In the early 2010s, Sacha Baron Cohen was closely linked to a biopic based on the life of Queen frontman Freddie Mercury. The film was even able to court acclaimed directors like Stephen Frears and Tom Hooper, but we never really knew what the take on the material would be.
It turns out the remaining members of Queen—Brian May and Roger Taylor—were very protective of how both Mercury and how the band would be portrayed, and that caused a huge creative difference when it came to how the film would deal with Mercury’s death.
Cohen, who’s currently promoting his new movie, The Brothers Grimsby, went on the Howard Stern Show and explained [via The Playlist] why he decided to leave the project:
“[After] my first meeting, I should never have carried on because a member of the band —I won’t say who— said, ‘This is such a great movie, because such an amazing thing happens in the middle of the movie.’ I go, ‘What happens in the middle of the movie?’ He goes, ‘Freddie dies.’ I go, ‘So you mean it’s a bit like ‘Pulp Fiction,’ where the end is the middle and the middle is the end? That’s interesting.’ He goes, ‘No no no.’ So I said, ‘Wait a minute. What happens in the second half of the movie?’ And he said, ‘Well, we see how the band carries on from strength to strength.’ And I said, ‘Listen, not one person is going to see a movie where the lead character dies from AIDS and then you carry on to see [what happens to the band].”
It’s hard to argue with Cohen. There aren’t a lot of movies that kill off their protagonist halfway through the film, and while it still could have worked, it sounds like either May or Taylor wanted the movie to be more about the story of Queen rather than Mercury.
Additionally, even when Cohen pushed past his initial hesitation, nothing appeased the producers:
“They asked me to write the movie, but I said, ‘I don’t know how to write a biopic.’ So I got in Peter Morgan (The Queen), [but] they didn’t like that. I brought in David Fincher who wanted to direct it, then Tom Hooper—they were very specific about how they wanted to do it. But at the end of the day, it really was an artistic difference.”
If you’re writing off the likes of David Fincher and Peter Morgan, then I’m not sure what you’re aiming for. It makes you wonder if we’ll ever see a Mercury biopic or a movie about Queen.
Cohen added, “Brian May is an amazing musician, but he’s not a great movie producer.”