While the look, style and flair of Bohemian Rhapsody is obviously going to play a huge part in the success of the film, the Queen biopic was only ever going to connect with an audience if the music and songs of the beloved band were pitch perfect.
But how did the film’s cast and crew recreate that sound? Earlier this year Rami Malek, who plays Freddie Mercury in the film, gave me some insight into the process, explaining that his vocal performance as the singer “is an amalgamation of a few voices.”
“But predominantly it is my hope and the hope of everyone that we will hear as much Freddie as possible. I think that is the goal for all of us.”
This week I had the chance to speak to Gwilym Lee, who brings legendary guitarist Brian May to life in the film, who provided a further update on how he, Malek and Ben Hardy as drummer Roger Taylor and Joseph Mazzello as bassist John Deacon created the sound of the film.
“We were never going to be able to play the instruments like these guys, because that’s the points they’re all so virtuoso.”
“Only Brian can play the way he plays,” explained Lee, who was cast after impressing producer Graham King and Brian May and Roger Taylor during a script read through when only Rami Malek was actually attached.
“I didn’t have time to perfect the solos in that way. So it was a meticulous process to try and sell that I could play in his very, very specific and idiosyncratic style effortlessly.”
“That wasn’t the usual process for learning how to play the guitar. I didn’t want to get bogged down in those details.”
“Instead, I was like, ‘How does Brian May hold the guitar? How does he strike the strings? What angle does he have his fingers on the fret board?’”
“That was tough. Because he has such a specific style. He plays with a sixpence coin. He plays on a guitar that he and his father built when he was 14. That alone makes him unique. Let alone the talent.”
“I would often perfect a solo and then trying to demonstrate that I could play it. But then my guitar teacher would come up and say, ‘You don’t need to show us. The whole point is that Brian is so effortless. His fingers are hardly moving.’”
“So it was all about not demonstrating it, be engaged with it, be invested with it. It was a matter of not over concentrating and being a rock-star, too, being a showman, and bringing that element to the performance.”
But were the four actors actually playing during filming?
“You couldn’t fake it,” added Lee, who never actually did a guitar test for the film, but was instead taught to play by an old school friend.
“You see the chords being struck, you see where the fingers are on the fretboard, so you have to play that for real.”
“When we would play on the day, generally speaking we would play to a backing track. But you still had to play along to the music we were hearing.”
“We are playing really. You don’t hear our playing in the film generally. Rami is singing, too. You can see the muscularity in his neck and throat as he is forcing his voice out.”
“But the majority of the vocals you hear in the film are Freddie’s. Because that’s what people want to hear.”
Allen Leech, who portrays Mercury’s personal manager Paul Prenter in “Bohemian Rhapsody,” also added further details on this process, although he did admit, “I wasn’t part of that too much.”
“I know when they did ‘Another One Bites The Dust’ they played that. Rami sang in all of those, then the voice was blended, there was a process for that.”
“Rami would sing on set. Ben was playing the drums all the time, because you have to sync up. A lot of the stuff they would play and then try to replicate certain performances, like Top Of The Pops and Live Aid.”
“The boys were meticulous in getting that stuff right. And I can testify that they can all play their instruments really well.”
“We’ve all seen that stuff where someone is supposed to be playing the piano, and then they cut to just fingers on a piano. But Rami had to learn the piano. And he had to learn it as Freddie. Who had a very distinctive playing style.”
“So that level of detail was fascinating to see. Especially because six weeks before I had arrived the boys had been rehearsing as a band.”
But just how involved with Queen with “Bohemian Rhapsody”?
“They were heavily involved,” insisted Leech. “Especially for all of the musical sequences, because that is exactly what they were behind.”
“Brian and Roger were there a great deal. John Deacon, since Freddie has died, has shined away from the limelight and everything in relation to Queen. He left it there because of the impact that Freddie’s death had on him.”
“So it was Roger and Brian that were there and very vocal. They were massively involved. It is not just Freddie’s story but it is their story, too.”
“And they wanted to make sure it was a celebration of that band the music that is still so iconic to watch. I felt a bit like the fifth Beatles, watching the guys rock out songs from the sidelines.”
“Brian was so generous with his time with me,” added Lee. “He gave me his mobile number and email and I was able to use him at a resource any time.”
“I asked him about solos, his approach, memories of different concerts and performances. But the most valuable thing was just being able to spend time with him one on one as a human being and an equal.”
“I got to know him, demystify him, and take him off a pedestal of rock idol status.”
“Bohemian Rhapsody” is in cinemas on November 2.