“Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?” It’s time to separate the two once and for all in Freddie Mercury biopic Bohemian Rhapsody.
What actually happened in the ode to iconic rock band Queen? And what historical details got fudged for the sake of fantasy?
Mercury joining the band wasn’t so simple
Near the beginning of the movie, Farrokh “Freddie Mercury” Bulsara (Rami Malek) goes to see a performance from a band called Smile. Their lead singer quits, and Mercury immediately inserts himself into the mix. This band, of course, will eventually become Queen.
The key word being “eventually.”
In real life, Mercury was a fan of the band for awhile. He was even friends with the original singer, who left the band in much less dramatic circumstances. Mercury expressed interest in performing with them during their entire run, and when the singer quit, they invited Mercury pleasantly.
The first bass player wasn’t who you think
The film shows Queen’s first official show as Queen taking place in 1970. Providing the spine of their bangers? John Deacon (Joe Mazzello), bass player extraordinaire, who played for Queen nearly their entire run. But Bohemian Rhapsody doesn’t have its baseline quite correct.
In real life, Deacon didn’t join the band until 1971. Queen actually tried three other bass players before they landed on Deacon. While just featuring Deacon simplifies the film’s narrative, it does rob us of a potentially fun “bass player tryout montage.”
Director’s cut, anyone?
A key Mercury relationship was a lot more complicated
Mary Austin was a centrally important figure to Mercury’s life. He even wrote “Love of My Life” about her. In the movie, Mercury meets Austin (Lucy Boynton) immediately before inserting himself into Smile after their singer quits. Quite the busy night for Mercury!
Except it didn’t actually happen.
In real life, Austin’s first relationship with a member of Queen… was with guitarist Brian May!
Austin and May dated for some time before parting amicably. After Mercury became the frontman of Queen for some time, May introduced Austin to him, and the rest is (actual) history.
One character completely does not exist
It’s a very cute casting choice, we’ll give it that.
Mike Myers, nodding to a head-banging sequence in Wayne’s World, plays Ray Foster, a cartoonishly villainous record exec who insists “Bohemian Rhapsody” is a terrible song that won’t amount to anything. And he’s totally fake!
While Foster is a pure invention, most folks think he’s based on Roy Featherstone, chief of Queen’s record label EMI. And while Featherstone did indeed think “Bohemian Rhapsody” was too long to be a single, he was in general a big fan of Queen.
One of Mercury’s boyfriends is not as he seemed
In the movie, Mercury drunkenly and desperately gropes and hits on Jim Hutton (Aaron McCusker), a server at a wild house party. They have a melancholy conversation and part ways for quite awhile. Later, Mercury looks Hutton up in the phone book, and they begin dating.
In real life, Mercury and Hutton met… pretty normally!
Hutton was a hairdresser at the Savoy Hotel who ran into Mercury at London nightclub Heaven. Hutton did indeed reject Mercury at first — but it was quick and direct, nothing like the quiet, pathos-filled phone call we see in the movie.
The group never thought about breaking up
Mercury admits to his bandmates that he signed a $4 million record deal with CBS to go solo. The fallout, already exacerbated by tensions, causes the band to fall apart. Even worse — it’s all before their 1985 Live Aid performance. Will they come back together in time?
But only because they never fell apart to begin with: they mutually agreed to take a small break after getting burnt out on touring. Drummer Roger Taylor and May actually put out solo records before Mercury! They also both appeared on Mercury’s first solo single!
Live Aid didn’t go down like it did in the movie
Bohemian Rhapsody shows the Live Aid performance as a highly dramatic reunion, a miniature underdog story. Queen hasn’t played together in a long time. They have to put their nose to the grindstone, rehearse half to death, and get their groove back.
A great story — just not a true one.
In real life, they had just finished recording and going on a world tour for 1984 album The Works when they got offered the Live Aid show. Live Aid was only eight weeks after their last Works show. They were very well-rehearsed and on great terms!
