Legendary anthems like Queen’s ‘We Are The Champions’ and ‘Another One Bites The Dust’ have lived on since the group first gained stardom in the late ’70s. And now, after three decades following their renowned Live Aid performance at Wembley Stadium, the group have decided to recount their rise to fame in the aptly-titled biopic Bohemian Rhapsody. Rami Malek (of Mr. Robot Fame) led the ensemble cast as Queen’s late frontman Freddie Mercury. The actor had to alter his voice and physical appearance for the role, and his transformation is uncanny! Get to know what it’s like playing Freddie.
What was your initial reaction when they asked you to play Freddie Mercury?
At first it was shock. As an actor, I don’t think there’s ever this law of depreciating excitement when things like this happen in your career – especially when you are being asked to play Freddie Mercury – so it’s a moment that halts you in your tracks and it is euphoric and thrilling all at once. Then, there’s a hit of the weight you have to take on with this legendary man who lives in the hearts of so many people and is revered as being one of the most talented artists of anyone’s generation.
How did you prepare for the role?
I began to look through the songs that Freddie wrote and look for the themes that underlined every track, so that through the songs I could understand the man. My thinking was that if you are going to write something so passionately you are going to draw on some deep emotions.
And did you find a theme in his songs?
It’s love, without a doubt. Here’s a man who throughout his life was constantly searching for love. Another theme is identity. Here’s a boy who was born in Zanzibar and shipped off to boarding school in Bombay at a very young age. He returns home to Zanzibar and there’s a revolution going on and his family is forced to seek refuge in England. He refers to his childhood as an “upheaval of an upbringing’ so I just started to somehow appropriate that to my own life in a way, being a first-generation American. My parents moved to America from Egypt to seek a better life for me, which somehow made it less daunting to look at Freddie Mercury the superstar. There was the man on stage versus this young man who was trying to use any of his talent and the tenacity he had to just make a home for himself in this new land. And then, given the opportunity, to rise to be who he inevitably was.
There’s also a physical transformation on screen. We see you, as Freddie, change from the shy young man who joins an unknown band into the incredible showman who captivated live audiences. Was this physicality also a way of finding him?
It gives me chills just thinking about it because he is exactly that, he transforms. It’s always Freddie but there are different versions of him, which I think is beautiful. It’s not like he’s hiding anything, it’s not Jekyll and Hyde, they are all him. It’s who he wants to be in the given moment and the given situation, which I find so endearing. I also had a team of people that helped me ‘assemble’ him, essentially, which was incredibly useful.
When did Brian May and Roger Taylor first hear you sing as Freddie? And what was their reaction?
Oh that was an earth shattering experience. It was quite funny because I went to Abbey Road to record everything, which was a completely unforgettable moment. It is the holy grail of recording studios and it’s full of photographs of the legends that have recorded there and it’s incredibly inspiring. Sharing what I recorded, which is a tape of me emulating Freddie, with Brian and Roger was a huge moment. I thought they had seen it before, but halfway through our conversation I realized they hadn’t. I watched myself interpreting Freddie for the first time, while standing between two of the people who know him better than anyone. This film has run the gamut of emotions for me, but the highs have been higher than any I could’ve hoped for.
What did Brian and Roger say to you?
Roger was characteristically cool and reserved, but Brian, I noticed, eyed me up and down. He eventually came out with a compliment that I was really moved by. I had put all of myself into preparing for this and trying to do this person justice that getting that acceptance from them was inspiring and propelling.
No one else does stadium anthems like Queen…
They practically invented stadium anthems. The two songs ‘We Are The Champions’ and ‘We Will Rock You’ are really audience participation songs and there’s no band that has accomplished that in the same way. That’s what was so unique about them. They’d perform ‘We Are The Champions’ in massive arenas and stadiums and everyone in the crowd would collectively sing and move in unison. Those songs unite people.
Watch Bohemian Rhapsody’s Trailer Below:
Words and images courtesy of Empire Entertainment