The untold truth of Bohemian Rhapsody

Freddie Mercury was one of the most dynamic personalities of the 20th century, yet for some reason, it took a ridiculously long time for anyone to actually make a movie about him. Darby Crash got a biopic before Freddie Mercury did. Do you remember Darby Crash? Almost no one else does, either. And if rumors are to be believed, the upcoming film Bohemian Rhapsody isn't just a Freddie Mercury biopic, it's a Queen biopic, as if 99.9 percent of the movie-going population can even remember the names of the rest of the band members.

Not that we're begrudging the rest of the band credit where it's due, but Mercury was the guy who made Queen … Queen. He had the charisma, the strut, the teeth, and the rapport with the audience. So maybe it's not so surprising that it took such a long time for filmmakers to brave the subject — how exactly do you recreate such a huge personality without disappointing the vast majority of his fans? Not easily, and not quickly, either. Here's the story of Bohemian Rhapsody. (The movie, not the song, just in case anyone is still confused here.)

Ali G stars as Freddie Mercury

If you could choose any actor to take on the epic role of Freddie Mercury, who would you pick? Johnny Depp? Adam Lambert? Before 2010, the dude who played Ali G probably would not have popped into your head. But step back a little and yeah, you can kind of see it. He does have a certain Freddie Mercury je ne sais quoi. There's no doubt he can be flamboyant and over-the-top.

Brian May, Queen's guitarist, evidently thought so, too. For a few years, Sacha Baron Cohen was slated to embody the great Freddie Mercury, but as it turned out, he was "an arse." At least, that's what May decided after Cohen abandoned the project in 2013. According to People, the actor disagreed with Queen's band members on the direction of the film. Cohen said he wanted the film to be a "gritty R-rate tell-all centered around the gifted gay singer," but the band wanted Mercury's death to happen in the first half of the film so the second half could focus on "how the band carries on."

Cohen's departure doesn't seem to have been amicable, and just like every dumb employment dispute, everyone seems to have a different story about what happened. May implied that Cohen was no longer a part of the project because he'd been doing too much crappy work in his off-time. It's likely we'll never know what actually happened, but whatever. The rumors are probably just as entertaining as the truth.

Everyone starts bailing

If you believe screenwriter Peter Morgan, Sacha Baron Cohen didn't just abandon an acting job, he abandoned his brainchild. "Sacha was the one who asked me to write it," Morgan told Cinemablend. "He was the guy who rang me up." So when the film lost its first actor, it also lost its first screenwriter. Morgan evidently didn't want to continue to work on the project without Cohen, and he left around the same time. Morgan was so sure the project would end with Cohen's departure that he even told the BBC that the film was "probably not going to happen."

Producers disagreed, though, and trudged onward, but Cohen and Morgan weren't the last to abandon ship. According to Deadline Hollywood, director Dexter Fletcher left the project in 2014, because like Cohen he was also hoping for a gritty R-rated spectacle about the life and death of the Queen front man. Fletcher later told IndieWire that the production "got quite far down the line with my version of 'Bohemian Rhapsody,' which unfortunately, never came to fruition." He was replaced by X-Men director Bryan Singer, and in 2015, screenwriter Anthony McCarten (The Theory of Everything) was hired to rewrite Morgan's script. So it was smooth sailing from that moment forward. Ha. Ha.

Harry Potter stars as Freddie Mercury

So Sacha Baron Cohen stormed off in a huff, and everyone was left wondering who would play the great Freddie Mercury. For a while, it looked like Ben Whishaw — he's best known as Q in the James Bond movie Skyfall, and kind of sort of maybe a little bit looks like Freddie Mercury. But you know, CGI can make you look like almost anyone, so we'll suspend disbelief. There was even a rumor about Daniel Radcliffe (still most famous for playing Harry Potter), which is maybe the dumbest thing we've ever heard.

Those rumors didn't last long, though. According to Rolling Stone, someone sent producer Graham King a video of Rami Malek (Mr. Robot) doing a Freddie Mercury impersonation. "I was like, 'That's him,'" King said in an interview. "'Done. Found him.' There was never a second look or waver from our side that this guy wasn't Freddie Mercury."