One key revelation occurred much later in real life
In a scene both heartbreaking and inspiring, we watch as Mercury, at the final rehearsal before Live Aid, tells the band that he is HIV-positive. He doesn’t want to announce it publicly, however, preferring to focus on the positivity of his music and work.
Mercury didn’t learn about his HIV diagnosis until 1986 or 1987, after the Live Aid concert. So he couldn’t have had this conversation with the band at this time. The movie did get Mercury’s privacy correct: He didn’t announce his AIDS battle publicly until the day before his 1991 death.
Some of Mercury’s shenanigans were exaggerated
As a way to communicate Mercury’s spontaneous theatricality, the film has him announce to his brand new bandmates that they’re recording their debut album… in just one night. Queen is, expectedly, a bit surprised and overwhelmed! But did Mercury pull this stunt in real life?
In a word: Nope!
The members of Queen had a bunch of songs ready when they had an opportunity to cut a demo at De Lane Lea Studios. And they didn’t do it in one night. It was a pretty normal recording process. But where’s the movie in that?
Mercury’s family history is fudged
In the movie, Mercury’s dad Bomi Bulsara (Ace Bhatti) talks about how Indian Parsi refugees were oppressed in Zanzibar. He then tells the dramatic story of how their family had to suddenly flee, with just the clothes on their backs.
While Mercury was indeed an immigrant to England from Zanzibar, in real life, his dad worked for the British government, and their rather well-to-do family had a six month window to leave Zanzibar and enter a safe home in Middlesex.
One performance straight up couldn’t have happened
At Rockfield Studios, a famous Welsh recording studio, we see Mercury rehearsing “Love of My Life” for eventual personal manager turned boyfriend turned villain Paul Prenter (Allen Leech). It’s both intimately beautiful and quietly ominous. But…
In real life, while Queen did make many of their most famous songs and albums at these studios (including “Bohemian Rhapsody”), this performance couldn’t have happened because Prenter just wasn’t there. He didn’t come into Mercury’s life until 1977, and this sequence took place in 1975.
Mercury did not behave a certain way to the band’s manager
In one dramatic scene, Mercury kicks Queen’s longtime manager John Reid (Aidan Gillen) out of a limo, after he suggests Mercury go solo in a lucrative CBS deal. This was all, of course, set up to happen by the Machiavellian Prenter so he could lodge his way into Mercury’s life.
However, Reid had already left the group as manager, and Mercury had already expressed interest in making a solo record.
Plus — Queen and Reid loved each other! Reid called their split “one of the gentlest parting of the ways of anybody I’ve ever worked with.”
We Will Rock You’s recording is all wrong
It’s 1980. Mercury shows up to the recording studio late, boasting a brand new, thick mustache. And Brian May (Gwilym Lee) has a new song to share, one the entire crowd can participate in.
Get your stomps and claps on: It’s “We Will Rock You.”
But in real life, this stadium rock anthem was recorded in 1977 for the album News of the World. And at that time, Mercury had the longer hair and clean shaven look he started out with, no mustache at all.
Their first US tour is misrepresented
The movie shows Queen’s first US tour as being raucous, sold-out events. We see them swagger their way through body-positive rock anthem “Fat Bottomed Girls.” And we see the crowds clamoring for more.
But their actual American debut wasn’t quite as splashy.
Queen’s actual first US tour was opening for “All the Young Dudes” singers Mott the Hoople in 1974, where the crowds were certainly not chanting for Queen. And “Fat Bottomed Girls” wasn’t even written until 1978.
Why would the movie smooth over this potentially interesting wrinkle?
Rock In Rio didn’t happen when the movie says it did
It was a massive music festival, with around 1.5 million attendees. And Queen captivated them all.
