September 18, 2010

Excellent Casting

The rock n' roll biopic is a sub-genre littered with a lot of predictable fare, so much so that it's been lampooned with Walk Hard: The Dewy Cox Story starring the criminally under-rated John C. Reilly.  It's usually the same formula: young rising star needs to get his music out there; fame changes them; drugs enter the picture; they fall from grace and/or die; the end.  That being said, when they are done well, they provide excellent dramatic fodder, and, as an added bonus, they have kick ass soundtracks.   Hopefully this upcoming project will fall into the latter category. An interesting piece of casting news surfaced this week when word came out that Sasha Baron Cohen - yes, Borat himself - is set to play Freddie Mercury in an upcoming Queen biopic.  The film will chronicle Queen's rise in the 1970's to the top of the rock heap and will climax with their 1985 Live Aid performance which essentially was the bands last hurrah and a gig considered by many fans to be the best the band ever did.  A few years later, Mercury's physical condition began to worsen and rumors began to surface when he appeared gaunt and frail in his increasingly rare public appearances.  Mercury, who while a very flamboyant and engaging performer was notoriously quiet and publicity-shy off stage, shot down speculation he was suffering from HIV and dismissed all the rumors, but by 1991, Mercury, on his deathbed, confirmed that he was in fact dying from AIDS complications.  The following day, on November 24th, 1991, Mercury passed away at the age of 45.  This film, however, will focus on Mercury's tremendous career and successes and not his sad demise, which is really a sad footnote and not what defined him.

Baron Cohen, of course, is a total question mark, outside of comedic work.  That being said, the very immersive nature of his comedy performances - essentially becoming a character and reacting as that character rather then the more traditional set up/joke nature of most comedic actors in Hollywood - lead me to believe he will follow in the long line of comedians and comedic actors capable of delivering stellar dramatic performances. It's worth pointing out that Baron Cohen is currently shooting a Martin Scorsese flick, so clearly there's a school of thought - and a highly respected one - that thinks he can act. In this case in particular, I think he's an inspired choice to play Freddie Mercury, and I suspect he will absolutely kill in the role.  Mercury's surviving band mates - who had casting control as the movie will be made, in part by the newly-formed Queen Films (in partnership with  Robert De Niro's Tribeca Productions and GK Films, who are currently making Hugo Cabaret, the aforementioned Martin Scorsese film) - have endorsed the casting choice as well.   Other than the large height difference - Baron Cohen is nearly six inches taller than Mercury was - there is a strong physical resemblance between the two right down to the shape of their mouths and the ability rock a thick mustache.  There is no director attached yet, but the script is being written by Peter Morgan - the scribe behind the excellent Frost/Nixon and, fittingly, The Queen - which gives me a lot of hope that will be more then a paint-by-numbers retelling of the rise of a rock band.   The fact that the band members are involved in the production should add to its authenticity, and, perhaps more importantly, the rights to the full catalog of Queen music.  

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