also had to understand about movement and dance, which were so important to Mercury's stage persona.
Graham King describes the emotional journey Mercury went through during his life: "Freddie was a guy who didn't stand for anything. He was a fighter. It wasn't easy being an immigrant in the UK in those days.
He didn't become a star immediately, he wasn't an overnight success. He became one by fighting, by not accepting 'no,' by not being negative and by always fighting back from the knocks with something bigger and better. That's what Queen managed to do so well in their music. Every time you thought you'd heard the best of Queen, a song would come along and blow your mind."
Rami Malek, the Emmy®-winning, Los Angeles-born star of TV's Mr. Robot, was the actor who King and the filmmakers chose to step into Mercury's shoes. Malek loved the music and was thrilled about having the chance to find out more about this musical icon. "I knew that Queen was massive and Freddie Mercury was an icon and a hero to so many," says Malek. "But I don't think I completely understood just how important he is to so many people across the world. Queen's fan base is massive. I was always a fan of Queen and Freddie Mercury, but it was only when I started researching the band that I realised they began in the 1970s, when they all had long hair and black fingernails and wore outrageous outfits. I think most people identify Freddie as this crop-haired, mustachioed, tank top wearing, muscular man who had a ton of bravado and machismo. It was astonishing to get to know the many versions and the very sweet side of him as well."
Rami Malek's initial trepidation over taking on such an iconic role soon subsided. "When you set out to play Freddie Mercury, you think, how am I ever going to fill those shoes?" he says. "I just attacked it as I would any other role. So I stripped out his achievements in terms of his performing-his ability to rule the stage, his singing, his piano playing-and found a very complicated man at the center, who was trying to discover his identity. That was something I knew how to tackle. If I could start there I would be able to have the initial building blocks that get you the confidence to do all those other things.
"One thing about Freddie Mercury that's absolutely undeniable is his magnetism," continues Malek.
"When he was on stage, holding that half mic, or sitting at the piano, he feels capable of anything. What was magical about him was the exchange with everyone in the audience where everyone was allowed to feel the same thing-he could reach you as if you're the only person in the room-and it's that exchange that makes him one of the most unique and remarkable and revolutionary artists of our time or any time."
Graham King concurs: "No one could command an audience like Freddie could. He knew how to play to the guy in the back of the stadium. He thought about the outcasts. He thought about people getting bullied in the world. He thought about the guy that can't afford to be here. And he gave what he got from his roots. I don't think he ever lost the roots of where Freddie Mercury came from and what it meant to him. And I think the songs he created was a part of Freddie's persona that 'yes, I might be the singer, but we can all sing along. We can all love each other. We can all try and find a place to get along in this world.' And I think that meant so much to him."
For Malek, one of the biggest themes of the film is the sense of family and how family protects and cherishes. When Paul Prenter is hired as an assistant to the band's manager John Reid, the band, Mercury's de facto family, is torn apart. Prenter inveigles himself into Mercury's confidence and encourages him to indulge his hedonism. He also convinces Mercury to leave the band and strike out on his own in Germany.
"The band sees Paul as being cunning and conniving," says Rami Malek. "He leads Freddie down a path that became very dark-the parties, the clubs, the drugs, the alcohol. It takes a visit from Mary Austin, the person closest to him, for him to realize that the people he knows in Munich aren't real family and don't have his interests at heart. It's his realization that he's lost a part of himself and that he's lost the band that is ultimately his moment of reckoning. He realizes how much he depends on these other guys in this band and on her. "
Malek was very grateful that Brian May and Roger Taylor were so involved in the film. "Having Brian and Roger involved was crucial," he says. "No one knows their story and this band more than the two of them, so their insight was invaluable. It was also a terrific boost to our confidence just having them there cheering us on. Knowing that they were there and watching raised our game. It's very difficult putting your story in the hands of strangers, but we really got to know them, and there was this trust level where we did not want to let them down."
When it came to preparing for the live concert scenes, Malek took an unusual approach. "I knew I was going to have to sing, to do a British accent, to move all over the stage, and I knew I needed a movement coach," he says. "I met Polly Bennett, and we immediately hit it off."
As movement coach, Bennett helped the actor identify and interpret how Freddie Mercury moved. "Movement isn't just the performance," explains Bennett. "It's everything the character is and has ever been."
Bennett began by looking into Freddie Mercury's heritage, specifically what she dubs his movement heritage, where his every memory of how a song was performed would influence the way he performed it himself.
"Rami and I went through that process with all of the songs to think about what happened to Freddie before a particular moment, meaning his physicality would be a certain way. We traced all the events that happened to him from the 1950s to 1985 when the film ends to see how they would impact on his physicality."
Bennett cites Freddie's being a boxer, golfer and long-distance runner during his childhood as affecting his movement later in life. "You can see the punches in his performances, you can see how he lifts up his knees when he runs and how he sometimes uses the microphone as a golf club. These are all evidence of his physical muscle memory. In addition, he was brought up in Zanzibar with its specific culture, and this shows in his use of embellishment and colors in his clothes. We also noticed the little tricks he did to cover his teeth, especially in the early years, and how he loses that as he gets older and more confident, singing with a much wider mouth and smiling on stage."
Their research also highlighted Freddie's love of Liza Minnelli and the film Cabaret, his interest in the work of the film's director/choreographer Bob Fosse and his admiration for opera and its glamorous divas as well as his contemporaries Mick Jagger and David Bowie. "Rami and I worked on giving a little bit of a Bowie shape here or a Liza Minnelli hand movement there in his performances in the early '70s which then disappeared as he started to embrace his homosexuality. You have to remember that homosexuality was only decriminalised when he was 20, and it would have had a huge effect on his sense of space and his attitude with other people. But as he writes more songs and becomes famous, he becomes bolder."
The Live Aid scenes presented their own challenges for Bennett, especially because they came right at the start of the shoot. "Freddie performed in front of that huge audience," she recalls, "so I had to get Rami to a place where he could be nimble and agile and in the moment. We started working on 'Radio Ga Ga,' and he had everything down in about three hours-every eye look, every turn, every flick of the microphone. From there, he picked it up very quickly, and it became completely fluid and organic and spontaneous, so he filled the stadium and addressed everyone in it. The real challenge for him was finding the stamina to carry on."
One of the most fun scenes for Bennett was the "Killer Queen" performance on Top of the Pops. "Freddie is very flamboyant there," she says. "It's fur coats, nail varnish, rings, adornments and long hair. He's quite thin and wily and has an elegance of poise and posing. Rami is completely opposite to that, so he really enjoyed exploring that arena. Freddie also didn't have the pressure of singing it live because it was mimed to a playback, so he can overact."