Bohemian Rhapsody shows Mercury leading the massive crowd of Rock In Rio in Brazil, which he and Hutton later watch on TV at home. The movie says this takes place in the 70s. In actuality…
The Queen Rock In Rio concert took place in 1985, well after the movie implies it did. Queen shared the lineup with other heavy rock bands like Iron Maiden and Whitesnake. In 2015, 30 years after the first festival, Queen + Adam Lambert headlined Rock In Rio 6.
Rami Malek wasn’t the first choice for Freddie Mercury
When producers began putting together a film about Mercury, there was one obvious actor choice: Sacha Baron Cohen.
Yep, the comedy prankster known for Da Ali G Show and Borat was gonna play Freddie Mercury. You have to admit, he’s a spitting image. But Cohen’s participation didn’t last long.
Cohen wanted the film to be a gritty look at the darker aspects of Mercury’s life. May wanted it to be a celebration of the band — plus, he publicly worried about the public being able to look past Cohen’s previous work. Cohen left the project in 2013.
There was controversy over the depiction of Mercury’s sexuality
Some critics believed the movie brushed over Mercury’s relationships with men and battle with AIDS. Malek himself said, “It was something I pushed for, to be quite honest, as much as possible… If it were me, I would’ve loved to have incorporated more.”
Producers of the film, including May, asserted that Mercury kept everything about his personal life and sexuality as private as possible. May even said he didn’t know Mercury was bisexual while they were touring together. Boynton believed the movie was a joyful celebration of Mercury.
There was controversy over the directors — yes, multiple directors
Bryan Singer, known for The Usual Suspects and the X-Men film franchise, was hired to direct Bohemian Rhapsody despite his mounting allegations of misconduct against children. And during production, he regularly clashed — and once physically fought — with Malek. Sometimes he didn’t even show up to work.
So he was fired!
And replaced with Dexter Fletcher, who was originally considered to direct before leaving for creative differences. Despite this, due to Directors Guild of America rules, Singer is the only credited director. Fletcher got an executive producer credit.
There are uncredited cameos from people with personal connections
In on suggestive scene, Mercury makes eyes with a bearded truck driver at a truck stop, implying they’re about to “get to know each other.” This guy is none other than Adam Lambert, who currently performs with Queen as their new lead vocalist.
Also, Luke Deacon, son of bassist John, and Emily Ruth May, daughter of guitarist Brian, have small cameos in the film as a concert goer and a backup dancer, respectively. Plus, John Ottman, the film’s editor and score composer, plays a live TV director.
One band member is missing
Guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor are listed as Bohemian Rhapsody producers, were hands on in the film’s production, and have regularly chatted about it in interviews. They also still tour as Queen + Adam Lambert.
So… where’s bassist John Deacon?
Deacon retired in 1997, and has done no music related things since. He was gutted about Mercury’s death: “As far as we are concerned, this is it. There is no point carrying on. It is impossible to replace Freddie.” He still makes business decisions, but doesn’t talk to Queen anymore.
Malek’s audition process was terrifying
Known most for his subdued work on Mr. Robot, Malek may not have been an obvious first choice to play kinetic, animated frontman of a flamboyant rock and roll band. So when he was up for the part, he had to do something wild.
He had to sing Queen music. In front of the band Queen. At legendary Abbey Road Studios. And — he was late to the first meeting!
While he was nervous beyond all comprehension, the band wound up liking him, and Malek won an Oscar for his troubles.
The movie sparked a real-life romance
In the life of Queen, Mercury and Austin did have a romantic relationship that culminated in an engagement, before Mercury revealed his bisexuality. But they remained close friends to Mercury’s dying day — Austin is the only person who knows where Mercury’s ashes were spread.
After the life of Bohemian Rhapsody, Malek and Boynton, who play Mercury and Austin, fell in love in real life!
Malek told Boynton “You have captured my heart” during his Oscar speech. And Boynton said that on Bohemian Rhapsody, Malek was “the leader of that set.”
