Two members of Queen — Roger Taylor and Brian May — spoke recently about their hope that Ben Whishaw, a British actor best known for his role as Q in the new James Bond series, is cast as the replacement for Sacha Baron Cohen in the Freddie Mercury biopic currently still in production.
Cohen left the project earlier this year due to what was cited as creative differences about whether the project should be a tame PG or an unflinching R, but in an interview this weekend, May revealed that it might have been more like personality differences: “We thought there has to be no distraction in the Freddie movie. You have to really suspend that disbelief – the man who plays Freddie, you have to really believe is Freddie. And we didn’t that could really happen with Sacha.”
At the time (and, honestly, even now) it seemed unwise to pass on an actor like Cohen with such a natural resemblence to Mercury and a passion for the project that led him to attach screenwriter Peter Morgan and pursure directors like Tom Hooper and David Fincher. But, in his defense, Whishaw has already played one famous musician (Bob Dylan in I’m Not There) and aquitted himself nicely. And his youth means that he could probably pass as a younger version of Mercury without having to cast another actor.
However, does this mean the “family friendly, PG” version of the project is the one that’s going forward? Because while Mercury’s life was always deep, varied, and interesting, exploring the darker depths of what it meant for the man to hide/obscure his contraction of HIV/AIDS and grapple with his sexual orientation would not only provide interest to the story, but would help separate Mercury the person (who was notoriously private) and the character in the film.
And honestly, do these two rock stars who came to prominance in the ’70s and ’80s think that their touring, partying, and overall lifestyle was ever going to be appropriate for a family film? Perhaps Taylor and May should rethink whether or not a film adaptation is really the best way to honor Mercury. The film doesn’t have to revel in or exploit the more sordid aspects of the story, but there’s also no reason to sell an obviously sanitized version of his life.