Culture of a Rhapsody

movie & TV October 30, 2018 06:00

By ELAINE LIPWORTH
SPECIAL TO THE NATION

8,088 Viewed

Queen's Brian May and Roger Tayor share their insights into the band, Freddie Mercury, and Queen's Historic Performance at Live AID



ENGROSSING and highly entertaining, “Bohemian Rhapsody”, which opens on Thursday, is a joyful and moving celebration of Queen. Directed by Bryan Singer, the movie is infused with indelible Queen hits, from “We Are the Champions” to “Love of My Life”, “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” and, of course, “Bohemian Rhapsody”. Known for their innovative music and theatrical productions, the band released more than a dozen albums, becoming a cross-generational, cultural phenomenon. Their hits are as popular now as they were when they were first released.

Following the band from their student days in London to the height of their success when they were filling stadiums around the globe, there’s a focus on the extraordinary life and career of frontman Freddie Mercury, who died in 1991, aged 45, of bronchopneumonia resulting from Aids. The Emmy-winning actor Rami Malek stars as Freddie. Playing Brian May is Gwilym Lee, with Ben Hardy as Roger Taylor. Also starring is Joe Mazzello as bass guitarist John Deacon.

WHAT PROMPTED YOU TO GET INVOLVED WITH THE FILM?

May: In truth, we were a little reluctant to get involved at the beginning, because we thought it would be difficult to make a film that would do Freddie justice. The idea had been suggested to us a lot over the years and eventually we realised that if we didn’t get to participate, somebody else would do a film without us and we wouldn’t be able to protect Freddie’s legacy, so we eventually got involved. 

WHAT ARE THE ELEMENTS THAT MAKE THE FILM WORK WOULD YOU SAY? 

May: Casting Rami Malek in the role of Freddie had a lot to do with it. Rami blew us away the first time we met him. We kind of saw Freddie in him and we could sense Rami’s passion. But, also, the other guys who play us are phenomenal, and I think the performances you see in the film reflect the fact that they completely lived it all, they became us, and they believed that they were us. It wasn’t just an acting job for them. The same is true for Lucy Boynton who plays Mary Austin [Freddie’s girlfriend, then close friend]. Actually, all the way down the cast and the whole production team, you can feel the enthusiasm. Visiting the set, there was an amazing feeling of loyalty and passion.

Taylor: The actors got very close to us. And it was particularly uncanny for us to watch them acting. They are phenomenal.

WHAT WAS IT LIKE WHEN YOU FIRST SAW THE ACTORS IN MAKEUP AND COSTUME AS QUEEN?

May: Well, we first saw them when they were on stage to practice musically. And at that point, I already sensed a kind of chemistry between them – and a sense of camaraderie. We didn’t get to see them in full costume, dressed as us, until that first moment when the cameras rolled on the Live Aid scenes, which just sent shivers up my spine, because the re-creation was so perfect, the venue, and everything about it. And then these guys, Rami and the others, come in, and they were us! They plunged in at the deep end. That was the pinnacle performance that they had to pull off right at the beginning of the shoot, which was tough, but they had it down.

CAN YOU TALK A LITTLE MORE ABOUT RAMI’S PORTRAYAL OF FREDDIE? 

May: The first time we saw him was actually in Roger’s flat. It must have been horrible for him, having us watching him for the first time. But we were |really blown away by him and his ability to perform – he’s incredible. 

Taylor: He has the charisma required to play Freddie. You can’t get any bozo coming in and playing Freddie Mercury, you know. I remember watching him in “The Pacific” [the TV drama series], and he stood out. He really does have an innate charisma. And he brings out the timbre, the tone of Freddie’s voice!

WHEN YOU FIRST MET FREDDIE, DID YOU REALISE HIS POTENTIAL?

May: The simple answer is no, we did not know. He was full of dreams, full of mad fancies and insecurities – and ebullience and flamboyance.

Taylor: He sort of invented himself by an act of pure willpower and intelligence, and turned himself into Freddie Mercury. 

CAN YOU ELABORATE ON THE SIGNIFICANCE OF LIVE AID AND WHAT IT MEANT FOR QUEEN?

May: Well, as you will see in the movie, it was crucial for us. It was a pivot point. I think it was good for our self-esteem at a time when we’d fragmented quite a bit. I don’t think we knew if we could pull it off at the time. We also went on without any of the lights and shenanigans that we thought were essential for us as a band. We thought the production aspect was part of us. But we went out wearing jeans and in daylight – and it worked. We believed in the essence of Queen in a way we never had before.

Taylor: I remember it being the most incredible day. First of all, there was the unlikely event of the sun actually shining in a British summer (laughs). The whole day was quite magical and went very well for us all round. I just remember the atmosphere was so great and there was so much cooperation backstage. Also, it was the first time that “music” had really stood up and done something good in the world to save lives, which was mainly down to Bob Geldof. 

HOW DID YOU COME UP WITH YOUR SET LIST FOR LIVE AID? 

May: “We put as many of our instantly recognisable songs into a medley as possible. They were slightly shortened, and dovetailed together … and we rehearsed. That was unusual for us in those days (laughs).

THE SONG ‘BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY’ OF COURSE ENDED UP BEING GROUNDBREAKING. HOW DID FREDDIE, WHO WROTE THE SONG, INTRODUCE THE INITIAL CONCEPT?

Taylor: I remember the first thing Freddie played on the piano was “Mama, just killed a man”. And I thought, “Oh, that’s good, it’s catchy”. But then he said, “There are some more bits”. In fact, there were a lot more bits and some of them didn’t make sense at the time. He was conducting and orchestrating everything and we just went along with it.

May: But it wasn’t actually unusual for Queen. If you listen to the album “Queen II”, there’s a lot of stuff on there, which is quite similar in terms of its outrageous construction. We were into making things that were unusual, creating things that were outside the norm. We just enjoyed it.

THERE WAS RELUCTANCE AT YOUR RECORD COMPANIES TO PUT OUT “BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY”?

May: We had two record companies and they were both shocked and said, “You can’t do that song, it won’t get played on the radio”. And it just took us being dogged and precocious boys, as we were. We said, “That’s what you’re getting”. And in the end we were lucky because it worked out. Some people stood up and championed our cause, like Kenny Everett [the British DJ].

FINALLY, WHAT DO YOU THINK AT ITS HEART “BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY” IS ALL ABOUT AND WHAT DO AUDIENCES HAVE IN STORE?

May: Obviously, we wanted to make a bad-ass movie, but the centre of it is Freddie of course. We all felt we wanted to portray Freddie’s humanity, portray him as the human being he was – and as a musician. The film had to be truthful and not too indulgent and watchable. I think Freddie would have agreed that, number one, it had to be entertaining. And I think we wanted people to laugh and to cry, and I believe that is what people will do when they see this movie.

Taylor: The movie is broadly true and at the same time it really is entertaining. That’s quite a balance to strike and I think that everyone involved in this film has pretty much got that right.