The collaboration with Bennett proved indispensable to Malek. As the actor explains: "We didn't want an impersonation of Freddie, but rather to understand why he did what he did. So looking at all those performers and films and choreographers who influenced him was incredibly useful in getting to the heart of how he moved and performed."
The culmination of their hard work was the Live Aid scenes. "Stepping out onto that stage for the Live Aid scenes was the most remarkable feeling," says Malek. "Even though there wasn't an audience there, it was completely nerve-wracking. But also invigorating. I mean, they had recreated that stage perfectly, so you got the feeling that it's the real deal."
Says Graham King: "We didn't want an impersonation of Freddie. We wanted Rami to bring something of his own to it, but we also wanted to keep the Freddie movements that are so iconic. Polly had a great blend of that. She did it so well. She and Rami worked so hard together in creating the character. Rami has done an incredible job. I'd seen Mr. Robot, so I knew he could deliver, but the pressure to play such an iconic figure was still very high. We're talking about a band that has millions of fans out there that have been anticipating this film. Can we please the Queen fans, the diehard Queen fans? Rami's unbelievable. I can proudly say it's one of the best performances I've seen for a very, very long time."
Aidan Gillen, who plays John Reid, also only has praise for Rami Malek. "What Rami did was something extraordinary," he says. "It's a detailed, passionate, risky, uncanny performance." "Rami is extraordinary," concurs Gwilym Lee who plays Brian May. "He's in pretty much every scene of the film, and he worked so hard. Freddie was loved by millions, and there is a weight of responsibility that comes with that. Rami really embodied his passion and his energy, and he found a real tenderness and humanity to this character that I don't think many people know. For the concert scenes, Rami had to learn everything Freddie did and then forget it to make it come across as though it's spontaneous and in-themoment, and he's done it brilliantly."
Casting director Susie Figgis brought together the rest of the cast. Says Graham King: "We didn't want big names, we wanted great actors who could transform themselves. If the audience doesn't buy into the characters in the first 20 minutes, you've lost them. That was the challenge." Jim Beach adds, ''Susie did an incredible job and it's fitting for us though sad for the industry that she decided that Bohemian Rhapsody would be her last film."
Lucy Boynton, who most recently appeared in the films Sing Street and Murder on the Orient Express, plays Mary Austin, the love of Freddie's life who remained a true friend even after their romantic relationship ended.
"I think Mary immediately sees something in Freddie that's slightly different from all the other guys she knows," says Boynton. "There's a light that emanates from him, and there's a moment where she catches him looking at himself in the mirror. It's a really beautiful moment, as we see a person trying to assess themselves, trying on all different 'selves'. That's what draws Mary in, and when they play with the makeup and the scarves, she recognises what a chameleon he is. That's the most exciting thing to her."
For Malek, Mary was "the closest person to Freddie in his life. She was someone he could implicitly trust and rely on. There was a love and a bond between them that was unmistakable and undeniable. He referred to her as his common law wife. Mary allowed him the confidence and the courage to be exactly who he knew he could be. And that's what true friends do. I think they allow you to feel confident in your own skin, to find that confidence and to share it with others."
It was the script that drew Boynton to the film. "I really loved it, and it surprised me because it was very much a celebration of Queen and everything that they created and a celebration of Freddie," she says.
"You can tell that it was written by people who really love him. It was a really beautiful exploration into his beautiful existence."
Boynton was seduced also by the relationship between Freddie and Mary. "The dynamic that they had throughout their entire lives really spoke to me," she says. "Although it starts as a romantic relationship, it is something so much deeper and so important to both of them. She was his closest ally and he hers until the very end of his life. Conveying their mutual understanding was the most important thing for me--that very pure and clear way they saw each other, especially at a time which was more judgmental than now. Freddie really broke out of the box he was put into, and to see how they accepted each other in the purest form was really beautiful."
Boynton also responded to the underlying spirit of the film. "Graham King wants it to be the celebration of the band and the brilliant work they created, and it's not a kiss-and-tell. To be led by someone with such great intentions and such passion and excitement is so exciting."
Of course, just like the rest of the cast, the biggest challenge came in bringing a real person to life. "It's a huge pressure to play someone who's still alive and will have an opinion on this film and the way that I play her-especially in the scenes between Freddie and Mary in the film," says Boynton. "It really does go into some of their most intimate moments, and so my first response was wanting to protect her and not pretend to think I know how it actually felt to be there, so I can only give my own interpretation. I never at any point want to speak for her. While with Freddie, they're trying to replicate his costumes and looks, we've moved away from a completely accurate portrayal of Mary, so that there's a layer of protection for her."
Malek is generous in his praise for Boynton. He says, "Mary was the person Freddie could trust wholeheartedly, the person who reassured him and gave him the advice and confidence he needed and allows him to discover his sense of self. And she said what she needed to say in the moment it was needed. She really is the heart of this movie, and she is what keeps everything together. So the confidence of Lucy Boynton and her ability to play that part of Mary Austin is something that I don't think the film could have done without."
The band members - Brian May, Roger Taylor and John Deacon - are brought to life by Gwilym Lee, Ben Hardy and Joe Mazzello, respectively.
For Lee, most recently seen on the British television series Jamestown and Midsomer Murders, the part of Queen guitarist May was impossible to turn down. "It's a real pleasure to play such an iconic character in a band that is loved by so many people," says Lee. "I also loved that the film tells a very human story where these iconic rock gods are portrayed as real individuals. They were grafters, and it was a real struggle in the UK where they didn't have any kind of popular success. They went on tour to Japan, and they landed in Japan to absolute mayhem. There was completely adoration, but when they get home, there's nothing.
"The band was like a family, and they all needed each other," continues Lee. "Brian had some difficulties with his father. He was a really high-achieving academic who was doing a PhD in astrophysics and called it off to be in a band, and his dad really didn't approve. It was only until they went to Madison Square Garden in the mid-70s that Brian's father, who Brian flew in on the Concorde and put up in a five-star hotel, finally understood."
