The musical biopic has been nominated for five Oscars.
Musical biopic Bohemian Rhapsody traces the roots of Queen — and its iconic frontman Freddie Mercury (played by Rami Malek) — from the clubs of London to the group's 1985 performance at Live Aid.
Written by Anthony McCarten and Peter Morgan, and produced by Graham King and Queen manager Jim Beach, the movie was a passion project for King that took nearly a decade to bring to the screen. Along the way, it faced a number of behind-the-scenes issues, from Sacha Baron Cohen's departure to director Bryan Singer's firing. Still, Bohemian Rhapsody has become the highest grossing musical biopic in history, earning more than $850 million at the global box office.
Read on for more information The Hollywood Reporter has revealed about Bohemian Rhapsody, including how Malek transformed himself into Mercury and how the film's team re-created one of the most famous concerts in music history.
Rami Malek's journey to becoming Freddie Mercury was a nearly year-long endeavor, the actor said in an interview with THR. The path to starring as one of rock music's biggest legends began with a six-hour meeting between him and the film's producers, Graham King and Denis O'Sullivan, in Los Angeles. The actor then sent King an iPhone video of himself emulating one of Mercury's interviews. Once he got the role, Malek juggled both piano and singing lessons, working with movement coach Polly Bennett and, eventually, using hours-long costume fittings as rehearsal time. Preparation for the role also overlapped with Malek shooting Mr. Robot's third season, which the actor described as "quite a daunting task."
Bohemian Rhapsody’s head of hair and makeup Jan Sewell was responsible for morphing star Rami Malek’s face into that of Freddie Mercury. Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter, Sewell said parts of Malek’s face were already similar to the Queen frontman’s, but to perfect Freddie’s facial structure, Sewell gave the actor a tiny prosthetic nose.
Malek’s cheeks were also shaded, so his jawline popped, as were his eyes so they looked closer together. Sewell revealed the team also went through many false teeth “until we got the pair that we thought would do what we needed them to do, but wouldn't take over."
Sewell’s work was so accurate, she said, that when Queen member Brian May’s wife, Anita, came to set, she burst into tears after seeing the actor in a moment Sewell described as “so emotional.”
Instead of using a choreographer, the film's movement director Polly Bennett worked with star Rami Malek to make sure he was a complete physical embodiment of Queen's frontman. For Bennett, that process began with researching Mercury in his youth, as well as studying his movement in interviews and performance footage.
Bennett connected things such as Mercury's history as a long-distance runner with how he moved across a stage, as well as his frequent behavior of masking his mouth with a microphone or glass due to insecurities about his teeth, and incorporated this into her coaching of Malek.
"Everyone moves [differently] because of what they've experienced, what they've seen, who their family is, what space they've grown up in. This is what I've called a 'movement heritage,'" Bennett told THR. "I had to look at what he does and try to turn that into a practical thought."
Bohemian Rhapsody director Bryan Singer, who's faced occasional allegations of sexual abuse in recent years including additional claims that were published in an Atlantic exposé just a day after Oscar nominations were announced, was fired just weeks before the end of filming, after a series of on-set absences.
THR's Kim Masters later detailed more of the chaos that accompanied Singer's time on the film: Cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel had to step in to direct for Singer amid the latter's tardiness and absences, and actor Tom Hollander, who plays Beach, was said to be so upset with Singer that he briefly quit. There was also an on-set altercation with Malek.
In a statement to THR, Singer claimed that his last 10-day absence was due to "pressing health matters concerning one of my parents," and that he wanted to continue working on the film. Following his termination, Fox hired Dexter Fletcher to finish shooting the film in its final weeks. While Singer is still credited as the film's sole director, Fox stripped him of his producing credit.
Despite the drama with Singer, Bohemian Rhapsody's stars told THR ahead of a special New York City screening of the completed film that they had no doubt the movie would get finished.
"Even on the toughest days, we all looked at each other and we knew we'd get each other through," Gwilym Lee, the actor who plays guitarist Brian May, said. "In the face of adversity, there was an incredible bond between everybody on set. There was a certainty that it was going to get done, that it was going to get finished."
"It was so moving because everyone just felt like a family," Joe Mazzello, who plays bassist John Deacon, added.
While the original Wembley Stadium was demolished in 2003, Bohemian Rhapsody’s world premiere was held at the SSE Arena at Wembley. The Oct. 23 screening featured a secret sound mix that was only played for that audience. Rerecording mixer and music mixer Paul Massey had incorporated stadium effects into the film’s carefully constructed sound mix, but created a “drier” version of the sound mix for the premiere that featured less reverb and slap.
"Otherwise, it would just be a big reverb wash going on at the premiere because we'd be playing back something that was including stadium reverb and then that stadium itself was going to create its own reverb," Massey told THR.
In order to complete the biopic's 20-minute re-creation of the Live Aid concert, rerecording mixer and music mixer Paul Massey relied on help from the members of Queen — past and present — to get it just right. Massey had access to all of the original 24-track recordings from the Queen archives, but he also used audio from a then-recent Queen performance with Adam Lambert at London's O2 arena.
“I managed to get two hours with no audience and played the songs through the Queen PA at full level," Massey told THR. "So I had an acoustic re-creation of what the PA would sound like in a very, very large environment.”
They were also able to capture the sound of 10,000 people clapping, thanks to guitarist Brian May who led the O2 crowd in a sequence. Massey edited and assembled that to re-create the sound of Live Aid attendees clapping during the original performance.
For Bohemian Rhapsody costume designer Julian Day, re-creating many of Mercury’s pieces of clothing required extensive and elaborate work. Day told THR that the most challenging look to bring back was ironically the simple jeans and tank-top ensemble from Queen’s 1985 Live Aid performance. Day reached out to Wrangler, Adidas and a shop in London to re-create the exact style of jeans, shoes, studded belt and armband that the Queen singer wore.
That left the white tank, which Day revealed was ultimately the hardest part of the ensemble to get right. At one point, half a centimeter had to be trimmed off the neckline after Malek noted it was lower in the concert footage.
“We did so many screen tests. It needed to be tight, but not too tight, and I ended up making 20 or 30 of them," Day said.
After earning more than $850 million worldwide and scoring the second-best debut of all time for a music biopic, Bohemian Rhapsody has gone on to become a special hit in Japan. Not only is the Queen biopic the country's biggest domestic or imported film of 2018, but it also took the title of biggest IMAX release ever, overtaking Star Wars: The Force Awakens for the number one spot after earning $11 million from screenings in the format.
Its success with Japanese audiences is due to a high number of repeat watchers and those attending the hundreds of sing-a-long screenings organized by Toho, Japan's biggest distributor. While there, audiences are provided English subtitles for the songs and are encouraged to cheer, clap and cosplay as the band members.
Having already served in the roles of both composer and editor for The Usual Suspects and Valkyrie, Bohemian Rhapsody editor John Ottman was slated to take on both on again. But during production, the editor stepped away from the latter role.
In an episode of THR's "Behind the Screen" podcast, Ottman revealed that he excused himself from taking the composer credit while the film was in production because he wanted the movie to remain "raw and real" and not lapse into a "typical Hollywood" pattern of scoring a film, even if it wasn't entirely necessary.
"When I read the script I even said, 'I'm not sure this film should have score,' but when you read a script — especially for a biopic — the assumption is that no matter how the script reads, there's gonna end up being areas where you're gonna have to support the film dramatically with score," Ottman told THR. "I accepted that that was most likely a possibility, but I just had a sense that it wouldn't be right for this movie."