It was one of the biggest movie successes of 2018, and even though the film opened back in October, Bohemian Rhapsody still shows no signs of letting up.
Already in 2019, Bohemian Rhapsody has made millions at the box office, won Best Picture and Best Actor at the Golden Globes and made its way back to cinemas in a special sing-along edition.
It goes without saying that, by this point, this much is clear: a lot of people really like Bohemian Rhapsody. But there’s a darker, more complicated side to Bohemian Rhapsody that only relatively few of its fans are aware of.
Here are 25 shocking things you didn’t know about the troubled production, story and subsequent success of Bohemian Rhapsody.
25. The original director was replaced halfway through filming after he disappeared
Though Bohemian Rhapsody came out the other end looking like a highly professional product, things didn’t exactly go smoothly behind-the-scenes.
The Freddie Mercury biopic had a rocky road to the big screen. Development on the film began in 2010, but filming didn’t start until 2017.
In the time in between, the film went through several lead actors and different directors, including The Social Network filmmaker David Fincher.
When filming finally began in July 2017, with Rami Malek in the lead and X-Men’s Bryan Singer as director, things didn’t progress any easier.
According to multiple reports, Singer clashed with cast members, often failing to turn up to work as scheduled and leaving his cinematographer to direct scenes instead.
Eventually, with weeks of production left to go, Singer was fired after he went AWOL from the set, later telling producers he had simply gone home for Thanksgiving.
Eddie the Eagle filmmaker Dexter Fletcher was hired to finish the movie in Singer’s place.
24. Bohemian Rhapsody’s director has been the subject of multiple child sex abuse allegations
Though Bryan Singer was replaced as director on Bohemian Rhapsody by Dexter Fletcher, officially it’s Singer who gets the director credit for the film.
It’s something that’s proving particularly controversial now the biopic is beginning to win awards, considering Singer’s history.
Though Singer has carved out a successful Hollywood career for himself, disturbing rumours have followed the director since the 1990s.
In 1997, a lawsuit was filed against Singer for the first time. It alleged the director ordered boys as young as 14 to strip nude for a shower scene for his 1998 thriller Apt Pupil.
This was followed by yet more lawsuits in both 2014 and 2017, which claimed that Singer had sexually assaulted a number of men when they were still minors.
23. Mercury’s biographers called the film ‘superficial’ and ‘homophobic’
While the reception to Bohemian Rhapsody from audiences has been highly positive, the film has had its detractors.
Film critics, for one, have been mixed on the film, which currently has a so-so 49% on review aggregator Metacritic.
Even film journos, however, were relatively kind in their assessments in comparison to Freddie Mercury’s biographers.
Lesley-Ann Jones, the author of Freddie Mercury: The Definitive Biography, has called the film a “superficial montage of snapshots of the life and times of Freddie and Queen”.
Meanwhile Selim Rauer, the French author and essayist who wrote 2008 biography Freddie Mercury, was even less kind.
Rauer has said that Bohemian Rhapsody “fails to meet even the minimum factual or ethical standards one should expect from such a project”.
Rauer also highlights the film’s “unconscious homophobic bias”, an aspect of the film he hasn’t been alone in criticising.
22. Sacha Baron Cohen was going to play Freddie but left the film because Queen wanted it to be ‘all about them’
Bohemian Rhapsody could have been very different to the film that was ultimately released in cinemas in 2018.
Long before Bryan Singer (and Dexter Fletcher) and Rami Malek climbed on board, Sacha Baron Cohen was the one who hoped to bring Freddie Mercury’s life to the big screen.
It was Baron Cohen who was the first to tackle Mercury’s story, working on the script beginning in 2010 alongside Frost/Nixon and The Crown writer Peter Morgan.
By 2013, however, after a series of disagreements with the surviving members of Queen about the direction of the film, Baron Cohen had left the project.
In 2016, the comedian revealed what his disagreement with Brian May et al was: “they want to protect their legacy as a band, and they want [the movie] to be about Queen.”
According to Baron Cohen, the surviving Queen members wanted Freddie Mercury to die halfway through the film, after which point “we see how the band carries on from strength to strength”.
