Compared to playing a made up character, portraying a real person in a movie always presents a unique challenge. Playing legendary Queen frontman Freddie Mercury, who was uniquely talented and with incomparable physicality and stage presence, is something else entirely. To play Freddie in Bohemian Rhapsody Rami Malek knew he had to learn to move like Freddie, and for that he enlisted the help of movement coach Polly Bennett and Liza Minnelli, as he explained:
[Freddie] was very elegant in his footwork and he got a lot of that from Bob Fosse and Liza Minnelli, so we watched Cabaret quite a bit. At one point Polly [had] me do 'Killer Queen' as a Shakespearean soliloquy as performed by Marie Antoinette. Essentially, she was getting me to be as spontaneously Freddie as possible.
To become Freddie Mercury, Rami Malek watched all the archive footage of the singer that he could find, but he knew he couldn't just mimic or impersonate him. To do so would run counter to the spontaneity and creativity of Freddie Mercury. To get himself where he needed to be he had to go deeper and do more.
Instead of just looking at what Freddie did, Rami Malek and his movement coach looked at what inspired Freddie and that meant turning to musical director Bob Fosse's 1972 film Cabaret and Liza Minnelli. Liza Minnelli won an Oscar for the film where she starred as an entertainer at a club in Berlin and performed multiple musical numbers where she sang and danced.
Freddie Mercury's movement and footwork on stage was influenced by Liza Minnelli in that film, so Rami Malek focused on her work as Sally Bowles to try and match Freddie Mercury's elegant footwork on stage.
Rami Malek's preparation wasn't just watching Liza Minnelli in Cabaret either. Polly Bennett tried to instill a quintessential Freddieness into the actor, so that in any given scene, on stage or otherwise, he could be Freddie. As he told ScreenDaily, that meant some interesting exercises like performing a Queen song in the style of Shakespeare while pretending to be an 18th century French monarch. Though, I'm not sure whether or not he was supposed to be Marie Antoinette pre or post-beheading.
It sounds like it worked too because his spontaneity and unpredictability in the role kept the cameramen on the film on their toes, never sure what he was going to do next.
Beyond just moving like Freddie, Rami Malek also had to look and talk like the singer and that meant singing lessons, a dialect coach and of course, a false set of teeth to really become the Queen frontman. He also had an intense diet and exercise routine to have the necessary cardio for the performances in the film.
Some of what he did may sound untraditional, but whether it was watching Liza Minnelli or Shakespearean soliloquies that got him there, it is generally agreed that Rami Malek's performance as Freddie Mercury was fantastic and the highlight of Bohemian Rhapsody.
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