One sequence has some sneaky CGI
The movie ends with a fantastic reenactment of Queen’s iconic Live Aid performance. Some Hollywood fudging had to be done — They shot it at an empty airfield instead of Wembley Stadium. But did you know the sequence is also chock-full of CGI?
How? Where? Why?
On the day of the shoot, filmmakers only had about 100 extras to play concertgoers. In real life, there were 72,000 people present. How did they complete this illusion? By scanning the extras into in a 360-degree system and digitally replicating them in editing to create the huge crowd.
Malek’s beginnings were difficult
Malek called Mercury “a role I don’t think can be outdone. I think we’re always searching for that next great role, and I guess I’m fortunate that I’ve already been met with it.”
But when he was being considered, Malek wasn’t really a fan of Queen. Huh?
When filming began, Malek worked his butt off.
He worked with a movement and vocal coach. Took piano lessons. Watched the Live Aid performance over 1,500 times. And doubted himself: “There were many days I said to myself, ‘This is a lost cause.’”
Malek didn’t just look at Mercury for inspiration
It makes sense that Malek would watch a ton of footage of Mercury. But there’s another, surprising performer he used for inspiration: Liza Minnelli.
What does the daughter of Judy Garland, star of Cabaret, and multi-talented singer have to do with Freddie Mercury?
As a matter of fact, Mercury himself used Minnelli as an inspiration for his onstage persona. So in some ways, you could say Malek went straight to the source in his research.
Minnelli wound up singing “We Are the Champions” at a tribute concert after Mercury’s death.
Malek ain’t the only one singing
While Malek got the gig in part from his singing, and worked hard and long to get Mercury’s style down pat, his singing voice is not the only one that represents Mercury in the film. In fact, it isn’t even usually who you hear in the final product.
Many of the scenes feature Mercury himself singing, using isolated vocal stems from original sessions. They also feature Canadian Christian rock musician Marc Martel, who won a contest to perform with tribute band The Queen Extravaganza after a video of him singing “Somebody to Love” went viral.
Filmmakers are very embarrassed by one scene
John Ottman won the Oscar for Best Editing — a huge honor, given his difficulties having to stitch together a coherent film from two directors.
Despite this, a scene of the band chatting in an outdoor cafe went viral specifically because of how badly it was edited.
Ottman owned up to it with surprising frankness: “Whenever I see it, I want to put a bag over my head… If there’s ever an extended version of the film where I can put a couple scenes back, I will recut that scene!”
“Another One Bites the Dust” gets a weird treatment
One funky (literally) moment comes when Deacon plays the band the riff for “Another One Bites the Dust.” It’s a true pleasure to watch the band known for heavy, sometimes experimental rock discover the pleasures of dance music.
But then, the movie does the “Dust” dirty.
It’s shown as being the single for 1982’s Hot Space album, a disco detour that critics didn’t enjoy. However, that just ain’t true — that song appeared on 1980’s The Game, one of their most lauded albums, and was a number one song in America.
No one was happy about the first scene shot
They began the production with the last scene. And everyone was miserable.
Producer Graham King said, “Starting the production with Live Aid was madness… [The cast was] not happy that Live Aid was the first week of shooting because they wanted to get their feet wet and build to it.”
The cast had just five rehearsal days to, um, become the band Queen. Malek insisted shooting in as long of takes as possible. And somehow, May was impressed: “They had to pull off right at the beginning at the start of shooting. Which is tough, but they had it down.”
You won’t believe what happened to one key prop
Malek wears a prosthetic set of teeth in the film to effectively mimic Mercury’s iconic overbite. And when the film wrapped, Malek compared taking the teeth out for the last time as becoming “naked.”
So where are the teeth now?
Malek explained on The Ellen DeGeneres Show: “What would Freddie do? He’d do the most ostentatious thing he could.” And Malek straight up had them cast in gold.
Another one bites the… gold dust? Sorry, we’ll show ourselves the door.
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