Becoming Freddie: A new Bohemian Rhapsody

Bohemian Rhapsody is a foot-stomping celebration of Queen, their music and their extraordinary lead singer Freddie Mercury. Mercury defied stereotypes and shattered convention to become one of the most beloved entertainers on the planet. The film traces the meteoric rise of the band through their iconic songs and revolutionary sound. They reach unparalleled success, but in an unexpected turn, Mercury, surrounded by darker influences, shuns Queen in pursuit of his solo career. Suffering greatly without the collaboration of Queen, Mercury reunites with his bandmates just in time for Live Aid. Bravely facing a recent Aids diagnosis, Mercury leads the band in one of the greatest performances in the history of rock music. Queen cemented a legacy that continues to inspire outsiders, dreamers and music lovers to this day.
     Rami Malek plays Mercury in this highly anticipated film, and if the recently released stills and trailers are anything to go by, not only does he look unbelievably like the rockstar, he has his stage moves down – from the aggressive glam of the band’s early days to the butch fist-pumping of his 1980s incarnation – and his drop-dead humour as well. Creative Feel spoke to Malek about his dazzling new role.

Bohemian Rhapsody Queen Freddie Mercury
PHOTO CREDIT: Alex Bailey © 2018 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation.

CF: What was your initial reaction when they asked you to play Freddie Mercury?
RM: 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 at once euphoric and thrilling and then there’s a hit of the magnitude and 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 one of the most talented artists of anyone’s generation. So you can imagine the immense weight of that. Now there’s also some ambitious part of me that gets wildly excited and starts thinking about how to begin to inhabit this unique and magnificent creature.

CF: How did you prepare for the role?
RM: 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.

Bohemian Rhapsody Queen Freddie Mercury
PHOTO CREDIT: Alex Bailey © 2018 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation.

CF: And did you find a theme in his songs?
RM: Without a doubt it’s love; the search and desperate need to find love and how that has escaped him. Here’s a man who, throughout his life, was constantly searching for love. Another theme is identity. I tried to build from the ground up, so I looked at his childhood. Here’s a boy who was born in Zanzibar and shipped off to St. Peter’s 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. So there he is with the name Farrokh Bulsara. 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, and when I told them that I was going to be an artist, that was a very difficult stance for me to take, so there were things that I could relate to, which somehow allowed it to be less of a daunting task of looking at Freddie Mercury the superstar. There was the man on stage versus this young man who was trying to use any of his God-given talent and the tenacity he had to just make a home for himself in this new land. And then, given the opportunity, rise to be who he inevitably was.

Bohemian Rhapsody Queen Freddie Mercury
PHOTO CREDIT: Alex Bailey © 2018 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation.

CF: When did Brian May and Roger Taylor first hear you sing as Freddie? And what was their reaction?
RM: Oh, that was an earth-shattering experience (laughs). 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 who have recorded there, and it’s incredibly inspiring. On my last day, when we got to go back and do a little more recording, I got to play a little bit on the piano that The Beatles used. It was incredible. This film has run the gamut of emotions for me but the highs have been higher than any you could hope for. Sharing what I got to record, which is a tape of me emulating Freddie, with Brian and Roger was quite a moment. I thought they had seen it before they showed up at Abbey Road and halfway through our conversation I realised that they hadn’t. And so I had to watch myself interpreting Freddie for the first time standing between two of the people who know him better than anyone. You can imagine how intimidating that was. What I knew immediately was, ‘I can move like that. I can get that down.’ That was where I tried to pull all of my confidence from. I also knew that I could get that shyness that he had and that I could get that gregarious showman aspect too when I worked on it. It was the singing that was going to be the most challenging.

In addition to the film, which stars Rami Malek, Lucy Boynton, Gwilym Lee, Ben Hardy, Joe Mazzello, Aidan Gillen, Tom Hollander and Mike Myers and is directed by Bryan Singer, for the first time ever audio tracks from Queen’s legendary performance at Live Aid are being released as part of the soundtrack album to Bohemian Rhapsody. Recorded at the historic Wembley concert in July 1985, these Live Aid songs are among the rare gems and unheard versions from the band’s rich catalogue.
     The album features other rare live tracks spanning Queen’s entire career, new versions of old favourites, and a choice selection of the band’s finest studio recordings, among them are some of Queen’s biggest hits. The 22 songs on the soundtrack were produced by Brian May and Roger Taylor, with engineering and co-production by long-time Queen studio collaborators Justin Shirley-Smith, Kris Fredriksson and Joshua J. Macrae, and mastering by Adam Ayan and Bob Ludwig.

To read more about our interview with Rami Malek, purchase our October 2018 magazine online for only R18, or continue supporting the arts and culture industry by subscribing to our monthly magazine or e-newsletter.