Sacha Baron Cohen has said that he quit the Freddie Mercury biopic after it became clear that the remaining members of Queen were not keen on telling their former frontman’s full story.
Baron Cohen had been set to star as Mercury since the film was announced in September 2010 but in the summer of 2013 he pulled out of the project, reportedly because he and Queen, who have script and director approval, were unable to agree on the type of movie they wanted to make.
Speaking in a new interview with Howard Stern about the project and his ill-fated involvement, Baron Cohen explained what attracted him to the role and what, ultimately, led to his departure.
“There are amazing stories about Freddie Mercury,” he told the radio DJ. “The guy was wild. There are stories of little people with plates of cocaine on their heads walking around a party.” However, Baron Cohen learned that these stories would not make the film. “They wanted to protect their legacy as a band.”
Using an example of how the film was shaping up, he added: “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.”
Baron Cohen added that Brian May is an “amazing musician” but “not a great movie producer.”
May is on record as saying that the Borat actor proved “distracting” to making the film while drummer Roger Taylor offered an explanation why, saying: “We felt Sacha probably wasn’t right in the end. We didn’t want it to be a joke. We want people to be moved.”
Ben Wishaw has since taken on the role as Mercury in the film, which is still in production.