Lee was determined not to reduce his performance to an impersonation. "I wanted to try and find what makes Brian tick," he explains. "One of the problems I found is that a lot of the material of Brian May and the band are interviews, and in an interview, you present a side of yourself that you want the world to see and which isn't completely authentic. So I was trying to look beyond all the footage to work out what makes Brian angry or sad and how he behaves in those moments, because that's when you see the real person. I was very privileged in meeting the man early on while we were still rehearsing. He came straight up to me and gave me a big hug. He was thoroughly excited and passionate and supportive, and he's never shown anything less than that throughout. Even on the day where we did the scene where I recorded the solo for 'Bohemian Rhapsody', a time which could've been terrifying, I felt safe in his presence."
Lee used rehearsals to both learn how to get inside the character and to forge an authentic relationship with his co-stars. "The musical challenge is to try and learn all those songs, but also you have to try and present a band that have been together for years, that know each other inside out, that have a bond and a connection. We rehearsed meticulously with movement director Polly Bennett. Having that choreography was a real safety net, so when it came to the first scene we filmed, the Live Aid concert which was an incredibly full on experience, it became a real galvanizing moment. It was a really exciting way to just jump in at the deep end and bond together."
Ben Hardy (BBC-TV's The Woman in White, Only the Brave) plays drummer Roger Taylor, who served as consultant on the film alongside Brian May. Hardy recalls how he got the role: "It was a very daunting task to play Roger Taylor, as he is a fantastic drummer, and I haven't drummed a day in my life. Which I wasn't completely honest about when I auditioned for the part! I said I could drum, and the director said, 'Okay, great, could you put together a video of this track?' And I was like, 'You know, yeah, sure, of course'. And I went home, bought the cheapest drum kit I could find and just had lessons every day for a couple of weeks. I put together a tape to show to casting. And luckily it was good enough. Then the real work started--10 hours of intensive drumming every day with instructor Brett Morgan. It was a crash course in drumming."
Hardy concentrated mostly on coming to grips with Taylor's muscular drumming style. "Roger has a few tricks that give his drumming a real showmanship," explains the actor. "He likes to spin his stick; he just does one turn. And he always does a rim shot on the snare which is when you connect the rim of the snare and the skin to create a really big sound. He's very theatrical with his playing, even the rim shot has a whipping motion. And he also accents the back beat by splashing the high hat. He also pours beer on his floor tom so when he hits it, the beer shoots up really high. I tried to use all that, and it really helped inform my portrayal of Roger. I got covered in beer after numerous takes, but it was really good fun."
One of the biggest challenges for Hardy was playing a real person who is still alive, something he has never done before. He readily admits that it took him a while to realize that he wasn't required to impersonate Taylor but rather, "give an essence of Roger, and the strongest essence I can, whilst also being true to the text and serving the purposes of this film. Once I had grasped that, I felt a lot more comfortable.
"I was very nervous about meeting Roger," continues Hardy. "I'd been watching video footage of him for weeks and weeks and weeks, and it felt like I was almost stalking him! On our first meeting I was worried about how he would feel about me playing him, but he was very supportive and just embraced the situation, because he understands that there has to be artistic license when making a film about real life events. He even gave me a mini drum lesson which was definitely the peak of my nerves. When he said, 'Go on. Sit down, and show me what you can do,' I was terrified! But he was very helpful and really taught me a lot."
The fourth member of the band, bass guitarist John "Deacy" Deacon, is played by Joe Mazzello, the American actor best known for Jurassic Park and the HBO series The Pacific.
"I describe John as the accidental rock star," says Mazzello. "This just happened to him, whereas I think the other guys grew up wanting to be famous musicians. John was perfectly content just working in electronics and fixing televisions. He loved playing music and had a knack for it, but he did it for fun. He also had a knack for songwriting, but he never believed that it could be something that he could do for the rest of his life. But it just snowballed, and before he knew it they were touring America and Japan. He was also the youngest and the last to join the band, so I think it took him a little while to find himself. He's more introverted, but he's also a little bit of a goofball. But ultimately as the band got more success, and he started writing many of their big hits, he became a pretty integral part of the band."
It was the emotional drama of the screenplay that Mazzello found compelling. "I thought it was a beautiful and really moving story about the journey all four members of Queen went through," he says. "I found John Deacon so interesting. He's a little bit of an enigma. He plays the part of referee when the three others argue and settles everything with a quick word. He's the king of the one-liner. Portraying his character, learning how to play an instrument, learning a Midlands accent which I'd never heard before, all this presented a really fun challenge, and I really wanted to be a part of it."
To prepare for the part, Mazzello scoured the internet for videos of the band. "I found every interview John ever did, any live footage of him playing, any behind the scenes footage, every documentary," he says. "I watched it all just to get a sense of who he was, how he fitted in, how he felt about himself in the context of the band and how he changed over time. Those are what I call the macro elements. And it's important to stay very faithful to those. But we were making a movie, and there's a 99% chance that the lines we're saying are not true to life. However, as long as you can make the words that you say and scenes that you play-what I call the micro elements-fit those macro elements, that's the way in to playing a character who is alive and is well-known and who people are going to have strong opinions about."
Mazzello had fun brushing up his guitar skills for the film. He had learned to play guitar a decade or so ago and had to familiarize himself with the bass. "The right hand was more difficult because it involves a lot of finger picking," he explains. "You hold the bass differently, and you don't typically have a pick. The bass is the bridge between the percussions and the guitars, so you're often playing the harmonies rather than the main melody and coming in at odd points. So you have to think about music differently. I had six weeks of rehearsal time and spent that time learning how to play the 25 or so songs, even though I don't really read music."
Mazzello was keen to get it exactly right, aware of how much scrutiny his performance would get from the audience. "We know that a lot of the people watching this are going to be Queen fanatics," he says. "I can't tell you how many bassists have come up to me and asked me if I'm playing the songs. I knew I couldn't fake it. As an actor you want to be up there on the stage feeling like you're playing these songs. That was also what made it a challenge that I relished."
Rami Malek believes that the presence of Brian May and Roger Taylor helped his co-stars enormously.
"Having Brian and Roger around allowed everyone to understand them. So Gwilym and Ben did such a great job of capturing their essence as well."
Certainly the cast made a lasting impression on Brian May. "When I first walked on the set and saw Gwilym Lee in his costume and wig, it was almost like looking in the mirror!" says the musician. "He did a very good job of being me! And Rami Malek is so convincing as Freddie, down to the body language. And Joe Mazzello as Deacy is uncanny. John wasn't a very outgoing personality, but he had a very distinct way of performing, and Joe got it down, just as Ben Hardy completely absorbed Roger Taylor's spirit in his performance."
