Sacha Baron Cohen has revealed the real reason why he quit his role as Freddie Mercury in the planned Queen biopic, and it’s for that most rock n’ roll of reasons — egotistical jealously.
Not on Sacha’s part, you understand, but on behalf of an anonymous Queen member who thought Freddie Mercury dying in the middle of the movie would be an “amazing thing” because the audience gets to see how the band “carries on from strength to strength.”
Obviously, when most people think of Queen, they think of Freddie Mercury strutting his stuff like a mustached maestro, whose larger than life stage persona wooed millions and whose booming baritone and infectious joy was capable of blasting away the bitter defenses of even the most anal rock critic.
Fairly or unfairly, we tend not to think of John Deacon, Brian May, or Roger Waters so much when we’re listening to Freddie roar magnificently about the myriad advantages of “bicycle races” and “fat bottomed girls.”
And only in their bleakest moments do Queen fans dare to associate Freddie Mercury stand-ins Paul Rodgers and Adam Lambert with the once-revered name of Queen.
It’s a simple fact of life that lead singers, especially lead singers as fiercely flamboyant as Freddie Mercury, are going to get the lion’s share of the audience’s attention. They are, after all, the public face of the band.
Obviously, a good lead singer needs to warrant that attention by being as elusively charismatic and devilishly impressive as possible, and a lead singer worth their salt and can make or break a band, because they’re pretty much the all-singing, all-dancing personification of the group they are fronting.
Freddie Mercury, for example, could manipulate an audience of hundreds of thousands with a click of his fingers, memorize them with some vocal acrobatics, and hypnotize them with a camp flourish.
Someone like Brian May, on the other hand, can sure play the guitar but looks quite awkward doing so, and he has a voice and manner more suited for late-night wildlife documentaries about badgers as opposed to getting the crowd at Wembley Stadium eating out of the palm of his hand.
Over the course of a career, such a marked contrast can trigger a petty resentment and unspoken envy. As such, mutiny in the ranks is the danger any successful lead singer faces from even his most seemingly loyal troops.
The frontman may consider his group as a gang, but often certain members of the band, and it’s usually the lead guitarist, began to feel their contribution is undervalued and unnoticed.
Seething with the deadly rage of the malcontent, the frustrated musician begins to feel their role in the band is little more than that of a circus bear who is forced to jump through hoops by the ringmaster, who in this case, is the lead singer.
Sometimes, this resentment remains forever unspoken for the good of the band, but more often than not, it bubbles to the surface and threatens to ruin the broth both singer and guitarist had once tended so carefully.
Think Axl Rose and Slash and David Lee Roth and Eddie Van Halen if you want some prime examples.
And it would appear something of that time-honored and good old fashioned rock n’ roll resentment and rivalry is the real reason Sacha Baron Cohen walked away from a planned biopic about the band.
The Guardian reports that according to Cohen, living members of Queen wanted the film to focus more on them and less on Freddie.
Let’s be honest, which would you prefer: a warts-and-all biopic on one of the music world’s most’s secretive characters, or an ode to how three middle-aged men kept flogging a dead horse and running a prized cash cow into the ground with all the desperation of a world barren of dignity?
Sacha Baron Cohen knows which horse he’s betting on, and it’s already left the stable, as he told Howard Stern on his radio show.
“A member of the band – I won’t say who – said, ‘You know, this is such a great movie because it’s got such an amazing thing that happens in the middle.’
“And I go, ‘What happens in the middle of the movie?’ He goes, ‘You know, Freddie dies.’… I go: ‘What happens in the second half of the movie?’ He goes, ‘We see how the band carries on from strength to strength.’
“I said, ‘Listen, not one person is going to see a movie where the lead character dies from AIDS and then you see how the band carries on.'”
Cohen believes what the punters really want to see is a full expose on Mercury’s extreme lifestyle of debauchery, but he believes Queen not only want the film to be more about them, but they are frightened the truth could tarnish their carefully protected brand image.
“There are amazing stories about Freddie Mercury. The guy was wild. There are stories of little people walking around parties with plates of cocaine on their heads!”
“The problem is – and I think it’s with any biopic, and I fully understand why Queen wanted to do this – if you’re in control of your rights and your life story, why wouldn’t you depict yourself as great as possible?
“It [becomes] a less interesting movie, but you’ve got to remember that they want to protect their legacy as a band, and they want it to be about Queen. And I fully understand that.”
Following Cohen’s departure from the film, Queen’s drummer Roger Taylor later said that the Borat star was let go because he and the other members of the band did not want the film to be a “joke.”
Yet Taylor and May seem quite content to keep dismissing Mercury’s integral importance to Queen by employing anyone who’s remotely interested to front what used to be a great band, and then have the audacity to brand this shameful pantomime as a band “going from strength to strength.” Now that’s a joke which isn’t even funny.
[Photo by Express Newspapers/Getty Images]