How Rami Malek became Freddie Mercury
Bohemian Rhapsody comes to Screen25 this week, bringing with it a fascinating portrait of the band Queen and, in particular, frontman Freddie Mercury.
Actor Rami Malek’s portrayal of the iconic vocalist helped the Mr Robot actor bag the Academy Award for Best Actor at this year’s Oscars – and with good reason too.
It’s an incredible performance that stunned audiences, critics cast members and the surviving members of Queen alike.
Malek’s journey to becoming Mercury on the big screen makes for extraordinary reading too.
Brought in to meet Queen members Brian May and Roger Taylor after Sacha Baron-Cohen, the actor originally picked for the part, exited the project, Malek’s audition lasted six hours.
During that time, he spoke at length about Mercury’s life and career and shared a video of himself singing to prepare for the part.
Malek wasn’t all that knowledgeable on Queen prior to learning about Bohemian Rhapsody but saw something in Mercury’s story that resonated with him.
Reading up on Queen and the singer, Malek spent countless hours studying fan-shot Queen videos in an attempt to pick up Mercury’s various mannerisms and on-stage persona.
That work, coupled with his clear passion and force of will was enough to convince Taylor and May, despite the fact Malek wasn’t a trained singer or musician.
That soon changed though.
During development on the project, Malek regularly flew to London for singing and piano lessons. He worked closely with dialect coach and choreographer Polly Bennett.
Bennett knew more about Mercury than most and encouraged Malek to watch footage of Jimi Hendrix, David Bowie and Liza Minelli in Cabaret – each of which had served as inspirations for the Queen frontman’s own imitable style.
Bennett worked painstakingly with Malek to perfect every nuance of Mercury’s many mannerisms; every cocky strut, eye glance or simple yet elegant turn.
One of the biggest challenges in this respect came in effectively replicating Mercury’s distinctive approach to moving with a stand-mounted microphone on stage, created with a combination of struts, twirls and powerful fist pumps.
All while holding the Shure Unisphere I Model 565 microphone stand favored by the Queen singer, of course.
That was only half the battle though. As Mercury, Malek had to make sure he looked the part.
To do this, Malek underwent a reported 50 hours of costume fittings with designer Julian Daythat, trying on everything from skintight satin trousers and Lyrca onesies to four-inch platform sole shoes.
Wigs were a necessity for Malek as they were all of his bandmates.
Then there were the teeth.
Mercury was famously born with four extra incisor teeth. It was a development that gave the singer a distinctive overbite while lending his voice extra resonance.
Malek had a set of false teeth made to prepare for the role, wearing them in the months before filming began, during breaks on his TV series Mr Robot.
This was essential to ensuring Malek mastered Mercury’s distinctive style of speaking, without a lisp or slur.
The Queen singer was always self-conscious of his overbite and constantly tried to cover it up using a combination of a bushy moustache and subdued mouth movements – another challenge Malek had to overcome when developing his portrayal.
Though Malek shared a similar jawline to Mercury, a prosthetic nose was also created to give the actor that extra layer of authenticity.
Finally, singer Marc Martel lent his voice to the biopic with sound mixers seamlessly combining Martel’s voice with recordings of Mercury and Malek.
Above all else, Malek understood that while Mercury was a showman and the focal point of the group, he remained part of a band and collective that maintained a strong bond throughout their time together.
He set about creating an effective and close bond with his castmates and onscreen band members Gwilym Lee, Ben Hardy, and Joseph Mazzello.
They rehearsed regularly, ate together, socialised during breaks and kept in regular touch via smartphone messaging platforms like WhatsApp.
It’s a bond they have maintained since, with the four actors still in close contact.
The results speak for themselves on the big screen, with Malek earning plaudits for his efforts in a film that stands as a worthy testament to Queen and their unforgettable style and sound.
Words by Jack Beresford.
Bohemian Rhapsody screens on Wednesday 13th & Friday 15th March. Book now.