Irish actor Aidan Gillen, best known for his role as Game of Throne's "Petyr 'Littlefinger' Baelish," plays John Reid, Queen's first manager. For Gillen, Queen and Freddie Mercury hold a unique and important position in cultural history.
"Freddie didn't look like a traditional pop star," he says. "And yet he became a great performer and a huge sex symbol. He was a misfit who found a way to become a global superstar. He confused people. Women thought he was gorgeous and sexy; men thought he was cool. Queen is so popular, but they were never really fashionable. They were always a little bit out of time and out of fashion, which is why they've remained so popular. That, and because the songs are fantastic and quite cutting-edge, using multiple overdubs on vocals and complex, unexpected chord progressions which were unusual for the time."
Allen Leech, beloved by Downton Abbey fans for his portrayal of "Tom Branson," plays Freddie Mercury's personal manager Paul Prenter, who crept into Freddie's affections and then betrayed him in the most heinous way.
Knowing little about Paul Prenter, Leech dived into researching the character. "Paul Prenter was quite a malevolent force in Freddie's life," says Leech. "The more research I did, the more I realised there were very legitimate reasons for the rest of the band having issues with him. However, you always have to be careful because you're playing a real person and make sure the subtleties aren't taken away in the filmmaking process because you don't want your character to be twodimensional. There are reasons why Paul is the person he is. You try and find a balance between respecting the story and respecting the person.
"Paul was brought in because the band wanted a personal assistant, and he struck up a relationship with Freddie mainly because they were both gay," continues Leech. "At the time Freddie wasn't out, and Paul gave him an ability to see what the world was like, what the gay scene was like. He was a confidante and then moved from being the band's assistant to Freddie's personal manager. Their relationship became toxic when Paul took Freddie away from the band, suggested he go solo and then got rid of John Reid in a very sly way."
For Leech, two scenes are pivotal to Freddie and Paul's relationship. The first at Rockfield Farm Studios when the band is recording the "Bohemian Rhapsody" album and Paul kisses Freddie, and they realise there's an understanding between them. The second is in Munich, when Freddie sees the truth and, in the driving rain, banishes Paul from his life. "Freddie realises that Paul was never really there for him, Paul was there for himself. When Freddie says, 'you're out, you're gone,' it feels like a breakup scene rather than someone getting fired. It was really lovely to do that."
Rounding out the cast are BAFTA®-winner Tom Hollander (The Night Manager) as Jim "Miami" Beach, who began as the band's lawyer and went on to become its manager; and Aaron McCusker (Shameless) as Jim Hutton, Freddie's boyfriend for the last seven years of his life.
Graham King was bowled over by the caliber of the supporting cast: "Gwilym Lee spoke his first words to us in the audition as Brian May, and we were won over. Ben Hardy has a personality that was very similar to Roger in a lot of ways. Joe Mazzello is from New York, but he's got a lot of John Deacon in him. Tom Hollander playing Jim Beach is phenomenal. Roger Taylor, Brian May and Jim Beach were bowled over by how convincing Allen Leech is as Paul Prenter. He's the character who is going to get booed by the audience, but Allen manages to bring a sensitivity to the role that makes his behavior understandable. And Lucy Boynton is perfect as Mary; you can feel the chemistry between her and Rami."
King had been discussing the project for quite a while with his friend Mike Myers, who is an enormous Queen fan, and was thrilled when he came on board to play Ray Foster, the head of record label EMI.
"Because of Wayne's World, it was perfect that he ended up being the one who is unimpressed when Freddie presents him with 'Bohemian Rhapsody' and tells him the song with never be one that "teenagers can crank up the volume and bang their heads to.' And it was Mike who decided to play him as a Northerner. He was fantastic!"
The Look & The Locations
Given its subject matter, a band and front man for whom style was so fundamental, it's perhaps not surprising that the design, costumes and locations of the film were a key element. Feather boas, ermine and velvet capes, marble bathrooms, gold-plated lions-you name it, the film has it.
Tasked with creating the look of the film was production designer Aaron Haye, whose expert eye sought out the locations which included Bovingdon Airfield in Hertfordshire, the glorious art deco masterpiece Hornsey Town Hall in north London, the LH2 Studios in west London, London's renowned night club Heaven and the Edwardian splendor of Bromley Town Hall in South East London.
The production used the Gillette building in southwest London for the majority of the stage sets in the film. These included 1950's Zanzibar, where we see Freddie in his childhood days, the Top of the Pops stage, which gave the band its break, Capitol Radio, the Bulsara family home, Garden Lodge, the Rio de Janeiro hotel and the farm house where Freddie composed "Bohemian Rhapsody," and three recording studios.
Haye began by researching images of Queen and Mercury. After sifting through thousands of photos, many with no dates but guided by Freddie's hairstyles which got shorter over time, they were able to make a timeline on the wall that went from 1970 to 1986.
Haye and the team were helped enormously by the access that Brian May gave to his archives and historical consultant Peter Freestone, who let them go through all his personal photographs. "In terms of our research, those things just put us leaps ahead of where we would have been if we had just been collecting them from the public domain and from books," says Haye. "Being able to go to Brian's house and go through his personal archives which are vast was pretty spectacular. He has saved every ticket stub and every poster, every album that they've ever produced. Even some of their wardrobe, which our actors wear in this film."
Continues Haye: "Once we had the timeline, I took a bit of a palette approach and decided on the colors of 1970, 1975, 1978, 1982, etc. We made a longer timeline that had certain touchstones along the way, and we tried to stick to those palettes in between construction and paint and set dec and wardrobe and everything else. As the '60s turned into the '70s, there's wonderful warm tones that are avocado and orange and brown-warm, earthy colors. From the mid to late '70s, it starts to get almost a disco palette-the primary colors start to pop a little bit more until we get to the early '80s, and there's a neon and brighter colored palette. These different eras have really distinct looks, and it's really a fantastic period to work with. Those 15 years, from 1970 to1985, a lot of stuff happened, and visually there's a lot to play with."
One of the key earlier sets is Freddie's family home in Feltham, Middlesex. Haye and his team were fortunate to be allowed into the real Bulsara home, now occupied by another family.
"Standing in what was Freddie's bedroom, we got a sense of the space," he says. "We took the house and its neighbors and made them bigger for staging reasons and put our own flavor on it. At this point in the film, Freddie is a young art student, so Haye created a bedroom filled with notebooks of drawings and sketches. We really tried from an architectural standpoint to tell the story of the area that he grew up in and the economic circumstances that he grew up in, so we included visual influences from India and Zanzibar."
