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Sacha Baron Cohen wants an Oscar, damn it! After years of presenting at various award ceremonies and shocking the audience with gleefully crude antics, the Borat comedian has decided he wants to go for the gold himself. And what better way to do that than to play a tragic and beloved real-life figure like Queen frontman Freddie Mercury? Mercury’s former bandmate, guitarist Brian May, confirmed that the Borat star was in talks to play the late singer, and screenwriter Peter Morgan is writing the script.
BBC NEWS has a side-by-side comparison of Baron Cohen and Mercury, and the resemblance is actually quite strong. (Sacha is Welsh and Jewish; Mercury was of Indian Parsi heritage.)
Sacha joins a rarefied group of actors who’ve played British rock stars. Let’s look back on some of the other stars who’ve stepped into the studded boots of rock royalty:
Gary Oldman as Sid Vicious in Sid and Nancy (1986)
Oldman revealed the deeply confused and vulnerable man behind the punk sneer as Sex Pistols bassist Sid Vicious in Sid and Nancy. Charting Sid’s drug addiction and toxic, doomed relationship with girlfriend Nancy Spungen, Oldman immediately sprang to the top of the Great Young British Actors list when this film hit theaters in 1986.
Jonathan Rhys Meyers as the Bowie-esque Brian Slade in Velvet Goldmine (1998)
In Velvet Goldmine, the Brian Slade character is a clear stand-in for Ziggy Stardust-era David Bowie. With his thin, almost alien frame and pouty lips, Irish-born Rhys Meyers fully captured the sexual experimentation and coked-out narcissism of glam rock.
Sam Riley as Ian Curtis in Control (2007)
Riley gave an intense portrayal of Joy Division frontman Ian Curtis struggling with epilepsy and profound depression in Anton Corbijn‘s acclaimed biopic, and he won a British Independent Film Award for Most Promising Newcomer for his work. The real-life Curtis killed himself in 1980, leaving his bandmates to soldier on and form New Order.
Aaron Johnson as John Lennon in Nowhere Boy (2009)
Johnson doesn’t really resemble the late Beatles icon, and his performance in Nowhere Boy – finally in U.S. theaters October 8 – has received decidedly mixed reviews. The Hollywood Reporter‘s Ray Bennett says that Johnson “makes a decent stab at the young Lennon, though he lacks the original’s insolent sneer and remarkable bite.” However, The London Times‘ Wendy Ide that he “captures something of Lennon’s chippy, abrasive wit and his mercurial aggression.” In spite of the debate over his acting, he was longlisted for this year’s Best Actor BAFTA.
Andy Serkis as Ian Dury in Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll (2010)
Serkis, best-known for voicing Gollum in The Lord of the Rings films, was nominated for a Best Actor BAFTA this year for his role as the polio-stricken Blockheads frontman. The Guardian‘s Peter Bradshaw calls it a “barnstorming, passionate performance.”
What other portrayals of British rock stars do you love? What do you think of Sacha Baron Cohen playing Freddie Mercury?
Kevin Wicks founded BBCAmerica.com's Anglophenia blog back in 2005 and has been translating British culture for an American audience ever since. While not British himself - he was born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri - he once received inordinate hospitality in London for sharing the name of a dead but beloved EastEnders character. His Anglophilia stems from a high school love of Morrissey, whom he calls his "gateway drug" into British culture.