Sacha Baron Cohen told Howard Stern he dropped out of the long-in-the-works Freddie Mercury biopic over disagreements with Queen over how the film would portray the more salacious aspects of the late singer’s life.
“There are amazing stories about Freddie Mercury,” Cohen said on The Howard Stern Show Tuesday. “The guy was wild. I mean he was living an extreme lifestyle. There are stories of… little people with plates with cocaine on their heads walking around a party.”
Cohen, however, said he understood why the surviving members of Queen wanted a more PG-rated version of the film that vaunted the band’s legacy. But the actor also admitted he should’ve known from his first meeting with the band that creative differences would arise.
“A member of the band, I won’t say who, he said, ‘This is such a great movie because it’s got such an amazing thing that happens in the middle of the movie,'” Cohen recalled. “I go, ‘What happens in the middle of the movie?’ He goes, ‘Freddie dies.'” While Cohen assumed the band meant the film would be structured non-linearly like Pulp Fiction, he soon realized that they wanted the second half of the film to focus on how Queen carried on after Mercury’s death in 1991.
Despite that inauspicious meeting, Cohen continued to work on the movie for several years. He even brought in various big-name filmmakers that didn’t pan out with the band, including screenwriter Peter Morgan (Frost/Nixon, The Queen) and directors David Fincher and Tom Hooper. “At the end of the day it really was an artistic difference,” Cohen said.
Cohen was first linked to the Mercury biopic in 2010 and dropped out in 2013. That same year, Queen guitarist Brian May explained the split by saying that the band “felt that [Cohen’s] presence in the movie would be very distracting… The man who plays Freddie, you have to really believe is Freddie. And we didn’t think that could really happen with Sacha.”
The Mercury biopic has continually failed to get off the ground since Cohen’s departure. As of last November, The Theory of Everything scribe Anthony McCarten was attached to write a new script. Spectre actor Ben Whishaw has been the frontrunner to portray Mercury, though a director has yet to be attached since Dexter Fletcher dropped out in 2014.