Of course, Haye collaborated with his fellow heads of department all through the creation process to tell the story of the film visually. "Department heads have to cooperate to make the final product and we know that what we're trying to do is create an image that's true to life but is also speaks to the story that we're trying to tell," he explains. "Those early conversations with cinematographer Tom Sigel helped define those color palettes. That goes for stage lighting as well because the stage lighting was key for all of the live gigs. We wanted to make sure that each of those concepts along the way fell within a certain look. Hopefully, that comes across. Tom is an amazing cinematographer and just his attention to detail is spectacular. The same goes for costume designer Julian Day. For example, in Freddie's home, Garden Lodge, the color palette of Julian's wardrobe choices complemented the set decoration perfectly."
Haye also was able to pick the brains of music consultant Pete Malandrone to ensure the musical equipment in the film was authentic. Many of the instruments were second-hand back in 1970, so it was very difficult to find copies for the film. But Malandrone, who also works as Brian May's guitar roadie, was able to lend the props department instruments from May's collection, including the white guitar Gwilym Lee plays in the Rockfield Studio scenes. He also advised on the design and makeup of the guitars that had to be made for the film. "For example, Brian's first guitar, the Red Special, which he still plays, was built by Brian's father out of whatever he had lying around the house--an old fireplace mantle, a knitting needle, motorcycle springs, mother-of-pearl buttons, etc. But it's now 50 years old and would have looked too worn, so the props guys made two replicas which look newer," he says.
The replicas were made by luthier Andrew Guyton who has made copies for Brian May's personal collection. "Andrew's an expert," says Malandrone. "Everything's about detail, and he's nailed every detail."
One of the biggest and most challenging sets was the Live Aid recreation at London's iconic Wembley stadium. The first task was finding a suitable empty location which was large enough to create a life-sized stage which would allow the creation of a seamless shot from Mercury's arrival at Wembley, to his dressing room, through backstage and onto the stage to the crowd's reaction. After much location scouting, Haye and his team found Bovingdon Airfield in Hertfordshire whose runway was smooth enough to build on. The team also had to factor in the vagaries of the English summer, where in July, when the set was being constructed, and then in September, when the film began shooting, can often be like a Californian winter.
Haye had the added challenge of finding photos or drawings of the stadium in 1985. Blueprints of the original stadium, which was built in the 1930s, were easy to locate, but it was rebuilt later, and the designer struggled to find any original source material that showed what it was like at the time of Live Aid.
"We had to recreate Wembley from photographs of the time as well as documentary footage from Live Aid, but we also had to create a set that would best tell the story," recalls Haye. "In reality, the back stage was a bunch of trailers that were outside the stadium. We decided to bring a bit of that backstage trailer feel into the indoor concourse which leads up to the stage, so we created a backstage artist area with an airstream trailer and garden umbrellas and chairs to create more of a fun, inside-outside, buzzy, bustling atmosphere to the journey to the stage.
"We built a massive raised platform about 18 feet in the air, which matched the height of the Wembley stage at Live Aid," continues the designer. "Then we built a tent over the backstage area so it was under weather cover. We recreated exactly the giant scaffolding towers that were at Live Aid, as well as all the posters and the large-scale banners, some three stories in height, and the logos that adorn the sides of the stage."
In a nice piece of serendipity, the team included two members of the construction team that built the real stage for Live Aid in 1985.
Freddie Mercury's personal assistant Peter Freestone, who was with him for 12 years until his death, was an advisor on the film, and his personal knowledge was invaluable. His description of the backstage area of Live Aid helped Haye and his team create an authentic atmosphere.
"As soon as we arrived, we felt the excitement," recalls Freestone of that epic day in July 1985. "There was a good atmosphere. It was really friendly, and there was no competition, which quite often can happen when you have this sort of lineup. Queen took to the stage, and the audience went wild right from the start of 'Bohemian Rhapsody'. And the atmosphere backstage changed; it became electric. Something had happened. Eighteen minutes later, the band came off stage and they'd nailed it. The audience was going wild, and backstage people were applauding."
All that hard work paid dividends. "It was amazing," says May. "The moment I walked onto that stage, it was surreal because it perfectly replicated what the stage was like in 1985 - every last detail down to the amps behind me, pedals and even the cloth and back stage with the cigarette butts and the ashtrays and the coke bottles. What a wonderful job they did!"
Peter Freestone was taken aback by the set's authenticity. "It was a déjà vu moment," he says. "The first time I saw the set I just couldn't believe it. It's exactly the same size. Everything was right, from the stage to backstage even to the peeling paint off the walls and the rust coming down from water pipes. It got the goose bumps going."
The cast also were in awe of Haye's achievement. Says Gwilym Lee who plays Brian May: "The set was so beautifully detailed that it transported us to that world. Those sets made the performance so much easier because you don't have to imagine anything, everything's been thought of, and it's so beautifully realised."
"It was the first time we had seen our band in character," says Haye. "It really was a joy. I think it's one of those moments that you never forget, standing next to Brian and Roger as they watch the band."
For Graham King, the Live Aid scenes had an enormous emotional impact. "I just lost it," he admits. "I was in tears. I had never been like that on any movie set before. All the years started flooding back not only to do with this film but being young and watching Live Aid. We knew we had to get it right-the movement, the look, the crowd, it had to be accurate. And it felt right at the very first rehearsal, which was in the first week of filming. We did a lot of takes long into the night, and those four guys, Rami, Gwilym, Ben and Joe, were right inside their characters all the way through. The energy there was so high that no one wanted to stop! We all came together, and we knew we were creating something very special. Live Aid was such an important, precious event that we felt we had to honor it. And from the construction of the set to the music to the atmosphere to the performance, I think we did."
One of the main locations was the farm where Queen is shown recording "Bohemian Rhapsody". The song was in fact recorded in two places, Rockfield Farm and Ridge Farm in Wales, which provided the isolation and solitude that the band, like many bands of the time, required. Rockfield Farm still exists as a recording studio, and Haye was fortunate to have access to a documentary showing Brian May and Roger Taylor returning to the farm and breaking all the tracks down. In addition, a wide selection of photos of the band at Ridge Farm allowed the team to faithfully recreate the costumes and sets. Haye decided to amalgamate the two real farms into one for the film and found a location that felt just worked perfectly, a 200-year-old oak beam barn just outside London, which was a working barn, filled with horses, hay and manure. Haye had it cleaned out and designed a mid-century style recording studio. Haye had built a recording desk based on a mixing desk from a studio in London's Notting Hill, which has a retrofuturist feel that would look right at home in a Star Trek episode from the '70s. It was designed as realistically as possible, right down to individual track monitoring lighting up the console, working pedal boards and meter bridges.
