Under Pressure: Interview with ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ Producer Graham King
The story of Queen—John Deacon, Brian May, Roger Taylor, and, of course, Freddie Mercury—the larger-than-life band whose influence still reverberates, and whose hits continue to thrill audiences, has been an ongoing passion project for Graham King. The British producer is known for bringing the stories of 20th-century icons to the silver screen—including The Aviator, Martin Scorsese’s Howard Hughes biopic starring Leonardo DiCaprio, and Ali, Michael Mann’s Muhammad Ali saga starring Will Smith. His latest, Bohemian Rhapsody, tracks 15 years of the band’s history, from its origins and early days to its tour de force performance at Live Aid in 1985. Boxoffice spoke with King about the long road of preproduction, his feelings about the band, and Rami Malek’s electrifying performance as Mercury.
What is it about this story that inspired you to fight to get it on-screen?
I first met with Jim Beach [Queen’s manager], Brian May, and Roger Taylor in 2010 to discuss making the film about Freddie and their lives. For me, the intrigue of this particular project was twofold. There is, of course, the incredibly exciting chance to tell the story of a band that is so iconic and transcendent in what they’ve accomplished. But I was also fascinated with the idea that there is so much about Freddie Mercury and Queen—arguably one of the greatest bands in history—that the general public does not know. People know the name, the headlines and, of course, the music; but there is so much more to their journey. Freddie was an immigrant kid who was bullied and overcame so many struggles to become the best version of himself. Even when he became the biggest rock star in the world, he never forgot that kid, and that mindset influenced so much of who the band was then and still is now. To this day, at every concert, Queen plays to the shy kid in the back of the arena. This is such an important story to tell, and, for me, it was crucial that we not only celebrate their music and achievements, but also give people a better understanding of the band’s history.
Were you a big fan of the band?
I have always been a huge fan of Queen and their music. Growing up in London during the ’70s and early ’80s, I was able to experience their music and watch their rise to international icons from the hometown perspective. This is music that was essentially the soundtrack to so much of my teenage years and young adulthood. Even just having the chance to sit down with them to tell them why I wanted to make this movie and why they should trust me with this story was absolutely surreal. I’ve been lucky enough to work in this business for a long time and have made films with some of the best in the business, and it is rare that I feel starstuck meeting anyone. But meeting Jim Beach, Brian May, and Roger Taylor for the first time was definitely an exception to that rule. Meeting these music legends in a London pub and then having them agree to let me make this film—there aren’t many memories than can top that.
This film has been in the works and experienced a number of false starts and hiccups along the way—nevertheless, the production team has persevered in the journey to bring this movie to cinemas. As a seasoned producer, what kind of challenge doesBohemian Rhapsody represent in your career?
I love telling real-life stories. I’ve made The Aviator, the Howard Hughes story with Leonardo DiCaprio; Ali, the Muhammad Ali story with Will Smith; Argo, with Ben Affleck, which told the story of Tony Mendez. The challenge on all these films is turning someone’s real life into a theatrical film. This was no exception when making Bohemian Rhapsody, which is arguably the most daunting of the films I’ve made, as it’s no secret this has always been my passion project. So when the all of the stars started to align and the film went into production, it was a big moment for me. It’s always a great feeling to get any movie made, especially today, but this one was extra special.
Freddie Mercury was an incomparable superstar. How did you hit upon Rami Malek for this role?
One of our biggest obstacles was finding the right person to play Freddie Mercury. Freddie was such an iconic person and was larger than life in many ways. This movie lives or dies on the audience investing in Freddie, so we had to get someone who could embody Freddie in every sense of the word—emotionally, physically, even the energy. This haunted me for years—until Denis O’Sullivan, who works for me, introduced me to Rami Malek. We spent hours talking about Freddie and the band. He not only looked the part, but was so passionate about the project. I can’t get too specific but, trust me, Rami has done such an amazing job with this role and has truly made it his own. His work ethic and emotional range is incredible.
How did you choose a direction for the story?
The film starts with the formation of Queen, through to Live Aid in 1985.It’s always difficult when making a film based on real-life characters to tell their entire life story in the span of a few hours. Especially in this case, there were so many incredible stories and moments in their lives that we could choose from. The most challenging part was narrowing down these moments into a story that worked cinematically. I always knew that I wanted to create a film that takes people through Freddie and the band’s journey in a real and emotional way. So when we were shaping the story we focused on moments that celebrate Freddie’s life and the band’s accomplishments but also feel honest, raw, and relatable. Where we ultimately landed was a great blend of all of those things—and I think it will make people cry, laugh, and hopefully sing out loud in the theaters.
How much involvement did the surviving members of the band have on the film?
The band was very involved from the beginning. We spent many hours together going through their real-life experiences. It was not only an incredible and surreal experience to be sitting with Queen and hear firsthand their stories, but they were also tremendously helpful and open to that part of the process.
How do you think the film’s themes connect with today’s audiences?
The film’s themes are as relevant as ever. It’s not just about escapism—it’s more than that. It’s about discovering who you are, going after your dreams, defying the odds, making a difference, the importance of family and loved ones, and finding your place in the world. That said, I also wanted to make sure that the film still felt fun and exciting and was a cinematic experience for the audience. Freddie defied and transcended stereotypes and expectations, just as Queen’s music refuses to be slotted into a traditional genre. The impact Queen and Freddie have had through their music is a cross-generational, multicultural, and global phenomenon—and I wanted to make a film that felt like a foot-stomping celebration of that.