Brian May explained this weekend why Sacha Barron Cohen is no longer set to play Freddie Mercury in the biopic of the late Queen singer. “In the end, we felt that his presence in the movie would be very distracting,” the guitarist told Ultimate Classic Rock.
The news came out in July that Baron Cohen was dropping out of the project, which he had been slated to appear in since 2010, over creative differences. Deadline reported at the time that the surviving members of Queen, who have script and director approval on the project, envisioned a family-friendly PG movie, while Baron Cohen “was counting on a gritty R-rated tell-all.” But May said this weekend that the real reason was that Baron Cohen’s personality was just too big for the part.
Freddie Mercury: His Life in Pictures
“What led us to that conclusion was the last three movies that he’s made – The Dictator, Les Miserables and Hugo – in which he makes outstanding performances, but they’re very much Sacha Baron Cohen performances,” May said. “And we thought there has to be no distraction in the Freddie movie. You have to really suspend that disbelief – the man who plays Freddie, you have to really believe is Freddie. And we didn’t that could really happen with Sacha.”
May insists that the band and the actor parted ways on very good terms. “It’s a shame that there were these sensationalist stories about him walking out. None of that was true,” he said, also noting that it was hard to talk about the split, “because we owe Sacha a lot. He had so much enthusiasm for the project and it really helped us kick it into the start position.”
May said they are close to finding a replacement for Cohen, but wouldn’t name any names. According to Contact Music, drummer Roger Taylor let it slip on BBC1’s The One Show Friday night that they were interested in Skyfall actor Ben Whishaw. Whishaw fortunately has some prior experience channeling rock stars in his work, having played Keith Richards in the 2005 film Stoned.