Bohemian Rhapsody: Cast

Casting director Susie Figgis brought together the rest of the cast. Says producer Graham King: “We didn’t want big names, we wanted great actors who could transform themselves. If the audience doesn’t buy into the characters in the first 20 minutes, you’ve lost them. That was the challenge.”

Lucy Benton

Lucy Benton, who most recently appeared in the films Sing Street and Murder on the Orient Express, plays Mary Austin, the love of Freddie’s life who remained a true friend even after their romantic relationship ended.

“I think Mary immediately sees something in Freddie that’s slightly different from all the other guys she knows,“ says Boynton. “There’s a light that emanates from him, and there’s a moment where she catches him looking at himself in the mirror. It’s a really beautiful moment, as we see a person trying to assess themselves, trying on all different ‘selves’. That’s what draws Mary in, and when they play with the makeup and the scarves, she recognizes what a chameleon he is. That’s the most exciting thing to her.”

For Malek, Mary was “the closest person to Freddie in his life. She was someone he could implicitly trust and rely on. There was a love and a bond between them that was unmistakable and undeniable. He referred to her as his common law wife. Mary allowed him the confidence and the courage to be exactly who he knew he could be. And that’s what true friends do. I think they allow you to feel confident in your own skin, to find that confidence and to share it with others.”

It was the script that drew Boynton to the film. “I really loved it, and it surprised me because it was very much a celebration of Queen and everything that they created and a celebration of Freddie,” she says. “You can tell that it was written by people who really love him. It was a really beautiful exploration into his beautiful existence.”

Boynton was seduced also by the relationship between Freddie and Mary. “The dynamic that they had throughout their entire lives really spoke to me,” she says. “Although it starts as a romantic relationship, it is something so much deeper and so important to both of them. She was his closest ally and he hers until the very end of his life. Conveying their mutual understanding was the most important thing for me–that very pure and clear way they saw each other, especially at a time which was more judgmental than now. Freddie really broke out of the box he was put into, and to see how they accepted each other in the purest form was really beautiful.”

Boynton also responded to the underlying spirit of the film. “Graham King wants it to be the celebration of the band and the brilliant work they created, and it’s not a kiss-and-tell. To be led by someone with such great intentions and such passion and excitement is so exciting.”

Just like the rest of the cast, the biggest challenge came in bringing a real person to life. “It’s a huge pressure to play someone who’s still alive and will have an opinion on this film and the way that I play her–especially in the scenes between Freddie and Mary in the film,” says Boynton. “It really does go into some of their most intimate moments, and so my first response was wanting to protect her and not pretend to think I know how it actually felt to be there, so I can only give my own interpretation. I never at any point want to speak for her. While with Freddie, they’re trying to replicate his costumes and looks, we’ve moved away from a completely accurate portrayal of Mary, so that there‘s a layer of protection for her.”

Malek is generous in his praise for Boynton: “Mary was the person Freddie could trust wholeheartedly, the person who reassured him and gave him the advice and confidence he needed and allows him to discover his sense of self. And she said what she needed to say in the moment it was needed. She really is the heart of this movie, and she is what keeps everything together. So the confidence of Lucy Boynton and her ability to play that part of Mary Austin is something that I don’t think the film could have done without.”

The band members – Brian May, Roger Taylor and John Deacon – are brought to life by Gwilym Lee, Ben Hardy and Joe Mazzello, respectively.

Guitarist Brian May (Gwilym Lee)

For Lee, most recently seen on the British television series Jamestown and Midsomer Murders, the part of Queen guitarist May was impossible to turn down. “It’s a real pleasure to play such an iconic character in a band that is loved by so many people,” says Lee. “I also loved that the film tells a very human story where these iconic rock gods are portrayed as real individuals. They were grafters, and it was a real struggle in the UK where they didn’t have any kind of popular success. They went on tour to Japan, and they landed in Japan to absolute mayhem. There was completely adoration, but when they get home, there’s nothing.

“The band was like a family, and they all needed each other,” continues Lee. “Brian had some difficulties with his father. He was a really high-achieving academic who was doing a PhD in astrophysics and called it off to be in a band, and his dad really didn’t approve. It was only until they went to Madison Square Garden in the mid-70s that Brian’s father, who Brian flew in on the Concorde and put up in a five-star hotel, finally understood.”

Lee was determined not to reduce his performance to an impersonation. “I wanted to try and find what makes Brian tick,” he explains. “One of the problems I found is that a lot of the material of Brian May and the band are interviews, and in an interview, you present a side of yourself that you want the world to see and which isn’t completely authentic. So I was trying to look beyond all the footage to work out what makes Brian angry or sad and how he behaves in those moments, because that‘s when you see the real person. I was very privileged in meeting the man early on while we were still rehearsing. He came straight up to me and gave me a big hug. He was thoroughly excited and passionate and supportive, and he’s never shown anything less than that throughout. Even on the day where we did the scene where I recorded the solo for ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, a time which could’ve been terrifying, I felt safe in his presence.”