The Borat and Ali G star abandoned the film because “not one person is going to see a movie where the lead character dies from AIDS and then you carry on to see [what happens to the band].”
21. The film has been accused of ‘whitewashing’ Mercury’s sexuality and lifestyle
Beginning with Queen’s formation in 1970 and ending with the band’s legendary Live Aid set in 1985, Bohemian Rhapsody undoubtedly covers a lot of ground.
One thing the film controversially skirts over, however, is Freddie Mercury’s sexuality and lifestyle.
Though Bohemian Rhapsody acknowledges Mercury had relationships with men, the film doesn’t go much further than that.
Rated PG-13, Bohemian Rhapsody is a tame biopic of a man who famously enjoyed a hedonistic lifestyle and who predicted the movie of his life story would be “triple X-rated”.
Hannibal and American Gods showrunner Bryan Fuller accused the film of “queer-erasure” for paying little attention to Mercury’s love life beyond his engagement to Mary Austin.
The film also came in for criticism for barely acknowledging Mercury’s hard-partying lifestyle, which involved Mercury becoming a frequent drug user.
About the film’s ‘whitewashing’, Mike Ryan of UPROXX wrote: “I’ve never seen a film distort its facts in such a punitive way. It’s like the movie wants to punish Freddie Mercury”.
20. Freddie Mercury didn’t know he had HIV until long after Live Aid
As Freddie Mercury’s biographers and many other critics of the film have pointed out, Bohemian Rhapsody isn’t totally honest about its main subject.
Some characters are invented wholesale, while certain crucial events are condensed or excised for time.
Other scenes in the film, however, are outright invented for no more than dramatic purposes.
Towards the end of Bohemian Rhapsody, Freddie discovers that he has contracted HIV, in a time when there is no known cure for the disease.
Freddie then tells the rest of the band about his diagnosis just prior to their Live Aid set.
The suggestion is that Mercury discovered he was HIV-positive and told the other members of Queen about it in 1985.
In reality, Mercury didn’t know about his condition until probably 1987, and he didn’t tell the band about it until 1989.
19. Queen never fell out over Freddie going solo
That Freddie Mercury didn’t really know about his HIV diagnosis until years later isn’t the only thing that Bohemian Rhapsody gets wrong in its final scenes.
In the film, it’s implied that Mercury had a falling out with the rest of Queen in the early 80s and made the decision to go solo.
By the time they reunite in 1985 for Live Aid, the band haven’t seen each other in what appears to be some time.
In reality, this wasn’t the case at all. Though Freddie did go solo for a couple of albums, Queen never stopped working together.
In the year before Live Aid, Queen recorded and released The Works and subsequently toured the album around the world.
The band would also have had little reason to be annoyed by Freddie’s solo side-project: before Mercury put out Mr Bad Guy in 1985, Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor had already released solo records of their own.
18. Jim Hutton was never Freddie Mercury’s servant (and they didn’t meet until years later)
One thing Bohemian Rhapsody gets right: after Mary Austin, Jim Hutton was the love of Freddie Mercury’s life.
One thing Bohemian Rhapsody gets wrong: Freddie and Jim didn’t meet at all like how it’s depicted in the film.
In Bohemian Rhapsody, Freddie first meets Jim in 1981, at one of the wild parties held at Freddie’s palatial home.
Hired to serve as a waiter at Freddie’s party, Jim stays behind after the party ends only to be romanced by Mercury.
Mercury and Hutton then reunite years later just prior to Live Aid, after Freddie seeks Jim out.
In real life, Jim Hutton wasn’t a waiter, but a hairdresser, and he didn’t meet Freddie Mercury at a house party in 1981 because Jim never worked for Freddie.
Mercury and Hutton actually met, for the first time, in 1985, at a nightclub.
17. It’s the most successful music biopic of all time – by more than half a billion dollars
Despite all the controversy, Bohemian Rhapsody has proven enormously popular with audiences.
Already, with the film still playing in cinemas (and set to get a re-release around the time of the Oscars next month), the Queen biopic is the biggest music biopic of all time.
Made on a budget of $52 million, Bohemian Rhapsody had at last count made $751million at the global box office.
