Roger Taylor—drummer for the legendary English rock band, Queen—isn’t holding his tongue when it comes to the band’s relationship with Sacha Baron Cohen, the comedian behind beloved, iconoclastic characters and bits like Borat, Bruno, Ali G, and more.
In a recent interview with Classic Rock Magazine, the now-72-year-old Rock’n’Roll Hall of Famer opened up about working with Baron Cohen during the early days of the band’s biopic, Bohemian Rhapsody—when the project was first announced in 2010, Baron Cohen was set to star as frontman Freddie Mercury. But, as Taylor made clear, that relationship wasn’t built to stand the test of time.
“I think he would have been utter shit,” Taylor said. “Sacha is pushy if nothing else. He’s also six inches too tall. But I watched his last five films and came to the conclusion he’s not a very good actor… I thought he was an utterly brilliant subversive comedian, that’s what he’s great at.”
Continuing, Taylor noted how pleased he was with the ultimate version of the film, built around the Oscar-winning performance of Rami Malek. “I think Rami did a brilliant job in an almost impossible role,” he concluded.
In 2016 on an episode of Howard Stern, Baron Cohen explained why he walked away from the project after six years of working on it. In his words, the band and he had “artistic differences,” rooted in the fact that Baron Cohen wanted to show a grittier, more accurate version of the history.
“Yeah, definitely [I wanted to get into Mercury’s sex life],” Baron Cohen said, responding to Stern. “There are amazing stories about Freddie Mercury—crazy stories. The guy was wild. He was living an extreme lifestyle. There are stories about little people with plates of cocaine on their heads walking around a party. It’s just an amazing story. But, you’ve got to remember—and I understand it—that they’re a band and they want to protect the legacy of their band. I fully understand it.”
Agreeing that the safer version of the story makes for “less interesting of a movie,” Baron Cohen went on to describe where the creative differences between the two camps began to clash.
“After my first meeting, I never should’ve carried on,” he said. “One member of the band—I won’t say who—said ‘This is such a great movie because it has such an amazing thing that happens in the middle of the movie.’ I said, ‘What happens in the middle of the movie?’ He goes, ‘Freddie dies.’ I was like, ‘Oh, so it’s a bit like Pulp Fiction, where the end is the middle and the middle is the end? Right, that’s a wild movie! I never thought about that.’ He goes, ‘No, no, no—it’s a normal movie.’”
Confused, Baron Cohen asked what would happen in the second half of the movie if Mercury’s death occurred in the middle. “He said, ‘Well, you know, we see how the band carries on from strength to strength,’” Baron Cohen continued. “I said, ‘Listen, not one person is going to see a movie where the lead character dies from AIDS and then you see how the band carries on.’”
While the final version of the film starring Malek didn’t end up going in that direction (it essentially ends at the end of Mercury’s life), the ethos of Queen’s preferred approach still won out… and Baron Cohen, for his part, is very understanding of that.
“I studied history in university—there’s a type of biography called ‘hagiography,’” he said. “Basically, it’s when, if you were a king, you’d want to have your history written. But you want to be the guy who saves the world—you don’t want your history written and somebody else saves the world. So, there’s that problem with any biopic—and I fully understand why Queen wanted to do this—if you’re in control of your life story, why wouldn’t you depict yourself as great as possible?”
So, while Taylor might’ve considered the potential Baron Cohen version of the film “utter shit,” it appears that Baron Cohen wouldn’t be too upset with that assessment. “The remaining members are still great musicians—Brian May is a great musician. He wrote half the stuff. But, he’s not a great movie producer,” Baron Cohen said. “They were very specific about the way they wanted to do it. But listen, at the end of the day, it really was an artistic difference.”
Read more coverage on Queen HERE.