Watching Rami Malek take on the monumental task of portraying Freddie Mercury, one has to wonder how many hours he spent watching Mercury videos. His on-screen performance is uncanny at times. Whether we’re watching him perform ‘We Will Rock You’ or coming up with ‘Bohemian Rhapsody,’ Malek is electric, taking us backstage for the creation Mercury’s greatest hits. He will, he will rock you.
It’s not just his performance, or the flawless lip syncing, it’s his looks. Jan Sewell talks about how she transformed Malek from Mr. Robot into an icon of rock, a legend recreated so seamlessly that even her own makeup artist couldn’t tell what was real or not. Sewell is thrilled with the outcome. “I remember one makeup girl talking about it saying, ‘Oh, she hasn’t done much but put some teeth in.’ — I was just so delighted because it meant they didn’t realize the nose, but they didn’t realize the wig too. If a makeup artist can’t see it, I’m delighted.”
We see Rami as Freddie from the 60s to 80s and his transformation is phenomenal. You’re watching him and watching Freddie.
I knew we were going from the late 60s when Freddie was 19 and came over with his family, and we would take it all the way and finish it at Live Aid. I knew I had to do that. I had to do it with all the boys. We’d see them from their late teens to their late thirties and early forties. I knew there would be wigs everywhere.
I had their heads shaped and faces cast. As they came in I was taking them up to prosthetics, wigs, and teeth. That, of course, is the other thing, it was important to get that right, but also to not let them take over.
Rami turned up looking like Mr. Robot. He had all the sides of his head shaved. He kept saying, “I’ll grow it, you won’t need to have a wig made.” I thought I’d make one anyway. He couldn’t quite get there and his hair didn’t get there fast enough, so he wears wigs all the way through. Even in Live Aid, that’s a wig. I knew I had to time travel with him. I had to figure out which wigs went with which period and which songs. It was really really important to get the timeline right. It was important that Julian Day — who did costumes — and I wound up together. It was important to be right. Queen have so many fans out there, so it was important to make sure that the fans thought, “yes, that’s them.”
Rami has five wigs in total. Our first shooting day was Live Aid, which I think was a big ask for Rami. The mustache was very important and that was stuck on because some days he wore it, some days he didn’t.
He had also worked out to get the stronger figure that Freddie had, and when we started the earlier Freddie, he lost lots of weight to get that boyish figure. There was so much work from everyone.
The other thing was if you look at Rami’s face, his jawline was perfect, but his eyes are slightly bigger than Freddie’s and they were slightly wider apart. His nose wasn’t the same. Freddie had that aquiline type nose. He actually wore a prosthetic nose. Every day I’d stick on a prosthetic nose to him. Rami nose dips in a bit and the prosthetic runs all the way down to the edge and just near the end of his nose to give him that thin aquiline nose. It was perfect. It was all about making things look different, and so it made it look like his eyes were closer together. I’d actually put a lot of makeup on his eyes to bring them in even more and to make them look smaller. I also plucked all his eyebrows, so, every day it was about a two hour session to get him ready.
We had so many teeth. We just kept trying and testing until we got the pair that we thought looked good and didn’t take over.
OK, so what are the secrets for Gwilym Lee?
He had fewer wigs. Brian May has not changed his hair a lot. It’s still long and curly. Gwilym had two wigs. He had a slightly shorter curlier one and a slightly longer one. In the 70’s, he grew his hair longer and towards Live Aid it was a bit shorter. In his earlier years, it was quite a bit shorter. The very first time we see him, we have this scene where his hair is actually blown out and straighter.
We didn’t do this so much with Rami, but all the other boys were aged. When we did Live Aid, we put on these prosthetic pieces around their eyes and forehead to age them a little. With Ben, we had little pouches under his eyes. With Joe, we put a little prosthetic piece from his nose to mouthline, it was just to get them to that age of late thirties and late forties.
Gwilym needed a bit of shading to make him pop out. He was the least complicated.
Joseph Mazzello who played John Deacon, he was my favorite. He had this wig that we called “the mushroom.” We permed Joseph’s own hair so we could do a smaller version of that. He had one long wig with a tiny bangs. There’s one point where he had his own hair. We straighten his hair for one moment and we blew out all the curls.
I spoke to him a few weeks ago about his perm.
We used to laugh at him. He had that for months. We joked that his children would have curly hair.
Did Ben Hardy change much?
Roger didn’t change much. He went blonder and longer, and so that’s what we did. He had four wigs. His was exactly that. It would be dark blonde. When they were in their glam rock stage, he had really blonde hair. Towards the end, his hair was shorter. He was about coloring. He had the prosthetic pouches under the eye. When I look at photos of Roger, you could see he had developed little eye bags.
They were all such a fantastic bunch to work with. They loved it. They loved the clothes and the wigs.
Was “the mushroom” your absolute favorite?
It was just so great looking. Personally, the wig I’m most pleased with is the wig I put on Rami. No one thought it was his own hair. It was a real mission to get on. I spent time getting it on properly. It was the day we had so many extras. I remember one makeup girl talking about it saying, “Oh, she hasn’t done much but put some teeth in.” I was just so delighted because it meant they didn’t realize the nose, but they didn’t realize the wig too. If a makeup artist can’t see it, I’m delighted.
We did a whole week of the concerts. One was in Japan. We did one in Rio. Getting the audience ready was just so much fun.
That’s a lot of extras.
We had over 7000 extras in the whole film. Most of them were wigged.