The film’s haul of three-quarters of a billion and counting eclipses every other music biopic that’s come before.
To put it in context, the second-biggest music biopic of all time, Straight Outta Compton, made $201 million worldwide.
Other popular music biopics like Walk the Line ($186 million worldwide) and Ray ($124 million worldwide) don’t even come close.
16. Ben Whishaw was originally attached to play Freddie
After Sacha Baron Cohen left the film, and before Rami Malek signed up, Bohemian Rhapsody was briefly in limbo.
But far from the project being inactive, another very different Freddie Mercury film could have emerged from this period.
In 2013, it was announced that Dexter Fletcher, who would eventually replace Bryan Singer halfway through his Bohemian Rhapsody shoot, would serve as director.
Fletcher’s choice to play Freddie Mercury? None other than James Bond and Paddington star Ben Whishaw.
After Fletcher left the project over disagreements, Whishaw remained attached as star for another year, before departing himself.
Perhaps it was for the best: while Whishaw is white English, Freddie Mercury was Parsi (Indian of Persian descent), making the Egyptian-American Rami Malek the more sensible fit.
15. John Deacon had no input in making the film and now lives as a recluse
Longtime Queen members Brian May and Roger Taylor had great control over the creation of Bohemian Rhapsody.
One former band member, however, was noticeably absent from the making of the film.
John Deacon, who quit Queen for good in 1997, has chosen to stay out of the spotlight ever since his rock retirement.
For the past two decades, Deacon has lived in virtual anonymity with his wife and children in Putney, London.
According to May and Taylor, Deacon has “completely retired from any kind of social contact” and is now “a little fragile”.
As such, Deacon had no input in the making of Bohemian Rhapsody, only contacting production to give permission for the use of songs he wrote in his time with Queen.
14. Ray Foster never existed
Besides the members of Queen themselves, one of the most memorable characters in Bohemian Rhapsody is Ray Foster.
A record executive with a perm, permanently attached shades and a pronounced Yorkshire accent, Foster is depicted as an old-fashioned stick in the mud.
But the thing about Ray Foster is that he never actually existed, and his character is largely an invention of Mike Myers’.
Played in the film by Myers, Foster is rather a composite of music industry figures who clashed with Queen over the course of their career.
The chief inspiration for Foster, it seems, was onetime head of EMI, Roy Featherstone, who did oppose the band making Bohemian Rhapsody a single.
Featherstone was otherwise a fan of Queen, however, and the character’s outlandish personality appears to have been drawn up largely by Myers.
13. Mike Myers played a part in making Queen popular again almost three decades before
At first look, comedian Mike Myers, best known for Austin Powers and Shrek, seems an odd fit for a serious Queen biopic.
Considering the actor’s own history, however, Myers’ involvement in the film actually makes a lot of sense.
A member of the Saturday Night Live cast since 1989, Myers’ breakout as a film star was Wayne’s World in 1992.
In the film, Myers’ Wayne Campbell enjoys a Bohemian Rhapsody singalong with his buddies while out for a drive.
The scene became instantly famous, sending Bohemian Rhapsody back up the US charts to number 2 and helping to popularise Queen again after a long fallow period.
In the film Bohemian Rhapsody, Myers’ Ray Foster says the song Bohemian Rhapsody isn’t music for teenagers to ‘bang heads to’, something that becomes a neat in-joke given the man playing Foster depicted teens doing exactly that 26 years prior.
12. Rami Malek and Lucy Boynton are dating in real life
Bohemian Rhapsody is a film not just about Queen, but a love story about the relationship between Freddie Mercury and his longtime companion Mary Austin.
These scenes are some of the best in the film, a tender depiction of a love that goes deeper than physical attraction.
If it seemed like there was a spark between the Freddie and Mary Austin actors on-screen, that’s because there really is.
Ever since Bohemian Rhapsody wrapped in early 2018, there have been rumours that Rami Malek and Lucy Boynton are dating in real life.
It took until the beginning of 2019, after months of the pair being spotted getting cosy together, for anyone to confirm it.
It was ultimately Rami Malek himself who announced their conscious coupling, calling Boynton “my love” in his acceptance speech at the Palm Springs International Film Festival.
