Oscar Isaac Passed On Playing Freddie Mercury In Bohemian Rhapsody

Oscar Isaac as Freddie Mercury: can you picture it? The powers that be behind "Bohemian Rhapsody" could, because at one point, they offered Isaac the lead role.

In "Inside Llewyn Davis," Isaac played a musician manqué, a folk singer eluded by success, but in another life he could have played a rock star in the most successful non-franchise film of 2018. "Bohemian Rhapsody" made nearly a billion dollars at the box office, and Rami Malek won an Oscar for playing Mercury. However, Isaac (who doesn't have an Oscar yet, despite his name) wasn't so sure that anyone wanted to watch anyone don fake teeth to play the Queen frontman.

Speaking with ABC Audio to promote "The Addams Family 2" (in which he voices Gomez Addams), Isaac said:

"At the time I was like, 'I don't think anybody wants to see somebody pretend to be Freddie Mercury.' And then, sure enough — everybody wanted to see someone do Freddie Mercury. So that was one that came by.

"I think I could never have done what Rami Malek did. I just think he was — obviously everyone thought so — he was great. But that was a funny one where it was just my thinking was so like, 'You could just watch him on YouTube. Why would anybody want to watch somebody pretend to do him, you know?'"

The Untold Story

One could argue that Queen and their back catalog of hits functioned as their own franchise with name recognition and a built-in fan following, but this misses the larger point that "Bohemian Rhapsody" was the highest-grossing movie without superheroes or dinosaurs of 2018. It's also a frequent cinephile punchline — one of those Oscar-winning flicks like "Crash" or "Green Book" (which beat it out for Best Picture), where it's fashionable on Film Twitter to rag on it for being unworthy of the awards love it received.

The movie was marred by its association with Bryan Singer, who retained sole directorial credit even after he went into #MeToo exile and Dexter Fletcher came in to salvage it. It wouldn't be Fletcher's last musical biopic, since he also directed the Elton John fantasy trip, "Rocketman," the very next year.

When I saw "Bohemian Rhapsody" in the theater back in 2018, I remember thinking that it wasn't as bad as people made it out to be. My view of it soured somewhat when I started reading up on the real-life history behind it and realized that said history painted a darker portrait, with the movie omitting troublesome details like the fact that Freddie Mercury continued having unprotected sex with people after his HIV diagnosis.

It suddenly made more sense why Sacha Baron Cohen (who was originally slated to play Mercury) might have left the project. Cohen reportedly wanted to explore some of the darker aspects of Mercury's story in "a gritty R-rated tell-all."

I could maybe see Isaac playing Mercury in a film like that, but what we got instead was the varnished version that upheld the Queen brand at the expense of disclosing Mercury's full history. Whatever else it was, "Bohemian Rhapsody" and its rousing Live-Aid finish aimed to be a crowd-pleaser that was a celebration of Mercury's life and music, as opposed to an interrogation of an artist's failings.