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Rami Malek says portraying Freddie Mercury in Queen biopic was a make-or-break move

CinemaCon 2018 - 20th Century Fox Invites You To A Special Presentation Highlighting Its Future Release Schedule
Rami Malek talks about portraying Freddie Mercury in “Bohemian Rhapsody” at CinemaCon this week.
(Ethan Miller / Getty Images for CinemaCon)

In December, Bryan Singer was fired from his job as the director of the Queen biopic “Bohemian Rhapsody” in the midst of the film’s production.

But you’d never have known that just by attending 20th Century Fox’s presentation at CinemaCon on Thursday, where the movie was presented as the studio’s showstopper from its upcoming slate.

Singer’s name was not even uttered during the 10 minutes or so that producer Graham King and star Rami Malek were on stage. In fact, no director was mentioned whatsoever.

But just a few months ago, on Dec. 1, production was shut down in London after Singer was let go from the movie. Denying reports that he had behaved unprofessionally or clashed with Malek, Singer said he “wanted nothing more than to be able to finish this project” but that “Fox would not permit me to do so because I needed to temporarily put my health, and the health of my loved ones, first.”

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Days after the news emerged, Singer was sued for allegedly raping a 17-year-old boy in 2003; he has denied the allegations. Shortly afterward, filmmaker Dexter Fletcher (“Eddie the Eagle”) was hired to complete filming, which concluded in January.

None of this was discussed in front of the movie theater owners this week, however.

King, who was visibly emotional, told the crowd that he’d been working to get a story about the late Queen frontman Freddie Mercury to the big screen for the better part of a decade. For many years, Sacha Baron Cohen was attached to play Mercury, and then actor Ben Whishaw was considered.

DF-14964_R – Rami Malek (Freddie Mercury) and Gwilym Lee (Brian May) star in Twentieth Century Fox
Rami Malek, left (as Freddie Mercury), and Gwilym Lee (as Brian May) star in "Bohemian Rhapsody."
(Alex Bailey )

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“It took so long because I knew in my heart that not only has this story got to be told, but if we get it right, it will truly be something special,” the producer said. “I’ve worked with many great actors — Leonardo DiCaprio, Daniel Day-Lewis, just to name a few — but the performance of this young man playing the starring role rates up there with one of the best I’ve ever seen.”

He then introduced Malek, who danced onstage and spoke about the challenges he faced in portraying the iconic musician. The movie follows Queen’s rise to fame, the band’s struggles to stay together over the years and its reunion at Live Aid in 1985, before Mercury died from AIDS in 1991 at age 45.

“When I got this role, I thought, ‘Oh, my God, this could be a career-defining performance.’ And about two minutes later, I thought, ‘This could be a career killer,’” said the “Mr. Robot” star. “I’m not kidding. You don’t get this right and it’s trouble.”

In facing the “insurmountable task” of playing Mercury, the actor said, he focused on how Queen’s music gave fans “this ability to embrace all of their imperfections and still sing as loudly as they can.”

“That’s what he did for me,” Malek said.

The actor, 36, said he wanted to be “very modest” about his performance, which he thought was “good,” but made sure to note that Brian May, the lead guitarist of Queen, saw the film a few days ago and emailed him to say how “moved to tears he was and how if Freddie were here today, he would not and could not be more proud.”

The studio clearly seems to have awards-season ambitions for the film, which is being released in November. Hopefully by then, it will have a director credit figured out too.

amy.kaufman@latimes.com

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Follow me on Twitter @AmyKinLA


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