DON’T STOP ME NOW
GWILYM LEE PASSES THE CHARACTER TEST IN QUEEN MUSICAL
Portraying a real-life rock star is a dream come true for Gwilym Lee.
The British actor plays Queen’s lead guitarist Brian May in Bryan Singer’s big-budget biopic charting the band’s meteoric rise to fame, near implosion and triumphant reunion on the eve of Live Aid. In this Q&A, Lee talks about working with Rami Malek, who transforms into lead singer Freddie Mercury, and the advice he received from May. Q: How exciting was it when you discovered you’d landed the role?
A: I was completely over the moon, it’s a really great gig for me. Also, there was the thrill of playing an iconic character in an iconic band. Queen are loved by so many people and the band is so close to people’s hearts; it is a real honour to be helping to tell their story. It’s a big responsibility, but at the same time it’s a great opportunity. You know, it’s every kid’s dream to be a rock star – or pretend to be a rock star. Q: What was it like working with Rami?
A: Rami is incredible as Freddie. He never let the role overwhelm him. He’s very gracious and polite, the perfect leading man really. He just set the tone on set and was so courteous. He may have gone home and felt intimidated, but he was very positive on set. He was full of energy, enthusiasm and joy. And that is one of the defining things about Queen – their joy. They don’t take themselves too seriously. Rami brought that
attitude to the set with him. His performance was a celebration. Q: How did you depict Brian May?
A: I started with what you see on the outside, by looking at his mannerisms, the way he speaks, the way he moves and his gestures. Then I let all that form the interior of the man for me. For instance, Brian is actually quite softly spoken and he’s incredibly articulate; he’s a very intelligent man. I started to think, ‘What does that say about his personality and his character?’ It led me to thinking that he has to wear his intelligence quite gently. He’s a PhD astrophysicist; he is interested in stereoscopic photography and in animal welfare. He’s a fascinating individual. So I looked at the exterior of the man and how that forms him as a character. For example, I knew that he was very meticulous. I’d read stories about him in the recording studio being really detailed and meticulous, sometimes to the annoyance of his band members I’m sure! I think that his gentle exterior somehow softens his hard intelligence. Q: Brian came on set, what assistance and advice did you get from him?
A: The things he suggested to me were really useful and practical. I remember we were filming the Bohemian Rhapsody guitar solo when I’m in the recording studio. The camera was on my close-up and the entire crew went silent all of a sudden because Brian appeared. Afterwards they said, ‘Oh my gosh, that must have been terrifying having the main man on set.’ Actually it wasn’t, because as soon as the take was finished, he came over and congratulated me. Q: We hear Queen’s music in the film?
A: Yes, they use the actual tracks and we’re playing along to the music. By the end of the film there were a couple of scenes where we did actually plug in and play, because by then we were getting a little more confident. When we were rehearsing we sometimes plugged in as well, because it’s really important to hear yourself playing and have that connection with all the members of the band. You don’t get the connection if you’re constantly miming. So we did rehearse live a few times just to get that authentic feeling.
Bohemian Rhapsody opens on Thursday.