Legacy of music legends: Why Queen will still rock you
Queen drummer Roger Taylor has written the soundtrack for a new British film, starring his wife Sarina. But the eagerly awaited Freddie Mercury biopic is turning out to be a rather trickier project, as he tells Geoffrey MacNab.
Last night at the Genesis Cinema in Mile End, London, saw the UK gala screening of a new lowish-budget British film called Solitary, directed by Sasha Krane, the nephew of method acting guru, Lee Strasberg.
Shot in Southsea and Portsmouth (with some scenes filmed inside Kingston Prison), it's a dark psycho-drama about a young woman trying to reconnect with her estranged family and exposing some painful secrets in the process. The cast includes Anita Dobson from EastEnders as well as boxer Joe Calzaghe in a small role as a prison guard. Also appearing is Sarina Taylor. Her husband, Roger Taylor, drummer and vocalist of rock band Queen, has executive-produced the movie and written its soundtrack.
"One of my wife's best friends is Katharine Lee McEwan who wrote the screenplay (and also stars)," Taylor explains. "Obviously, my wife being involved, I was quite intrigued. I thought it was a very serious subject and very brave … that kind of domestic difficulty involving parents with their kids is very little spoken of. It is under the table stuff. You very rarely see anything that takes that kind of thing absolutely head-on."
This isn't the first time Taylor has been involved in a soundtrack for a movie. Back in 1980, he and the other Queen band members wrote, produced and performed the music for kitsch sci-fi epic Flash Gordon. They also provided music for kilted fantasy time-travel romp, Highlander. Taylor cautions, though, that the "very minimalist" soundtrack for Solitary is a long way removed from the sturm und drang of typical Queen fare like We Will Rock You or Bohemian Rhapsody. His job was "mood creation" - stoking up the tension rather than writing songs.
"There is a song at the beginning," he explains, "but that was actually written by my son and my daughter. There is a song at the very end credits, which is me. All the rest is film music. I don't really see it having much life outside the film. It is purely for the movie."
Taylor wasn't present throughout shooting. He visited the sets from time to time and used the footage to inspire his music. Solitary appears to have been relatively easy to shoot and the cast and crew have been encouraged by the reception it received earlier this year at the Idyllwild Festival in California, where it won several awards.
It was certainly a far more straightforward affair to produce than the long-gestating, Peter Morgan-scripted Freddie Mercury biopic. Originally, Sacha Baron-Cohen was due to play the flamboyant Queen frontman (who died in 1991 at the age of 45) but Taylor didn't think the Borat comedian was quite right for the role.
"In the end, we felt that Sacha, brilliant, subversive comedian though he is, wasn't really at heart an actor. We didn't want to make it funny. We wanted a brilliant actor who was going to move people in both directions, to tears and laughter and joy. We didn't really feel in the end that he (Baron-Cohen) was right. We wanted an amazingly good actor in the purest sense."
Ben Whishaw is currently attached to play Mercury. Taylor describes Morgan's script as "very good" and adds: "What we are coming up with now is really based on Peter's original screenplay. It is really based around his take on it which I think is a pretty grown-up take."
Taylor and fellow band member Brian May aren't "driving" the biopic but they do have a power of veto. "We are just saying, no, we don't think that is a good idea or we really like that."
They would still love to see the film made but Taylor isn't offering any guarantee as to when this might happen.
"It seems that the wheels turn very slowly in the film world. They turn a lot quicker in the musical world. But I have to say, Brian and I are in absolutely no rush. We're not bothered. We just want it to be right."
Taylor has always loved movies. Growing up in Cornwall in the late 1950s and early 1960s, he was a passionate cinema-goer. He speaks with nostalgia of seeing everything from The Alamo starring John Wayne to The Vikings and Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho. His love of movies was shared by his fellow band members. Freddie Mercury's favourite film, he recalls, was Billy Wilder's Some Like It Hot. Mercury also liked Cabaret. "And we'd all go and see the latest Kubrick, every four years," he says.
However, the band never embraced cinema in the way that, say, The Who did with Ken Russell's 1975 film version of their rock opera, Tommy.
"We were a band and we tried our careers as far as they could possibly go but staying in that orbit and not going any further," he explains. Nor did Taylor have any desire to follow David Essex by appearing in films like Stardust or That'll Be the Day.
"You know, that never quite did it for me. It has to be a bit more real than that," he says, adding that "it is a bit ironic" for him to be talking about realism given his involvement in the wildly extravagant musical We Will Rock You which was on stage for 13 years.
Queen's videos were famously cinematic. Bohemian Rhapsody, directed by Bruce Gowers, boasted those stylised shots of the faces of Mercury and co in shadowy close-up, singing "Galileo, Galileo" and so on.
"Of course, that was all very new in those days. It looks pretty creaky these days," Taylor ventures of one of the pioneering pop promos of the Seventies. David Mallet's videos for the band (I Want to Break Free with Mercury doing the hoovering in pink angora) were likewise cinematic. Now, Taylor is helping to promote Solitary. He may have been exec-producer but, no, he didn't give his wife Sarina notes on her performance. "I wouldn't really dare to tread on her territory … and I think she did a great job. I am not an actor and I wouldn't presume to influence (somebody) who was."
The Queen drummer did encounter Joe Calzaghe during shooting and was heartened to discover that the boxer was a big fan of the band. "He is a very charming man and he was very good actually (in Solitary). It's not a big part but he is very convincing."
Unlike the Freddie Mercury biopic, Solitary is "definitely a low-budget film". Taylor congratulates his collaborators.
"I think they've done a magnificent job with what they had to work with. Having seen the film quite a few times now, I think it is a proper, damned good job," he declares, before making it clear that he now wants to break free from this interviewer.
The show must go on
Brian May: The legendary Queen guitarist (67) is also a keen opponent of the Government’s badger culling policy.
And, as we get nearer to the general election, Brian has become a political activist. He has taken to his website in a bid to garner support for candidate Dr Louise Irvine of the National Health Action Party.
The English musician, singer, songwriter and astrophysicist is well-know for using home-built electric guitars. He lives in Hampton with his actress wife, Anita Dobson who played Angie Watts in EastEnders.
John Deacon: Now retired, the Queen bassist (63) was known as the “quiet” member of the band, others said that he was in charge of most of the group’s finances. The Sunday Times Rich List for 2011 put his worth at £65m. The father-of-six children lives in London with his wife Veronica Tetzlaff.
His last public appearance with the band was at an Aids charity event in 1997, and his last direct involvement with Queen was with the recording of “No-One But You (Only The Good Die Young)”.