Bohemian Rhapsody: How Rami Malek Became Freddie Mercury Onstage

Marc Young | December 10, 2018

It was never going to be easy for Rami Malek to play a natural-born performer like Freddie Mercury in the new biographical film Bohemian Rhapsody.

So, in an effort to win over the Queen frontman's legions of devoted fans, the actor told US public broadcaster NPR that he went to great lengths to appear as authentic as possible.

Rami Malek as Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody Rami Malek as Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody. Credit: Alex Bailey courtesy of 20th Century Fox

Besides donning fake buck teeth, Malek also took singing, choreography and dialect lessons to be more convincing as the late British singer. He also had to learn how to handle himself on stage exactly like the consummate showman Mercury did.

Part of that was Mercury's unique habit of strutting while gripping, twirling and pumping his stand-mounted microphone. Of course, it couldn't be just any mic – it had to be the Shure Unisphere I Model 565 favored by the Queen singer.

Watching the movie's concert scenes, it becomes clear that the filmmakers took a granular approach to replicating Mercury's appearance and performance, including the band's onstage equipment. So the Shure 565 shares the limelight with Malek for most of the movie.

"There are things he does with that microphone that defy what the mere mortal can do," Malek told NPR. "He whips around with it with violence at times, with elegance he uses it as the air guitar."

Woodstock Tested, Freddie Approved


Introduced in 1966, the Shure 565 is essentially the Unidyne III Model 545 with a chrome ball grille. The mic's shiny good looks no doubt appealed to Mercury as much as its great sound and durability.

In late 1969, the popularity of the 565 soared after it was used as the primary vocal microphone at the legendary Woodstock music festival. The head sound engineer for Woodstock, Bill Hanley, chose the 565 microphone because it provided superb gain-before-feedback performance. (At the time, the pioneers of arena rock concerts had not yet discovered the stalwart SM58.)

There are widespread reports of Mercury frequently throwing his mic into the audience at the end of a concert. It appears that Queen must have owned a large inventory of specially engraved 565 microphones with the singer's name.

In 2013, a customer from North Carolina contacted Shure about a 565SD with Freddie Mercury's name engraved on it and asked if we could authenticate it. Upon closer inspection, Shure historian Michael Pettersen found it matched a microphone in the company's official archive engraved for the singer Neil Diamond.

"The engravings were identical: font type, font size, letter spacing, and alignment of the letters on the black plastic closing ring," Pettersen says. "The Shure archives contain no record of multiple engraved microphones supplied to Queen, though such a project could have gone undocumented at the time."

 

Carrying Confidence


The only thing for certain is that Mercury used the mic throughout much of his storied career. So it perhaps helped Malek have the confidence to belt out Queen's greatest hits in Bohemian Rhapsody by holding the same Shure 565 in his hand.

In order to synch the movie's onstage scenes with Mercury's unparalleled vocals, audio engineers had to blend in tiny snippets of the actor's real voice into the mix, according to NPR. As if that wasn't daunting enough, on the very first day of shooting, Malek had to replicate Queen's legendary Live Aid set in 1985.

"I went out every day and sang at the top of my lungs, because that's the only way to match what he's doing," Malek told NPR. "I always wanted to keep it very spontaneous, but at the same time, honor this fantastic performance that he and Queen gave."

 

 

Featured photo taken by Alex Bailey/20th Century Fox

Marc Young

With a background in journalism, Marc is an editor for Shure covering anything and everything that has to do with sound. He tries to compensate for his mediocre guitar-playing skills with his writing. He is based in Berlin, one of the best cities in Europe for music.