Sitting with Yahoo poring over his glossy new coffee table book, Queen in 3-D, guitar god and stereoscopic photography enthusiast Brian May pauses on page 52, gazing at a candid shot of late Queen singer Freddie Mercury with his long-term girlfriend Mary Austin, for whom Mercury wrote several songs, including “Love of My Life.” Some people might be surprised to learn that Mercury considered Austin his soulmate, but even after he came out to her in 1976 and they ended their romantic relationship, the two remained extremely close. When the singer — who would have turned 71 this week — tragically passed away in 1991 from bronchial pneumonia resulting from AIDS, he even left Austin his house and the bulk of his fortune. He had reportedly told her, “You would have been my wife, and it would have been yours anyway.”
Now May reveals to Yahoo that Mercury and Austin’s unusual but beautiful love story will be a prominent storyline in the eight-years-in-the-making Freddie biopic, Bohemian Rhapsody, which will be directed by Bryan Singer and is expected to come out in December 2018. The actress Lucy Boynton (Gypsy) has just been cast in the role of Austin. And it looks like the film might even feature a bit of a love triangle.
“Strangely enough, Mary was the girl that I picked out as somebody fabulous, and I was kind of going out with her,” May reminisces with a chuckle. “And Freddie came up to me one day and said, ‘Are you serious with Mary? Can I ask her out?’ And he did, and they were lovers for a long time.” May then adds more seriously, “And she really was still Freddie’s closest person right to the end of his life, I would say, even though he made that transition — which was very painful, obviously, for him and for her — into a different world. But she was an enormous part of Freddie’s life, and he always wanted her approval, and he wanted to protect her.
“That’s something which we’ve had very much in mind [with this movie]. What was Freddie’s journey? What did it mean?” May continues. “That’s why we took so long to approve a script, because it has to tell the truth, and it has to be real. It also has to be entertaining, because the last thing that Freddie would want is to have something dull out there, you know? But it has to tell the story as it was. And it’s a unique story, because Freddie was close to Mary. He was close to his men friends. He was also very close to us. We were such a tightly knit family, so in a sense, we were Freddie’s closest family — because Queen lasted longer than any of our marriages! I’m sorry, that’s just a fact!”
The first “family member,” so to speak, to officially join the Bohemian Rhapsody cast was Mr. Robot’s Rami Malek; it was announced back in July that he will play the iconic Freddie. (Sacha Baron Cohen was originally supposed to star in the film but he dropped out, reportedly over disagreements with Queen about the film’s direction.) “You’ll just see this guy, and you will believe he’s Freddie, I’m sure. He already has the body language, and he has the kind of persona of Freddie,” May gushes. As for Gwilym Lee, the actor who will portray May, the guitarist says, “I met him [recently], and he’s great. Yeah, I loved his presence. He has a great depth to him, a very thoughtful nature. He’s a serious actor.”
While May is solemn when discussing Mercury’s life and death, the self-described “passionate stereoscopic geek” brightens when talking about his love of stereoscopy — which began for him at age 11 in the 1950s, after he sent away for a stereoscopic photo of a hippopotamus advertised on a box of Weetabix breakfast cereal. Now the founder of the London Stereoscopic Company, May enthusiastically demonstrates how to use a stereoscope viewer — known as an owl — using a special-edition version in a custom shade of yellow that matches Mercury’s famous 1986 Wembley Stadium jacket.
“I used to dream of sharing this experience with the world,” he says, viewing rare Queen in 3-D photos that begin with the band’s heyday and go all the way through to what May cheekily dubs the modern “Madam Lambert” era with new frontman Adam Lambert.
“You’re looking through a window into the past, and it’s very evocative. I was very conscious making this book, sort of rediscovering all of the things that we’ve been through in our lives. It’s an incredible life. I feel so grateful that we had it, and we still have it.”
Now let’s hope Bohemian Rhapsody is one day released in 3-D. Along with Malek and Lee, Joseph Mazzello has just been cast as Queen bassist John Deacon, and Ben Hardy will play drummer Roger Taylor.