The studio itself followed the 1970s color palette. Says Haye: "We gave it that warm '70s feeling, so there's a lot of those browns and oranges and avocados. When Brian May showed up on set and played a bit of a solo from 'Bohemian Rhapsody' there, I got goose bumps!"
Haye was meticulous in his attention to detail in the recreations of the interiors. "Freddie and Mary lived in two flats before they sort of split base," he explains. "We built Freddie and Mary's flat set out of the two flats. But whenever we changed something, we tried to incorporate something to make it feel authentic. So, for example, the wallpaper in that flat is a recreation of wallpaper that they had in their apartment, right down to each little speck. And the wicker furniture is a recreation of what they had."
For Freddie's hotel suite in Rio de Janeiro, which was filmed at Gillette, Haye created a set resplendent with silk walls, fabric drapes, smoky glass, low-slung leather sofas and Japanese-style room dividers. "We were inspired by Freddie's flat in New York, which Peter Freestone told us Freddie never got round to decorating after he moved in. So, it felt like a hotel. It was about merging reality with our story."
Freddie's house, Garden Lodge in Earl's Court in west London, is a magical, secluded house surrounded by buildings, where Mary Austin still lives to this day. Haye found a house with an aspect situation in Surbiton, south of London, which he decorated with textured wallpaper, porcelain chandeliers, Japanese artwork, antiques and soft furnishings from around the world to reflect Freddie's magpie design instincts. Although unable to completely replicate the interior design, what Haye was keen to do was recreate the atmosphere. His hard work paid off; when Peter Freestone, who several spent years with Freddie in that house, saw it for the first time, he said it felt just like Freddie's house.
Haye had a lot of fun dressing the Garden Lodge set for the flamboyant, Fellini-esque party which celebrated, as Freddie gleefully trills, "the height of my creativity and the depth of my depravity". The first scene is shot in a single take, with the camera winding its way from the front driveway, through the front door and into a throng of fire eaters, giants, magicians, caged dancers and a gaggle of fabulously-attired party people until we join Freddie and follow him through the house and its decadent interiors.
Haye filled the house with layers of decoration. "First, we have the layer of luxury and then the layer of the debauchery, and the fun and excess that he was having at that time--massive displays of exotic food and fruit, golden lions. We wanted to bring in references to Freddie's interests and Queen's history, so, for example, we had female extras on stationary bicycles from the 'Bicycle Race' video."
One of the most fun scenes for Haye was recreating the "I Want to Break Free" video. "The making of the video is pretty well documented," he says, "and we wanted to get as close to that as we possibly could. And it gets to be loose, and it gets to have fun. We see a bit of the backstage and the area around it. We were lucky enough to be able to find an exact model of the vacuum cleaner that Freddie used as well as the light-up alarm clock that blows out steam at the beginning of the video, and we used an original 35mm camera that we see on camera. We shot it on 35mm just like the original."
Another challenge was finding a location that could double for Madison Square Garden, where Queen played a sell-out concert in 1978, as well as other stadiums in Japan, Brazil and the U.S. Haye opted for LH2 Studios in West London, which he dressed in several different ways. Working out the logistics of accommodating the film crew one day, while the studio stood in for an arena in Japan, while preparing it for the next scene, was a massive logistical challenge, especially given the style changes in lighting and set dressing through the years. It's easy enough to get the actors to change into different costumes and play different instruments to suit the year, but imagine having to update the stage lighting and set design from 1973 one day to 1982 the next.
"We had to come up with a way to quickly fly lights in and out and change the color," explains Haye. "Of course, we couldn't use contemporary LEDs; we had to use traditional lights, and those were hot. The rig that we built specifically over Madison Square Garden set was referred to as the pizza oven because it would bake you! The front of the stage got pretty hot up there, but the guys never complained."
Costumes, Hair & Makeup
Working alongside Haye to create the look of the film were costume designer Julian Day and makeup and hair designer Jan Sewell. For both heads of department, working on the film was a privilege. "Who wouldn't want to design for a film that is representing one of the most iconic rock bands ever to have existed?" says Day. "I was so excited about doing it, and it was a brilliant challenge. I did endless research. And what was interesting was not just recreating costumes for the well-known public events but also looking into what the look was for the undocumented parts of the band's life. I did a lot of reading about those and scoured the internet. For the recreations, I found out who made the original costumes and sought them out. We were also kindly invited by Brian May and Roger Taylor to go and look at their clothing archives, and that was really useful."
Indeed, Brian May was generous enough to lend some of his original collection clothing, including a tour dressing gown with his name on the back, a red dressing gown and several jackets, including one made out of velvet with a shiny collar which he wore in several photos from the time.
"For the live concert scenes, we designed two skintight lycra catsuits, the black and white harlequin catsuit and the silver sequin catsuit that we copied from the originals, and we asked Zandra Rhodes to design the incredible white batwing outfit for the Budakon concert. The story goes that it was originally adapted from a wedding dress she designed that Mercury fell in love with on a visit to her atelier."
One of the boldest costumes, Freddie's crown and red cape which he wears in the party scene at Garden Lodge, was made by the two people who worked on it originally.
"Some of the costumes are taken out of context slightly in the film, but we wanted to include some of his iconic costumes because we knew that's what people want to see," adds Day.
The film opens in 1970 in the London suburb of Ealing where Freddie Mercury grew up and ends in 1985, traversing several continents along the way. This journey is told through the clothes.
"For the early scenes, I wanted to give it more of a '60s vibe, quite hippie, a sort of Woodstock feel. The colors were more subdued for Britain at the time. After three gigs in Britain, the film goes to America where they toured as a support group for five concerts there. For those scenes, there's a real American feel, quite a Western look with suede, fringing, checked shirts and cowboy hats. From there, the film moves to Japan where we have a much more colorful tone with pop art references."
As we move forward in time, the costumes become more flamboyant. For the scenes in 1980s New York, when Freddie began to explore the city's gay clubs, Day looked at a lot of Robert Mapplethorpe's work, photos of the meatpacking district in the 1970s and the Al Pacino film Cruising. He dressed the cast in leather, rubber, denim and chains, reflecting the more underground tone of those parts of the city. Meanwhile, there's a lot more flesh on show in the scenes in Rio de Janeiro.
