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“This thing called love, I just can’t handle it.” And this thing currently called Untitled Freddie Mercury Biopic is apparently something nobody can agree on. A long-gestating project, the film has yet to ever reach a verifiable state of pre-production, mostly due to never landing a permanent screenwriter or director. And now it no longer has its star attached, as Deadline reports Sacha Baron Cohen has thrown in the towel (or white sleeveless shirt) and left the Sony Pictures project, citing difficulties with the members of the band Queen, with whom Mercury’s career reached champion levels.
The central reason given for the actor’s departure is indeed differing opinions over the film’s tone. Queen wanted to tell a good-hearted PG version of Mercury’s life, while Cohen wanted to open the material up and go deep into Mercury’s flamboyant rock star lifestyle. There has never been a real notion of how musical the film would get, but a PG rating would seem to signify an abundance of music, as people of all ages can appreciate Queen’s movie on some level, whereas an R rating would mean Mercury’s homosexuality and eventual AIDS-abetted death.
Disagreements between the actor and the band, with Brian May usually the most vocal, have been apparent almost since the film’s conception, when Cohen brought in screenwriter Peter Morgan to pen the script. But Queen has the final approval over both screenwriter and director, and they passed on Morgan, at which point the writing team of Christopher Wilkinson and Stephen J. Rivele (Ali) gave the script a pass, but I don’t think that script ever got approved either. Cohen also tried to get David Fincher and Tom Hooper involved, but Queen turned them away as well. Stephen Frears (High Fidelity) was attached at one point, but he went on to make Muhammad Ali’s Greatest Fight. It’s a shame, as nearly all of these names would have probably made a more exciting movie than whoever the band ends up approving.
Who can possibly take on Mercury’s role, with the assertive presence that Cohen displays with every project he’s involved with? Back when this biopic was just an idea floating around Hollywood, in 2008Johnny Depp’s name came up in conversations, and while that was starting to sound like a bad idea even then, I can’t even begin to imagine how that would turn out now.
Who do you guys think would make a fine PG-rated not-too-bubbly version of Mercury? Don’t take too long thinking about it. You’re under pressure.