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Rami Malek plays Queen frontman Freddie Mercury in the new film Bohemian Rhapsody but the role was originally going to go to somebody else. Years ago, when the film was first entering development, Sacha Baron Cohen was attached to star as the lead singer, but recently Queen drummer Roger Taylor explained why Cohen left the project. Taylor says the actor, known primarily for comedy, didn't take the film, or the role, seriously. According to Taylor...
There was a lot of talk about Sacha and stuff. It was never really on. I don't think he took it seriously enough --- didn't take Freddie seriously enough. But I think, really, it's a long road, but we're at the end of it now
Unfortunately, Roger Taylor doesn't elaborate on his statement, so it's difficult to understand what is meant by it. It's certainly true that Sacha Baron Cohen is best known for comedic roles, so perhaps the actor was planning on playing Mercury in some sort of humorous way. Freddie Mercury was certainly flamboyant and over-the-top as far as his stage persona goes, so one could see how something like that might work.
It could also be that Cohen just didn't give the movie much attention, and that was seen as not taking it seriously. Though that could simply be because the film clearly wasn't that far along. The fact that it would take half a decade from the point Sacha Baron Cohen left the project for the movie to actually make it on the screen, in addition to the three years he was attached, shows that a lot of work needed to be done.
Roger Taylor tells the Associated Press that having Cohen take the Mercury role "was never really on." This is probably because the film was in such an obviously early state that nobody had actually signed any contracts. Cohen may have expressed interest and the producers may have been interested in getting him, but there wasn't enough set in stone for it to be more than that.
And based on what Sacha Baron Cohen has said, that sounds like it may have been the case. The actor had previously stated that one of his issues with the movie was that, in the story he was given, Freddie Mercury died in the middle of the film and the rest of the story focused on how the band handled the aftermath. That's not the story of Bohemian Rhapsody, so clearly things changed over the years.
Bohemian Rhapsody hits theaters November 2.