Few filmmakers have ever figured out how to make a motion picture about an already larger-than-life personality, and personalities haven’t come much larger in recent history than Freddie Mercury’s. Talk of a movie about the Queen frontman, who died in 1991, has gone on for years: Dexter Fletcher came up as a potential director, and for the role of Mercury both Ben Wishaw and Sacha Baron Cohen have at different times been attached. But now the film has entered production, having found a director in Bryan Singer, he of the X-Men franchise, and a star in Rami Malek, best known as the lead in the television series Mr. Robot.
But can Malek — or indeed anyone currently living — convince as Mercury? The first piece of evidence has surfaced in the form of the clip at the top of the post, shot on set as the cast recreates Queen’s 1985 comeback performance at Live Aid. The band “seemed to intuit right from the start the importance of the day, though they were very nervous backstage.
But once onstage they completely own it, even more so Freddie Mercury who rises to the occasion as a front man and as a singer, giving one of his best performances,” writes Ted Mills of the real concert video, which we featured just this past May here on Open Culture. The show opens by going straight into”Bohemian Rhapsody,” Queen’s signature eight-minute rock opera, which gives the new movie its working title.
Even going by just a minute and a half of footage, shot shakily, in low resolution, and at a distance, it must be said that Malek does look to make an uncanny Mercury, right down to that distinctive jog onto the stage at Wembley Stadium. In the Late Show with Stephen Colbert clip just above, Malek talks about his experience watching the surviving members of Queen watch his performance as Mercury for the first time — and at the iconic Abbey Road Studios, no less. “How did they take you?” Colbert asks. “They took me,” Malek responds, leaving us to wait until December of next year to judge for ourselves how he brings their beloved lead singer back to life — and whether, by whatever combination of training and technological wizardry, the film gets it right down to that one-of-a-kind voice.
Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.