This progression is reflected in Freddie's wardrobe. "When he was younger, Freddie worked in London's renowned Kensington Market, which was a hub of vintage traders, emerging fashion designers and style influencers, and the 1970s was obviously influenced by 1930s fashion. In Kensington Market he would have had access to everything from vintage stoles to 1930s suits and accessories, and he knew about clothes. I wanted to add those to his costumes.
"Freddie was more flamboyant in the 1970s but also very conscious about what he was saying through his clothes," continues Day, "and I wanted to bring a bit more color and shine to him, which represented who he was. But even though he was quite flamboyant, he was quite macho as well. It's interesting to play with those dual sides. As he moved into the 1980s, it became a bit more serious, and I wanted to tell the story of those changes in his life through his outfits. I was very keen in getting in his love of Japanese kimonos after the band's trip to Japan."
Day's work didn't go unappreciated by the cast. Says Rami Malek: "Julian is a phenomenal talent. I've seen a lot of his films, and I knew I was in great hands. We had about 50 hours of costume fittings, which I used as rehearsal time. And it was fun. I used that time to see how my moves were working in heels that were four-inch platforms or the tightest fitting satin pants or an entire Lycra outfit. Along with hair and makeup, the costumes elevate your level of confidence and help you solidify the character."
Like Freddie, Brian May and Roger Taylor had their own distinctive styles of dress. For Brian May's wardrobe, Day kept the palette mostly monochrome, dressing Gwilym Lee in blacks and whites, while Ben Hardy as Roger Taylor is more colorful and dandyish with lots of sleeveless waistcoats. John Deacon's wardrobe is an amalgamation of the three but with a British twist. In the scenes at Rockfield Farm, he's almost channeling Tom Baker-era Dr. Who in a long, striped scarf and African coats.
Says Gwilym Lee: "The costumes were one of the fun parts of the film. I was very lucky being allowed to wear some of Brian May's clothes from the period. It was a direct contact with the legend that you're playing. It was a real honor."
An honor, even though some of the outfits required some careful handling. "I wore a white leather bomber jacket with shoulder pads out to here! I had to turn sideways to get through door frames because it was so massive!" recalls Lee.
For Mary Austin, the only major female character in the film, Day had to rely mostly on conversations with friends and collaborators who knew her then. Mary worked at Biba, the iconic department store in London's Kensington High Street, founded by designer Barbara Hulanicki. Inspired by pre-Raphaelite, art deco and art nouveau styles, Hulanicki's designs in the 1970s included soft flowing dresses, wide-legged trousers and bell-sleeved blouses and jackets made of luxurious fabrics such as satin and velvet in deep burgundies, plums and purples in bold polka dots and stripes.
"Mary was a very stylish dresser who was put at the front of the store to represent the Biba look," says Day. "We tried to recreate that whole Biba look for her which stays with her through the film. Lucy Boynton was a joy to dress."
Lucy Boynton returns the compliment. "Julian and the costume design are just exquisite, and the pieces that you see replicated from Queen's actual costumes on stage are so beautifully done. The costumes they had handmade are just astonishing."
The documented costumes, the ones the band wore at Live Aid and in the videos, were both the easiest and the most difficult to recreate. Easiest because Day knew exactly what the clothes looked like, difficult because recreating real clothes is an unforgiving job as fans and commentators can spot the tiniest mistake as a result of all the source material being readily available online.
Day worked hard at getting the details precisely accurate. "When you start looking at the minutia of each outfit, it all becomes more complex," says Day. "The studded belt that Freddie wears for Live Aid, for example, comprises two different sets of studs. And the vest has a particular shape. Rami Malek was a joy to work with and so attentive to detail. We made 15 vests for him for those scenes, and he pointed out just a few days before shooting that the vest's neckline wasn't quite low enough. So we had to cut and resew all 15 but that half inch made an enormous difference to the costume's authenticity.
Also, we reproduced the cartoon on the shirt John Deacon wears in the scene to make it exactly right. We sourced Freddie's Wranglers from America and asked Adidas to reproduce the boxing boots. It was fun but also challenging!"
The "I Want To Break Free" video, which sees the band in drag, was one of the most anticipated scenes of the whole film. Day and his team scoured the country for all the outfits, from the negligee Brian May wears to Freddie's plastic skirt, and made many of the clothes and accessories. "We found a boater that matched the one Roger Taylor wears round his neck and had some hat ribbon printed up the same color."
As for the show-stopping party that Freddie hosts at Garden Lodge, Day took an outfit that has become iconic-the crown and ermine-trimmed, red velvet cape-and combined it with a military jacket and leather trousers that were also a signature Mercury look. "We wanted him to be the king of his party," says Day.
For the party guests, Day scoured images from New York's legendary disco Studio 54 and designed an array of outrageous costumes with references to the 1970s nightclub scene, punk, gay culture, drag and the underground fetish scene.
An extraordinary note is that no costume was worn more than once.
"I don't think I've ever done as many fittings on any film ever before," says Day. "We've got hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of costumes, one bus for just the four band members! And something in the region of 8-10,000 in total, including all the extras. The story moves from one country to another, from Japan to New York to small-town America, and all those different gigs had to have a different vibe. It was great fun."
Graham King was bowled over by the costumes. "Julian Day did a phenomenal job," says the producer.
"He has an amazing reputation, and he was so passionate to be on this. He had the right sensibility to dress this film, and he knew the period. When you make a film and everyone on that set is doing it for the passion of the storytelling, you feel that."
Working closely with Day was hair and makeup designer Jan Sewell. She was thrilled to be able to tell the story of Freddie Mercury's journey visually from 1970 to Live Aid.
Sewell's work was made easier with the amount of visual material in the public domain. "There are so many videos where you can see all Freddie's different looks," she explains. "Working with the costume department, we pulled out the different looks of Freddie and the band and made a timeline. We weren't sure we'd be able to show all their different hair styles. John Deacon, for instance, looked very similar quite a lot of the time, and then he had much shorter hair towards the 1980s. Brian May, of course, has kept his hairstyle to this day, apart from having it a bit shorter or longer. But Freddie had so many looks. So we had to decide which we thought were the strongest looks."
Sewell began with his mid-1970s clean-shaven look of very short fringe with long hair, moved through several more looks until we end on the cropped hair and mustache of Live Aid. There were two key areas where Sewell had to use prosthetics: Freddie's signature teeth and his aquiline nose. Sewell tested several pairs of teeth on Rami Malek to ensure they would look just right on camera.