Malek himself wasn't so sure, though. He wanted to play Freddie Mercury, but those are pretty big shoes to fill. "I felt massive excitement … followed by the extreme, daunting weight of the thing. It felt like something that could go away in a heartbeat." Fortunately for Malek — and hopefully for all of Freddie Mercury's fans — King's sentiment didn't change, and we can all look forward to seeing Rami Malek transform into one of the world's most iconic stars. No pressure.

Rami Malek stars as Freddie Mercury

Once he landed the role, Rami Malek was determined to get it right. He was so determined, he was kind of like the dude who wants a job at the motorcycle shop so bad that he hangs creepily around the place all the time and stalks the owner on Facebook.

According to Entertainment Weekly, before the movie even had funding, Malek spent his own money on a trip to London. Once there, he visited Brian May and fellow band member Roger Taylor so he could annoy them with lots of questions about the late singer. He must have asked the right questions, though, because as far as we know Brian May never called him an arse, or said anything publicly about how he thought Mr. Robot was bollocks.

Anyway, instead of visiting the Tower of London and riding the London Eye, Malek spent his vacation sitting around reading Freddie Mercury biographies and watching old videos because for some reason he couldn't do that at his house. All that research did seem to do some good, though — at the very least it served the dual purpose of preparing him for a difficult role and also ensuring that producers would feel really, really guilty if they decided they were going to replace him with Daniel Radcliffe after all.

Rami Malek carried around a set of fake Freddie teeth

Freddie Mercury was famous for a lot of things. His epic voice. His on-stage charisma. Really unorthodox rock and roll. And his teeth.

Freddie Mercury was really self-conscious about his teeth. He had four extra teeth in the upper back part of his mouth, which is why he had such an extreme overbite. As a kid, Mercury's classmates nicknamed him "Bucky," so he didn't exactly grow up feeling good about his winning smile. Still, he refused to get orthodontic treatment because he was convinced his teeth were somehow the key to his amazing singing voice. Experts seem divided on whether he was right about that, but regardless, those teeth became part of his signature look, something he was known for, whether he liked it or not.

Malek seemed to think there was something magical about the overbite, too. He was so sure about this that Business Insider says he carried a set of Freddie Mercury teeth around in a little plastic container, and every night he'd put them in his mouth and practice singing. And he did that before the film was green-lit, so that's dedication. "When you put in those teeth, there's a very visceral change to the performance," Malek said in Entertainment Weekly. "When I took them out by the end of the film, I felt quite naked."

Rami Malek also had to take Freddie Mercury lessons

In case you still weren't sure about Rami Malek's dedication to his job, it wasn't just about the teeth, or hanging out with the remaining members of Queen, or taking the world's lamest vacation so you can sit in your hotel room watching old video tapes and reading biographies. Malek felt those things weren't quite enough to allow him to fully embody flamboyant Freddie Mercury. So he convinced producers to buy him some dialect lessons, and also some "movement" lessons.

Malek's movement coach didn't just advise him on studying film of Mercury himself (which he was already doing anyway). Malek was also told to watch video of the artists who inspired the late singer, like Jimi Hendrix, Aretha Franklin, David Bowie, and Liza Minnelli, whose performance in the 1972 film Cabaret was one of Mercury's favorites. "I absolutely adore Liza Minnelli, she's a total wow," Mercury once said. "The way she delivers her songs — the sheer energy." In fact, Malek told the New York Times that watching Minnelli in Cabaret was "almost more useful at times … than it was to watch Freddie himself. You found the inspiration and birth of those movements."

Legions of Queen fans have yet to weigh in on whether Malek's Freddie Mercury lessons paid off, but the surviving members of Queen seem to think they did. "We sometimes forgot he was Rami," Brian May wrote in an email to the New York Times.

But what about the singing?

It would have been kind of lame, after all that, if Malek just ended up rounding off his performance by lip-syncing known Queen recordings. But he did also tell the New York Times, "No one wants to hear me sing," so clearly some movie magic had to take place if filmmakers were going to do justice to the single most important element of the film.

