‘Your sex­u­al­ity doesn’t have to de­fine you’

Play­ing Fred­die Mer­cury’s muse helped Lucy Boyn­ton set a few things straight, she tells Jane Mulk­er­rins

The Daily Telegraph - Review - - FILM -

Af­ter pro­duc­tion ended on Lucy Boyn­ton’s lat­est film, Bo­hemian Rhap­sody, the 24-yearold Bri­tish ac­tress was sur­prised to find her­self dat­ing Fred­die Mer­cury.

The film be­gins in 1970 when Far­rokh Bul­sara, a Zoroas­trian In­dian im­mi­grant (played by Rami Malek), is work­ing as a bag­gage han­dler at Heathrow Air­port. By the fi­nal scene, set 15 years later, he has be­come Queen’s lead singer, per­form­ing a Live Aid set watched by a packed Wem­b­ley Sta­dium and a TV au­di­ence of 1.9bil­lion. When film­ing wrapped in Fe­bru­ary, Boyn­ton and Malek started see­ing each other.

Af­ter watch­ing the film, it’s im­pos­si­ble to imag­ine any­one but Malek as Mer­cury, who died of Aids-re­lated pneu­mo­nia in

1991 at the age of 45; the 37-yearold Amer­i­can ac­tor dis­ap­pears en­tirely into the role. Learn­ing to speak – and sing – through pros­thetic teeth was only a small step on the way to a trans­for­ma­tive per­for­mance that Brian May, Queen’s gui­tarist, has called “flaw­less”.

“He be­came Fred­die so closely that I as­sumed many of those idio­syn­cra­sies must be his own,” says Boyn­ton. “Then we started hang­ing out, and I re­alised that he could not be more dif­fer­ent. Hav­ing got to know him bet­ter, and then gone back to watch the film, I just think… how?”

In Bo­hemian Rhap­sody, Boyn­ton plays Mary Austin, Mer­cury’s one-time fi­ancée, who re­mained his clos­est friend and muse long af­ter their ro­mance had dwin­dled and he was liv­ing out his true sex­u­al­ity. The re­la­tion­ship be­tween the two char­ac­ters is the emo­tional heart of a film that has had a far from straight­for­ward jour­ney to the screen.

Talk of a Mer­cury biopic first be­gan in 2008, to be scripted by The Crown’s Peter Mor­gan and pro­duced by two of the sur­viv­ing mem­bers of Queen, May and the drum­mer Roger Tay­lor. Two years later, Sacha Baron Co­hen was said to have been cast as Mer­cury. But in 2013, he quit, amid re­ports that he wanted the film to be a “gritty, R-rated tell-all cen­tred around the gifted, gay singer”, while May and Tay­lor were in­tent on a more re­spect­ful nar­ra­tive.

In 2015, An­thony McCarten, whose cred­its in­clude The The­ory of Ev­ery­thing, was hired to re­write the script and the fol­low­ing year Bryan Singer (The Usual Sus­pects, X-Men) signed on to di­rect. Fi­nally, last year, with Malek in­stalled as the lead, film­ing be­gan. Yet, even once the shoot was un­der way, the prob­lems were not over. Last De­cem­ber, Singer was fired for “un­pro­fes­sional con­duct”, and af­ter a six-week break in film­ing, Dex­ter Fletcher (Sun­shine on Leith, Ed­die the Ea­gle) was called in to fin­ish the job.

Though she is far too wise to bad-mouth for­mer col­leagues, Boyn­ton calls Fletcher “a god­send” and ad­mits that “it does re­ally bind you as a cast when things take an un­ex­pected turn, to put it po­litely”.

When I meet Boyn­ton, in the bar of a ho­tel in West Hol­ly­wood, she gen­tly de­flects my ques­tions about her re­la­tion­ship with Malek – “I’ll keep you posted” she quips – but re­veals that her co-star has re­tained a few of Mer­cury’s man­ner­isms. “You get a ges­ture here and there some­times – it’s thrilling,” she says.

Boyn­ton, whose ac­cent is so

RP as to be al­most retro, was born in New York – where her Bri­tish jour­nal­ist par­ents, Gra­ham Boyn­ton (The Daily Tele­graph’s for­mer travel ed­i­tor) and Adri­aane Pielou, were work­ing – and lived there un­til they moved to Lon­don when she was five.

There, she at­tended the pres­ti­gious James Allen’s Girls’ School, sis­ter school to Dul­wich Col­lege, but sug­gests that it wasn’t quite the ego-boost you might ex­pect. “An all-girls school, when you have 800 girls from the age of 11 to 18, you would think, should be a prime op­por­tu­nity to re­ally in­ject a sense of con­fi­dence and power,” she says. “And in­stead, we were very much taught in re­la­tion to men, in terms of what the brother school would think of us.

“We were al­ways told not to wear skirts that were too short, be­cause what will the male teach­ers think of you? Or, when we started shar­ing classes with boys in sixth form, what will they think of you if you are wear­ing a miniskirt to lessons? That be­comes so deeply in­grained in your psy­che that you do be­gin to won­der, is it my fault if some­one then ob­jec­ti­fies me?”

‘At school, we were told: if you wear short skirts, what will the male teach­ers think?’

At the same time, Boyn­ton’s act­ing ca­reer was tak­ing off. With no pro­fes­sional ex­pe­ri­ence, she scored her first role aged 11, as the young Beatrix Pot­ter in Miss Pot­ter, along­side Renée Zell­weger. Then, she played Posy Fos­sil in the adap­ta­tion of Noel Streat­feild’s Bal­let Shoes, and Mar­garet Dash­wood in the BBC se­rial of Sense and Sen­si­bil­ity. She has since ne­go­ti­ated the tran­si­tion from child to adult roles, star­ring last year as Count­ess He­lena An­drenyi in Mur­der on the Ori­ent Ex­press.

Land­ing the role of Mary Austin in Bo­hemian Rhap­sody gave her pause be­fore sign­ing on, not least be­cause the real-life Austin, now 68 years old, de­clined to be in­volved. “It must be a very odd thing, hav­ing strangers tell the story of some­one you knew bet­ter than any­one,” says Boyn­ton. “I would re­ally just like to calm those nerves. I have a let­ter that I have writ­ten to her, which I will send if there does come a time at which I am al­lowed to con­tact her.”

The film’s early trailer (viewed more than five mil­lion times in the first 24 hours) was crit­i­cised for “straight-wash­ing” Mer­cury’s sex­u­al­ity, show­ing him flirt­ing

A KIND OFLucy Boyn­ton in Bo­hemian Rhap­sody, with co-star and boyfriend, Rami Malek, left; be­low, in Miss Pot­ter, 2006

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