11. Queen almost didn’t do Live Aid, but for a very different reason than depicted in the film
Towards the end of Bohemian Rhapsody, Queen are shown signing up to Live Aid just in the nick of time.
While it’s true that Queen almost didn’t make Live Aid, the reason why is rather different than the one depicted in the film – and a lot more controversial.
While in the movie Freddie and the boys accept Bob Geldof’s offer to perform at Live Aid together after a period of estrangement, in reality the band had been consistently touring all the way up to the concert.
The tour itself was part of the problem: on their way around the world’s concert venues, Queen played South Africa at a time when many artists were avoiding the country over apartheid.
This was the reason Bob Geldof left Queen out of the loop on his Do They Know It’s Christmas? charity record.
The band never actually accepted Geldof’s offer: he later changed his mind on Queen, allegedly announced they were playing Live Aid without consulting them in advance, and the band subsequently felt obliged to play.
10. Queen’s current singer Adam Lambert makes a cameo in the film
Since 2011, Queen has been back on the road with American Idol singer Adam Lambert on lead vocals in place of Freddie Mercury.
Perhaps as a thank you from Brian May and Roger Taylor, Lambert was given a highly meta cameo in Bohemian Rhapsody.
As he begins to explore his attraction to men in the film, Freddie has a rendezvous with a truck driver while on a tour of America.
So that’s an actor playing Freddie Mercury having a dalliance with the artist who’s been channelling Mercury on-stage for the past eight years.
Lambert’s not the only Queen member to cameo in Bohemian Rhapsody, either. Brian May and Roger Taylor also feature in the film briefly.
Watch out in the Live Aid scene and you might be able to spot them as two technicians watching Queen’s set from the scaffolding.
9. Rami Malek kept his Freddie dentures and had them cast in gold
After the weeks and sometimes months it takes to shoot a movie, actors understandably often leave wanting to take a memento of the experience with them.
For Rami Malek, there was only one memento he wanted to take home with him after Bohemian Rhapsody wrapped.
For the film, Malek had to be fitted with prosthetic teeth to match Freddie Mercury’s own prominent gnashers.
Once filming was over, Malek felt so attached to his fake Freddie teeth that he took them with him.
Malek then decided that the “most Freddie thing to do” would be to bling the prop up – so the actor had his Freddie Mercury teeth made gold. Hell of a souvenir.
8. The best Freddie Mercury impressionist in the biz provides Rami Malek’s vocals
It may have received criticism for its dramatic scenes, but Bohemian Rhapsody works inarguably well as a musical.
A big part of the film’s success in this department is the seamless sound design, which finds Rami Malek’s own singing voice mixed in with Freddie Mercury’s. There’s another voice on the soundtrack, however, that you may not recognise.
The other voice you can hear coming out of Rami Malek’s mouth in Bohemian Rhapsody is that of Canadian musician Marc Martel.
In 2011, Martel went viral after uploading a video of himself singing Somebody to Love in the style of Freddie Mercury.
Martel uploaded the video as his entry into Roger Taylor’s Queen tribute act project The Queen Extravaganza.
So uncanny was his impression of Mercury, Martel was one of the winners of the competition, and has been touring with The Queen Extravaganza ever since.
7. Freddie Mercury really was a ‘crazy cat person’
Bohemian Rhapsody has been criticised for its many historical inaccuracies, but there’s one thing the film does get 100% right: Freddie Mercury’s love of cats.
As depicted in the film, Mercury really was a crazy cat person, and proud of it.
Mercury had such love for his cats that he would call home while on tour and ask Mary Austin (who would be cat-sitting) to hold them up to the receiver so he could speak to them.
Mercury would have as many as ten cats at a time living with him, which his partner Jim Hutton said were like Mercury’s children.
At least one Queen song, Delilah, is dedicated to and named after one of Mercury’s favourite felines.
Mercury’s personal assistant Peter Freestone would later comment that “[Freddie’s] cats were his family”.
6. Rami Malek’s physical preparation was intense
Rami Malek didn’t just put the hours in with extensive research before he played Freddie Mercury.
Appreciating the physical differences between himself and the Queen frontman, Malek also got to work on his physique.