Here's the problem: Freddie Mercury didn't have just any singing voice. History remembers him as having a four-octave vocal range. (A recent scientific analysis wasn't able to confirm that, but it's probably at least close to the truth.) What he did have was the ability to sing as a tenor, even though he was a baritone. Scientists also believe he was accessing body parts most people don't use for vocalizations, specifically, a set of membranes called false vocal cords. Somehow, Mercury had the unique ability to use his false vocal cords to create "subharmonic vibration," which is why his voice sounded so amazing.

So tell an actor to do all that. Yeah. There's no amount of coaching, hanging out with band members, or watching videos that's going to get you there. Instead, Malek's voice was mixed with Mercury's, and also with a third singer's — a Canadian Christian rock singer named Marc Martel, who has a voice that's "practically identical" to Mercury's. And it's movie magic. We hope.

Another one bites the dust

Toward the end of shooting, director Bryan Singer decided to just not come back.

Singer defended himself by saying that he needed to take some time "to temporarily put my health, and the health of my loved ones, first." Insiders told a different tale, though. "Individuals familiar with the production" evidently told The Wrap that Singer's absence was part of a pattern of flakiness, which included showing up late and not showing up at all. No one is really sure who these "familiar individuals" are, but one of them also called him a "lunatic," and we're leaving out a nasty modifier in that particular statement.

There seem to be some different versions of the story (in another version, conflict between Singer and Malek also had some influence), but Singer said in a statement that Fox proved "unwilling to accommodate me and terminated my services." So at that point, they needed to find a new director, fast — or maybe just go back to an old one. Remember Dexter Fletcher, who left because of creative differences? According to IndieWire, after Singer's departure, producers contacted Fletcher to find out if he could finish the project, mostly based on the fact that he was already familiar with the material. Singer will still get the only directing credit, though, because of a Directors Guild of America rule that says a film can only have one director (or directing entity, in case you were wondering where that leaves the Coen Brothers).

Did the film 'straight-wash' Freddie Mercury?

So the movie finally wraps and everyone breathes a sigh of relief. Now, Queen fans will have what they always wanted — a cinematic ode to one of the greatest talents of our time. Unimpeachable, on account of all the video-watching, fake-teeth-wearing, and band-hanging-out-with that Rami Malek did in order to prepare.

As Disney can tell you, though, the movie-going community is never satisfied with anything. No matter how much research you do, no matter how many consultants you hire, someone is always going to be offended. Now, prior to the release of a film we can't actually say whether concerns about accuracy are justified, but after the trailer came out, things got a little poop-hits-the-fan-ish. Social media was outraged, and the film's producers were accused of "straight-washing" the film, on account of there being no visual reference to Freddie Mercury's sexuality in the entire 90 seconds.

It wasn't long before Malek went on the defensive, telling Attitude that "It's a shame that people are making remarks after a minute teaser where you just wanna see the music." He then went on to say that the movie doesn't "straight-wash" the singer's life, and in fact would not have worked as a film if it failed to address the singer's sexuality and subsequent death from AIDS. We'd love to take his word for it, but it's probably better if we wait and see for ourselves.

But wait, there's more ... [spoilers!]

If you don't already know the facts of Freddie Mercury's life, there are some spoilers to follow. A lot of people think Mercury's greatest performance was at Live Aid in the summer of 1985 — he died of AIDS six years later, and no one can really be sure when he received his diagnosis, though some sources say it wasn't until 1987.

According to Slate, Bohemian Rhapsody ends with the Live Aid performance. That's led to some accusations that the film might totally ignore the AIDS question.

Once again, the sort-of embattled star had to defend his film's honor by publicly denying the accusations. "I don't think the film shies away from his sexuality or his all-consuming disease, which obviously is AIDS," Malek told Attitude. "I don't know how you could avoid any of that, or if anyone would ever want to." He then went on to say, "The film needed to approach [the HIV question] in a delicate manner. You can't shy away from it. It was an important moment to have in the film, one that ultimately is very sad but also empowering in a way."

Based on that, we have hope Rami Malek's Freddie Mercury will not only have the strut, the voice, and the teeth of the late Queen front man, but that the film overall will have the heart it needs to give us a complete picture of the band and its charismatic star. We can't wait for November.