A biopic of Queen frontman Freddie Mercury was in the works for the better part of a decade before finally coming to fruition with last year's Bohemian Rhapsody. For a good number of those years, Sacha Baron Cohen was the actor reportedly set to play Freddie Mercury before dropping out due to creative differences. Regardless, according to Bohemian Rhapsody producer Graham King, Sacha Baron Cohen was never actually attached to the film, as he explained:
Speaking at the Producers Guild Awards Nominees Breakfast (via Variety), Graham King dispelled the popular notion that Sacha Baron Cohen was attached to play Freddie Mercury. According to him, Rami Malek was the first and obviously last person to be signed on to the film. This contradicts the long-standing belief that Sacha Baron Cohen was signed on for the film prior to exiting the project.
The way Graham King described it, it sounds like there were certainly discussions with Sacha Baron Cohen, but he was never firmly attached to play Freddie Mercury in the biopic, at least not in any official capacity. He was just one of multiple actors who wanted the role that ultimately went to Rami Malek.
Considering all the reports over the years that had Sacha Baron Cohen attached to the role, perhaps it was just a case of he was presumed and expected to play Freddie Mercury and was maybe in deep discussions about the role as the project developed, but it just never got to the point where he was signed on.
Although he didn't get the role, you can see why Sacha Baron Cohen would have been an obvious choice to play Freddie Mercury. Despite his image as a comedian, the actor bears more of a resemblance to Freddie Mercury than Rami Malek -- who wound up in the role -- does.
Over the years and recently with the release of the film, there have been conflicting reasons given as to why Sacha Baron Cohen didn't play the legendary frontman in Bohemian Rhapsody. Sacha Baron Cohen seemed to have had a much different vision for the film, one that was R-rated and dug more into Freddie's rockstar lifestyle, whereas the members of Queen wanted a fun movie that was more for everyone and was respectful of the singer's legacy. Recently Queen drummer Roger Taylor said Cohen "didn't take Freddie seriously enough."
I thought those creative differences led to Sacha Baron Cohen's departure, but given what Graham King said, it seems that the differences just led to him dropping out of the running or being ruled out by the filmmakers. As Graham King said, Sacha Baron Cohen isn't the only person who was rumored for the biopic over the years; in fact, Ben Whishaw and Dominic Cooper were also discussed in relation to playing Freddie.
All that said, it's hard to wonder what might have been with Sacha Baron Cohen or a different actor because Rami Malek turned in an incredible performance as Freddie Mercury, good enough to win him a Golden Globe and perhaps net him an Oscar nomination.
The crowd-pleasing film also won a Golden Globe for Best Picture-Drama and has been a worldwide box office smash hit. So things turned out for the best, even if critics were less thrilled with the film than audiences and may have preferred Cohen's less safe version.
Bohemian Rhapsody is still playing in theaters. Check out our release schedule for all of the biggest movies heading to theaters this year.
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Nick grew up in Maryland has degrees in Film Studies and Communications. His life goal is to walk the earth, meet people and get into adventures. He’s also still looking for The Adventures of Pete and Pete season 3 on DVD if anyone has a lead.