To play Mercury, Malek elected to emulate Robert De Niro in Raging Bull, albeit in reverse.
This meant bulking up and getting into fighting shape, which included building muscle and performing breathing exercises to play a man who could play lengthy concerts without breaking a sweat.
After the performing scenes were out of the way – the Live Aid sequence shot first – Malek then had to change his shape again to play the younger Mercury.
This meant Malek had to “crash diet”, dropping muscle and weight to get the young Freddie’s “scrawny” body.
5. Rami Malek studied Liza Minnelli and Jimi Hendrix for the role
Let nobody say that Rami Malek didn’t put the work in in preparing to play Freddie Mercury.
In addition to working out then crash-dieting, Malek put the effort in to physically embody Mercury in another way.
Determined to accurately portray Mercury the showman, Malek watched hours of footage of Queen playing live.
The actor also went deeper, studying the acts that inspired Freddie in the first place.
For this, Malek looked to concert footage of Jimi Hendrix, David Bowie and Aretha Franklin, all of whom shaped Mercury’s performing style.
Malek also worked with movement coach Polly Bennett to Liza Minnelli’s work in Cabaret.
Minnelli’s footwork in that film was borrowed liberally by Mercury in his career as a stage performer.
4. A complete replica of the Live Aid stage was built for the film
Easily Bohemian Rhapsody’s most impressive achievement is its crowning setpiece, the legendary Queen Live Aid set.
To get this moment right, the production team recreated it down to the last detail.
First, the set was planned for a shoot early in the film’s autumn-winter production, to avoid any wet weather.
Then, Wembley Arena was painstakingly replicated, right down to the Pepsi cups that appear strewn across the stage (Pepsi sponsored Live Aid).
The giant set, an exact replica of the Wembley stage at that time, was built at Bovingdon Airfield in Hemel Hempstead.
The cast and crew then shot the Live Aid set in its entirety, with the actors basing their performances on footage from the show.
3. Rami Malek and Joseph ‘Deacy’ Mazzello have been friends for years
If you think Joseph Mazzello, who plays John ‘Deacy’ Deacon and is a dead ringer for the ex-Queen bassist, looks familiar, you’re right.
Mazzello has actually been in the business a long time. You probably first noticed him in Jurassic Park as Tim, the dinosaur-obsessed boy who gets a shock on the park’s electric fence.
You might also have seen Mazzello in some of his adult roles, particularly in The Social Network or the HBO miniseries The Pacific.
It was while starring in the latter, as PFC Eugene Sledge, that Mazzello first met Rami Malek.
In a reversal of their Bohemian Rhapsody dynamic, in The Pacific, Malek played second fiddle to Mazzello as an oddball WWII vet.
It was while making the show together, years before Malek became a household name, that the pair became best buds.
2. Brian May and Roger Taylor perform the reworked 20th Century Fox theme at the start of the film
Brian May and Roger Taylor were so involved in the making of Bohemian Rhapsody, their fingerprints are all over it.
Beyond deciding on the general direction of the film, May and Taylor also make appearances in it.
In addition to making physical cameos in the Live Aid sequence, Queen’s two remaining original members also make a little musical cameo.
Right at the beginning of the film, instead of the familiar 20th Century Fox fanfare, a reworked rock version opens the movie.
This new edition of the theme was written and performed by May and Taylor themselves.
The distinctive Queen sound is all there, including typically flamboyant guitar work from May.
1. There could be a sequel
We live in an age where every movie that turns out even mildly successful seems to warrant a sequel now.
With Bohemian Rhapsody having proven as successful as it has, naturally there’s already talk of a follow-up.
It makes commercial sense – no film that makes $750 million and counting is going to be left as a standalone – though it’s hard to imagine where to go next considering Bohemian Rhapsody ended the way it did.
Still, Brian May – who spent all those years developing the Queen film – has ideas.
Though May has said “I think Live Aid is a good point to leave it”, he also acknowledges there are stories still be told.
“Who knows, there might be a sequel”, May recently told reporters with a laugh – but considering there are still years of Freddie Mercury’s life left to cover, we’ll wait to see if he wasn’t joking.