Five years ago, Sacha Baron Cohen was a hot commodity after his two hits, Borat and Brüno. Looking to make the transition into serious acting, the British comedian signed on to play Freddie Mercury in a biopic. After working on the project for years, it was announced that he had quit the project. Now, after a chat with Howard Stern, we know why.
The gist of Cohen’s reasoning for his departure is that he simply didn’t agree with the way the thing was plotted out. Cohen apparently wanted to make the film in a way that highlighted Mercury’s sexuality and debauchery, talking about things like the “stories that there were little people walking around with plates of cocaine on their heads at parties.” But the members of Queen didn’t see it that way.
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 of the movie.” 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 a movie where the lead character dies from AIDS and then you carry on to see how the band carries on.”
In 2013, Queen guitarist Brian May said that the Cohen left the project amicably, and he also mentioned that Cohen’s R-rated gritty movie conflicted with his idea of what the film should be. He also said that the problem with Cohen is that he always gives “Sacha Baron Cohen performances,” which May felt would distract from the rest of the film. We’ve gotta admit, May had a point there.
Listen to the whole Queen-centric piece of the Stern interview below.