American-born English actress Lucy Boynton made her film debut with a leading role in Miss Potter (2006) before going on to star in the likes of Copperhead (2013), Sing Street (2016), Murder on the Orient Express (2017) and Apostle (2018). In Bohemian Rhapsody she portrayed Mary Austin, Freddie Mercury’s first true love and wife. He wrote the song Love of My Life for Mary. On screen the pair meet at a Smile gig and find their first connection at the clothes shop Biba. Mary remained a constant positive presence throughout his life.
How did you research Mary and Freddie’s relationship?
The interesting thing was to look back at the interviews that she has done and to hear her talk about it and to try and get into the mind-set of someone who didn’t have the perspective of hindsight. The way that she analysed it now would be different to the Mary I was playing, who was the innocent party in comparison to now. That was my first avenue, and then Brian May and his wife Anita Dobson because Anita spent so much time with Mary when they were travelling with the band and so it was really interesting to talk to her because she was more focussed and picked up more on Mary’s idiosyncrasies and mannerisms. For example, Mary was a coder because her father was deaf so at home she would only speak sign language, which, of course, really impacted the way in which she would engage with everyone else. Anita gave me a big insight into that, into how they would engage. Of course, Brian was the person who introduced Freddie to Mary in the first place. He knew them separately as individuals before, so he could really see the impact they had on one another. That was a really beautiful insight to see their very early connection.
Were there any interviews with Freddie that helped?
Well, yes. Mary was the person who got most access to him. Freddie talks in interviews about how Mary was the only person he really trusted in the world and when he was going through something he turned to Mary or he would deal with it himself. The kind of connection that they found very early on was based on this clarity with which they saw one another, which was so rare. The way Brian described it was that these two quite shy people brought out this energy and light in one another and that was a unique thing to witness.
Did you get to spend a lot of time with the four actors as a band, as it were, and what insights did you get into their dynamic?
It was always kind of like that, I guess. When we were all between takes and set ups and hanging out in the green rooms, the energy and chemistry you see between all of them, the banter between them, everything you see on screen was absolutely true to life. As soon as the producers realised that they would just keep rolling to catch the guys interacting with one another. So it was a lot of fun to be around. There was always a good energy.
Are you musical?
No, not at all. I wish I were. I really am not. Now when you see the skill with which they, or which Queen, play, it seems an unmanageable feat. It would be too daunting.
How has your own relationship with Queen’s music changed, if at all?
It has changed a lot because I am aware of the context of all the songs and the lyrics and that has been such a thrilling takeaway from it. Now I am listening to the songs that I loved before but I have such a more coloured understanding of why and how and when those songs came about.
Which songs are in your mind when you say that?
I keep talking about my favourite song, which is Save Me. It is really beautiful and you start to pay attention to the intricacies of the lyrics and how personal and somewhat mournful they are and can be.
Do you have a favourite era because they evolved a lot over their lifetime?
I guess the later stuff when they found their sound more and get really playful with it, I enjoy. Then just for the sake of appreciating the people behind it, I love listening to their early stuff. I guess because we are so familiar with the more recent Queen songs that to go further back and discover their younger selves, the people who create all of that, is really wonderful. With the older, less well-known stuff you kind of go into the archives, as it were, and find things that were obviously very intimate.
There are wonderful costumes in the film. You must have appreciated them, and Mary’s fine wardrobe in particular…
I heard a lot about Biba, their reputation. My mum raved about it to me, about the specific cut of the dresses, which was so iconic and specific to Biba. So to enter that world in a film like this was amazing. And the attention to detail on that set was just breath-taking. As with Live Aid, I was absolutely transported into that store and to be there in the full costume as well, to feel like you fitted into that other time in a cool world was quite remarkable.
Was that changing room scene one of your favourites with Rami?
Of course, for Freddie and Mary that’s where they first found their connection, in that changing room. And there was such an appreciation of the fabrics and the colour and textures of everything. These days everything is about immediacy and convenience while back then there was more time to appreciate everything in your surroundings. Obviously, I don’t have a memory of that place but it feels somewhat suspended in time and place. So the fact that he starts to find more of his style there as well is perfect. It captures that indefinable, limbo of a person. It was a case of anything goes inside those walls.
It’s cool that your mum knew that shop. Did she have any pieces from back in the day?
She doesn’t any more otherwise, God, would that stuff be in my wardrobe already! I just remember her talking specifically about the cut of the dresses and the underarm that Barbara Hulanicki designed. So I am trying to find a few pieces like that.
Do you have a favourite piece that Mary wore?
I guess I love that purple coat in the introduction. You put something like that on and you adopt a different kind of confidence and sense of self. It is such a statement piece.
What moments will stick in your mind when you think of the time you spent with Rami?
I suppose one of the biggest takeaways from watching him on set was how much of a leader he was. I have never really seen it to that extent, where he has this huge feat to play that person and yet it is consistently cognisant of everyone else’s experience. He is very nurturing and wants everyone to be having as good a time as he is. That was a great takeaway.
How much of a transformation was it to see him turn from Rami to Freddie in any given moment?
He did that as Freddie [the above], I suppose, and that’s the weird thing, it is only when all the cast got to hang out more — and since I got to know everyone as very much themselves, departed from the film — only then do you see how different he is from that character and from that world. On set there was always just this Freddie energy. It was always that Freddie electricity. Remarkable.
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