We Aren’t The Champions: Sacha Baron Cohen Won’t Play Freddie Mercury

Sacha Baron Cohen as Borat. (AP)

Sacha Baron Cohen as Borat. (AP)

It always seemed like a perfect moment of casting, to have Sacha Baron Cohen – a performer with no visible sense of shame or self-consciousness, and the ability to rock a fine moustache – to play Queen frontman Freddie Mercury – a performer with no visible sense of shame… fine moustache et cetera.

However, it seems we won’t get to see this potentially glorious performance any time soon, as Deadline is reporting that Sacha has pulled out, over issues of script approval with the surviving members of the band.

And it’s an issue that strikes at the heart of Queen’s appeal. Deadline’s account is that Sacha wanted to be able to show some of Freddie’s wilder activities, while the band is more interested in putting together a PG-rated account of their career rebirth after the Live Aid concert.

Despite the film having been essentially created by Sacha himself, bringing in Peter Morgan (Frost/Nixon) as a writer, and approaching David Fincher (The Social Network) and Tom Hooper (Les Miserables) to direct, it’s partly a Queen Films production (with help from Sony and GK Films) and they have been reluctant to approve a director.

And in a way, this is entirely fitting. Queen were not a band whose music was particularly soul-baring (apart from notable exceptions such as “These Are The Days Of Our Lives”) and therefore fodder for tabloid discussion. In fact, for a massively popular band, they were given such a rough ride by the music press they developed a fairly healthy paranoid streak.

Properly-confirmed revelations were always thin on the ground, and it appeared that Freddie himself found the topic of public confession to be rather earnest and a bit dull, and tended to keep his wilder side strictly hidden from the press and, by extension, the public.

This is how he could wind up taking Princess Diana out to a gay bar, dressed as a man, and get away with it.

The trouble is, it’s that secret other life that would drive the most interest in the movie, which does leave moviemakers in a bit of a bind. Do they honor Freddie’s memory best by keeping his secrets secret and focussing on his reputation as a great entertainer, or by telling his story in as honest a manner as possible? And which approach would he have preferred?

Actually, strike that last question, unless anyone was planning to make Live Aid: The Opera.

Fraser McAlpine

Fraser has been writing and broadcasting about music and popular culture for over 13 years, first at the Top of the Pops website, and most recently for the NME. He also wrote BBC Radio 1's Chart Blog and reviews albums for BBC Music.

He is Anglophenia's current resident Brit, blogging about British slang and running around the Mall taking snaps of the crowd at the Royal Wedding, as well as reigniting a childhood passion for classic Doctor Who and cramming as much music in as he can manage.

Fraser invites you to join him on Twitter: @csi_popmusic

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