Lee used rehearsals to both learn how to get inside the character and to forge an authentic relationship with his co-stars. “The musical challenge is to try and learn all those songs, but also you have to try and present a band that have been together for years, that know each other inside out, that have a bond and a connection. We rehearsed meticulously with movement director Polly Bennett. Having that choreography was a real safety net, so when it came to the first scene we filmed, the Live Aid concert which was an incredibly full on experience, it became a real galvanizing moment. It was a really exciting way to just jump in at the deep end and bond together.”


Ben Hardy (BBC-TV’s The Woman in White, Only the Brave) plays drummer Roger Taylor, who served as consultant on the film alongside Brian May. Hardy recalls how he got the role: “It was a very daunting task to play Roger Taylor, as he is a fantastic drummer, and I haven’t drummed a day in my life. Which I wasn’t completely honest about when I auditioned for the part! I said I could drum, and the director said, ‘Okay, great, could you put together a video of this track?’ And I was like, ‘You know, yeah, sure, of course‘. And I went home, bought the cheapest drum kit I could find and just had lessons every day for a couple of weeks. I put together a tape to show to casting. And luckily it was good enough. Then the real work started–10 hours of intensive drumming every day with instructor Brett Morgan. It was a crash course in drumming.”


Hardy concentrated mostly on coming to grips with Taylor’s muscular drumming style. “Roger has a few tricks that give his drumming a real showmanship,” explains the actor. “He likes to spin his stick; he just does one turn. And he always does a rim shot on the snare which is when you connect the rim of the snare and the skin to create a really big sound. He’s very theatrical with his playing, even the rim shot has a whipping motion. And he also accents the back beat by splashing the high hat. He also pours beer on his floor tom so when he hits it, the beer shoots up really high. I tried to use all that, and it really helped inform my portrayal of Roger. I got covered in beer after numerous takes, but it was really good fun.”


One of the biggest challenges for Hardy was playing a real person who is still alive, something he has never done before. He readily admits that it took him a while to realize that he wasn‘t required to impersonate Taylor but rather, “give an essence of Roger, and the strongest essence I can, whilst also being true to the text and serving the purposes of this film. Once I had grasped that, I felt a lot more comfortable.


“I was very nervous about meeting Roger,” continues Hardy. “I’d been watching video footage of him for weeks and weeks and weeks, and it felt like I was almost stalking him! On our first meeting I was worried about how he would feel about me playing him, but he was very supportive and just embraced the situation, because he understands that there has to be artistic license when making a film about real life events. He even gave me a mini drum lesson which was definitely the peak of my nerves. When he said, ‘Go on. Sit down, and show me what you can do,’ I was terrified! But he was very helpful and really taught me a lot.”


The fourth member of the band, bass guitarist John “Deacy” Deacon, is played by Joe Mazzello, the American actor best known for Jurassic Park and the HBO series The Pacific.


“I describe John as the accidental rock star,” says Mazzello. “This just happened to him, whereas I think the other guys grew up wanting to be famous musicians. John was perfectly content just working in electronics and fixing televisions. He loved playing music and had a knack for it, but he did it for fun. He also had a knack for songwriting, but he never believed that it could be something that he could do for the rest of his life. But it just snowballed, and before he knew it they were touring America and Japan. He was also the youngest and the last to join the band, so I think it took him a little while to find himself. He’s more introverted, but he’s also a little bit of a goofball. But ultimately as the band got more success, and he started writing many of their big hits, he became a pretty integral part of the band.”


It was the emotional drama of the screenplay that Mazzello found compelling. “I thought it was a beautiful and really moving story about the journey all four members of Queen went through,” he says. “I found John Deacon so interesting. He’s a little bit of an enigma. He plays the part of referee when the three others argue and settles everything with a quick word. He’s the king of the one-liner. Portraying his character, learning how to play an instrument, learning a Midlands accent which I’d never heard before, all this presented a really fun challenge, and I really wanted to be a part of it.”


To prepare for the part, Mazzello scoured the internet for videos of the band. “I found every interview John ever did, any live footage of him playing, any behind the scenes footage, every documentary,” he says. “I watched it all just to get a sense of who he was, how he fitted in, how he felt about himself in the context of the band and how he changed over time. Those are what I call the macro elements. And it’s important to stay very faithful to those. But we were making a movie, and there’s a 99% chance that the lines we’re saying are not true to life. However, as long as you can make the words that you say and scenes that you play–what I call the micro elements– fit those macro elements, that’s the way in to playing a character who is alive and is well-known and who people are going to have strong opinions about.”


Mazzello had fun brushing up his guitar skills for the film. He had learned to play guitar a decade or so ago and had to familiarize himself with the bass. “The right hand was more difficult because it involves a lot of finger picking,” he explains. “You hold the bass differently, and you don’t typically have a pick. The bass is the bridge between the percussions and the guitars, so you’re often playing the harmonies rather than the main melody and coming in at odd points. So you have to think about music differently. I had six weeks of rehearsal time and spent that time learning how to play the 25 or so songs, even though I don’t really read music.”