"What's so fascinating about watching Rami play Freddie is how he has absolutely captured Freddie's mannerisms," says Sewell. "Freddie was very aware of his teeth. He chose not to get them fixed even though he could have afforded it, and a lot of what he did was hiding them, which meant a lot of mouth movement. So it was very important to get the right size so that Rami felt he could act with them and be able to do those mannerisms."
For the nose, Sewell created a gelatin nose that was applied every day. "What it did was broaden the top part of his nose which helps to pull his eyes together a little. Rami's eyes are much bigger and, using makeup, I had to make his eyes less prominent," she says.
And then, of course, there was the multitude of wigs and false mustaches. Because Malek had just come off filming Mr. Robot, there was no time to wait for him to grow his hair, so he wears a wig in every scene, even the Live Aid crop. And as the hair got longer and then shorter, the mustache had to get heavier and lighter to balance well.
For all four actors of the band, Sewell also had to age them for the final scenes in the mid-1980s. "We used small prosthetics on all four for Live Aid to age them up-just little age lines to make it believable-and then covered that with stage makeup which they would have worn for the concert." Sewell did extensive research to get the smallest detail just right, talking not just to Brian May and Roger Taylor but many people who toured with the band. She says: "Freddie wore black nail polish in the 1970s only on his left hand. I asked why he didn't paint his right-hand nails too. It was purely because he couldn't do it physically. It was the same with Brian, although he had white."
For the scenes with lots of extras-Freddie's Garden Lodge party and Live Aid-Sewell and her team relied on photos and video footage. "We studied the party guests closely, and there were some extraordinary looks which we managed to copy including Roman laurel crowns and togas. For Live Aid, we wanted to make sure it absolutely had the 1980s look, so there was a sea of mullets and mustaches on the men and short hair on the women. We wigged most of the extras because nowadays men have short hair mostly and women have long hair, so it took several weeks of fittings and something like 7,000 wigs to make sure it was all correct. But because the extras are such fans, when we asked the men to grow mustaches, they did!"
Working with Julian Day, Sewell came up with a complimentary makeup color palette for the female cast.
"There's a big move from the beginning of the film to the end in terms of the women's make up," she says.
"In the '70s there are all those lovely orange lipsticks, false eyelashes, blue and green eye tones, and the blush is a little bit orange. In the '80s, we went more for the terracotta and bronze colors."
One of the lasting memories Sewell took away from the shoot was the collaboration with the cast. "They got to know their characters so well and got so involved in the look," she recalls. "I worked very closely with Rami, and his eye is phenomenal, spot on. He would get how putting a bit more color here or shading the nose a little bit more there would make a difference. That's been the great experience for all of us."
Malek returns the compliment. "Jan Sewell is the most phenomenal makeup and hair designer. Apart from the teeth, she did incredible work around my eyes and defining the structure of my face for the different periods of his life. The makeup is that major step that helps an actor take it to that next level. Like with the costumes, makeup and hair give an actor that extra bit of confidence to get closer to inhabiting a character. I always knew I was never going to be Freddie Mercury, but the hair and makeup helped me capture his essence."
One of the key roles on the film was the music supervisor. Becky Bentham was charged with the daunting task of creating the soundtrack for the film, using both Freddie Mercury's real voice, a sound-alike and Rami Malek.
After discussing with the director and the producer, Bentham categorized each song based on whether they are an on-camera performance or a background video. Having established how much existing material is available, from backing tracks to vocals, Bentham then ended up with a list of requirements for each pre-record sessions. She then laid down all the materials needed for each play back. The pre-records were sent to the cast to practice with vocal and instrument coaches.
"For 'Bohemian Rhapsody', we were lucky to have access to all the original vocal recordings and all the original band recordings," she continues. "In addition to that, we have recorded a sound-alike for those sections where recordings don't exist, as well as Rami Malek's performances, which formed a library of materials that we then turned into a soundtrack that was as authentic as possible."
For all the singing scenes, Bentham required the actors to sing out along to the pre-recorded songs. "It's vital because it gets the movement in the throat and the facial muscles," she says. Although it seemed like the most challenging task, the Live Aid scenes were the easiest to do, says Bentham, "because the tracks were all pre-recorded, so it was just a matter of playing them back at high volume to get the band in the right mood."
Bentham plays tribute to Malek and the rest of the cast. "It's a credit to the actors and their dedication in putting in the hours with their coaches to achieve what we've got," she says. "Ben Hardy played a little bit of drums already, so he had a framework that we were able to build on. Gwilym Lee played some guitar, and Joe Mazzello played a bit of bass. Like Rami, they all spent long hours working with the pre-records.
For Rami, we recorded and filmed our sound-alike so Rami had both a sound and visual reference to ensure he had the same physicality, from body movement to the breaths he takes."
The tracks were recorded at London's legendary Abbey Road Studios. "I remember Rami walking in for our first recording session and looking up to see a picture of Queen and Freddie staring down at him! It was daunting in one way but an endorsement in another, and it really added to the experience."
Larger Than Life
Graham King has high hopes for the film and its message for the younger generation.
"This is a really uplifting film," he says. "I hope that if there's anyone in the audience who is confused or being bullied or feeling like an outcast, they would take to heart what Mary says to Freddie in the film: 'Don't you see who you can be? Anything you want to be.' That's a very important message in today's world."
But it's also the music that King knows will capture the audience's imagination. "I go to see a film because I want to feel it, not just see it. For me it was always, if we can get 500 people in a theater clapping and singing along to those powerful anthems that they grew up with and that are a part of their lives, then that's a film experience. And I think we've done just that. I want people to come out of this film and hug the person they're next to and sing along with Queen songs. 'We Will Rock You,' 'We Are The Champions,' 'Bohemian Rhapsody'--all these songs are larger-than-life and can't help but put a smile on your face. I wanted to continue the legacy of Freddie Mercury and Queen, to show a younger generation who Freddie Mercury was, how the band survived through times, how the music business has changed, what it was like to make a record in those days, what it was like for four guys to meet and create that special sound. Freddie always called the band his family. And I think there's no better time in the world to pass on the idea that we are all part of one family, no matter who we are or where we come from."
Rami Malek agrees: "I hope that everyone leaves the film as inspired by Freddie's story as I am, feeling confident, feeling inspired. That they know it's okay to be who you are. I hope that they can sing as loudly as he can and own every truth of theirs, and not feel like they have to hide anything, but that they can just be, and enjoy exactly who they were meant to be."
Release Date: November 1st, 2018