Mazzello was keen to get it exactly right, aware of how much scrutiny his performance would get from the audience. “We know that a lot of the people watching this are going to be Queen fanatics,“ he says. “I can’t tell you how many bassists have come up to me and asked me if I’m playing the songs. I knew I couldn’t fake it. As an actor you want to be up there on the stage feeling like you’re playing these songs. That was also what made it a challenge that I relished.”


Rami Malek believes that the presence of Brian May and Roger Taylor helped his co-stars enormously. “Having Brian and Roger around allowed everyone to understand them. So Gwilym and Ben did such a great job of capturing their essence as well.”


Certainly the cast made a lasting impression on Brian May. “When I first walked on the set and saw Gwilym Lee in his costume and wig, it was almost like looking in the mirror!” says the musician. “He did a very good job of being me! And Rami Malek is so convincing as Freddie, down to the body language. And Joe Mazzello as Deacy is uncanny. John wasn’t a very outgoing personality, but he had a very distinct way of performing, and Joe got it down, just as Ben Hardy completely absorbed Roger Taylor‘s spirit in his performance.”


Irish actor Aidan Gillen, best known for his role as Game of Throne’s “Petyr ‘Littlefinger’ Baelish,” plays John Reid, Queen’s first manager. For Gillen, Queen and Freddie Mercury hold a unique and important position in cultural history.


“Freddie didn’t look like a traditional pop star,” he says. “And yet he became a great performer and a huge sex symbol. He was a misfit who found a way to become a global superstar. He confused people. Women thought he was gorgeous and sexy; men thought he was cool. Queen is so popular, but they were never really fashionable. They were always a little bit out of time and out of fashion, which is why they‘ve remained so popular. That, and because the songs are fantastic and quite cutting-edge, using multiple overdubs on vocals and complex, unexpected chord progressions which were unusual for the time.”


Allen Leech, beloved by Downton Abbey fans for his portrayal of “Tom Branson,” plays Freddie Mercury’s personal manager Paul Prenter, who crept into Freddie’s affections and then betrayed him in the most heinous way.


Knowing little about Paul Prenter, Leech dived into researching the character.


“Paul Prenter was quite a malevolent force in Freddie’s life,” says Leech. “The more research I did, the more I realized there were very legitimate reasons for the rest of the band having issues with him. However, you always have to be careful because you’re playing a real person and make sure the subtleties aren’t taken away in the filmmaking process because you don‘t want your character to be two-dimensional. There are reasons why Paul is the person he is. You try and find a balance between respecting the story and respecting the person.


“Paul was brought in because the band wanted a personal assistant, and he struck up a relationship with Freddie mainly because they were both gay,” continues Leech. “At the time Freddie wasn’t out, and Paul gave him an ability to see what the world was like, what the gay scene was like. He was a confidante and then moved from being the band’s assistant to Freddie’s personal manager. Their relationship became toxic when Paul took Freddie away from the band, suggested he go solo and then got rid of John Reid in a very sly way.”


For Leech, two scenes are pivotal to Freddie and Paul’s relationship. The first at Rockfield Farm Studios when the band is recording the “Bohemian Rhapsody” album and Paul kisses Freddie, and they realize there’s an understanding between them. The second is in Munich, when Freddie sees the truth and, in the driving rain, banishes Paul from his life. “Freddie realizes that Paul was never really there for him, Paul was there for himself. When Freddie says, ‘you’re out, you’re gone,’ it feels like a breakup scene rather than someone getting fired. It was really lovely to do that.”


Rounding out the cast are BAFTA®-winner Tom Hollander (The Night Manager) as Jim “Miami” Beach, who began as the band’s lawyer and went on to become its manager; and Aaron McCusker (Shameless) as Jim Hutton, Freddie’s boyfriend for the last seven years of his life.


Graham King was bowled over by the caliber of the supporting cast: “Gwilym Lee spoke his first words to us in the audition as Brian May, and we were won over. Ben Hardy has a personality that was very similar to Roger in a lot of ways. Joe Mazzello is from New York, but he’s got a lot of John Deacon in him. Tom Hollander playing Jim Beach is phenomenal. Roger Taylor, Brian May and Jim Beach were bowled over by how convincing Allen Leech is as Paul Prenter. He’s the character who is going to get booed by the audience, but Allen manages to bring a sensitivity to the role that makes his behavior understandable. And Lucy Boynton is perfect as Mary; you can feel the chemistry between her and Rami.”


King had been discussing the project for quite a while with his friend Mike Myers, who is an enormous Queen fan, and was thrilled when he came on board to play Ray Foster, the head of record label EMI. “Because of Wayne’s World, it was perfect that he ended up being the one who is unimpressed when Freddie presents him with ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ and tells him the song with never be one that “teenagers can crank up the volume and bang their heads to.’ And it was Mike who decided to play him as a Northerner. He was fantastic!”