ALISON BOSHOFF: Another one bites the dust as Bohemian Rhapsody’s director is left out of the Baftas over lurid Hollywood sex abuse claims
Bohemian Rhapsody, the hit feel-good film about the rise to fame of Queen, looks almost certain to land a win at the BAFTAs on Sunday night.
Nominated in seven categories, actor Rami Malek is the hot favourite to be named best actor for his turn as singer Freddie Mercury. The film is also nominated for its cinematography, editing and sound.
But, as evidenced by a distinctly awkward awards season so far, any critical triumphs for the smash-hit film have been overshadowed by an ever-expanding sex and bullying scandal concerning the film’s director, Bryan Singer.
On Wednesday, BAFTA announced Singer’s name had been ‘suspended’ from the ballot for Outstanding British Film.
Actors Brandon Routh, Kate Bosworth, Kevin Spacey and director Bryan Singer attend the photocall of ‘Superman Returns’ held at the Dorchester Hotel on July 12, 2006
Bryan Singer (centre) with Queen’s Brian May (third from left) and Roger Taylor (second from right)
Singer, 53, is well known in Hollywood. He previously directed The Usual Suspects, Superman Returns and four of the X-Men series.
But it’s safe to say you won’t be hearing his name from any of the Bohemian Rhapsody cast, if and when they take the stage on Sunday. For, like Miramax mogul Harvey Weinstein, Singer is at the centre of a web of lawsuits involving sexual assault, including rape, as well as bullying.
Many of the claims against him became public after the film was made, but — as was the case with Weinstein — the fact is that Singer had been accused of sex offences long before, but no one seemed to take any notice.
As far back as 1997, there was a slew of legal actions against him following his second feature film, Apt Pupil. A 14-year-old extra accused Singer of asking him and other minors to film a shower scene in the nude, leading to emotional distress.
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He was supported by two other boys, aged 16 and 17. They claimed to have been filmed for sexual gratification. Singer denied the allegations and the case was eventually dropped.
Then, in 2014, Singer was the subject of sordid allegations from a man who claimed he had been forced to snort cocaine, and was raped and sodomised by Singer when he was 17.
Singer denied the allegations and the case was eventually withdrawn.
In the meantime, in many Hollywood circles, Singer has long been the subject of gossip about a supposedly debauched lifestyle. He is famous for throwing pool parties. One hosted by him and director Roland Emmerich in 2009 saw hundreds of young men celebrate the end of the Pride parade, and pictures of it found their way onto the internet.
His supposed taste for young men was such an ‘in joke’ that it was repeatedly featured in the U.S. comedy series Difficult People, with one character sniping at another: ‘Why haven’t you drowned in Bryan Singer’s pool yet?’
Singer was mentioned in the 2014 documentary An Open Secret, which featured actors talking about a culture of child sexual exploitation in Hollywood.
Rami Malek as Freddie Mercury in a scene from the Twentieth Century Fox new movie Bohemian Rhapsody, directed by Brian Singer
In 2017, Singer was accused of raping a 17-year-old boy in 2003; that case is ongoing.
Westworld star Evan Rachel Wood tweeted in 2017, as the Weinstein controversy raged: ‘Let’s not forget about Bryan Singer either.’ She later deleted the post.
By that time, though, Singer had been hired by the studio Fox to direct Bohemian Rhapsody.
Then late last month Atlantic magazine published a devastating 10,000-word account featuring named testimony from men who have not previously spoken before.Two say that they had sex with him when they were under 18, the Californian age of consent. It also includes claims from men who previously filed lawsuits against Singer which have been settled or voluntarily dismissed.
Singer counters that the Atlantic article is a ‘homophobic smear’. He has hired experienced ‘crisis management’ publicist Howard Bragman, and has a team of lawyers busy on his behalf.
‘It is no surprise that, with Bohemian Rhapsody being an award-winning hit, this homophobic smear piece has been conveniently timed to take advantage of its success,’ Singer said.
In a statement to BBC News, he added that the story ‘rehashes claims from bogus lawsuits filed by a disreputable cast of individuals willing to lie for money or attention’.
Like Weinstein and Kevin Spacey, who are both fighting allegations, Singer is determined that this will not kill his career.
The film’s star, Malek, has been left to address the claims. Speaking at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival last week he said: ‘My heart goes out to anyone who has to live through anything like what I’ve heard. I can appreciate so much what they’ve been through and how difficult this must be for them. In the light of the #MeToo era that this somehow seems to exist after that, it’s a horrible thing.’
He went on: ‘I’ve sat here and talked about how everyone deserves a voice and anyone who wants to talk about what happened with Bryan deserves to have their voice heard. In my situation with Bryan, it was not pleasant, not at all. And that’s about what I can say about it at this point.
Director Bryan Singer arrives at a screening of X-Men Apocalypse at a cinema in London, Britain, May 9, 2016
‘For anyone who is seeking any solace in all of this, Bryan Singer was fired. I don’t think that was something anyone saw coming, but I think that had to happen and it did.’ His words were met with sustained applause.
So what went wrong on Bohemian Rhapsody to cost Singer his job — and will the scandal cost the film awards glory?
The project had a tortured genesis, with Brian May and Roger Taylor starting talks with British writer Peter Morgan in 2008. By 2010, British actor Sacha Baron Cohen was interested in playing Mercury, but apparently withdrew. Ben Whishaw — Q in James Bond — was then mooted as Freddie.
Eventually, in late 2016, Malek was cast, and soon after Fox hired Singer to direct. Production started in the UK in 2017. Fox were keen to secure Singer’s services with his proven track record as a director of blockbuster hits. He is said to be on a deal ‘so lucrative it will make your eyes water’.
Industry bible The Hollywood Reporter says Singer is going to make $40 million thanks to a ‘backend provision’ which gives him a slice of the enormous profits made, plus box office bonuses at various milestones. Sources say Fox is exploring its legal options to see if it will have to pay.
On set sources indicate that Singer was ‘trouble’ from the start. One said: ‘He was loathed with such a passion. He made everyone’s lives hell. He threw hissy fits, shouting and screaming before and after takes. Sometimes he even shouted during scenes. His tantrums were such that he ripped down props, including a painting. He was volcanic. He also made sexual advances towards members of the cast and crew.’
An insider told The Hollywood Reporter that Singer’s behaviour was a re-run of the troubles which dogged him on the set of 2016 film X-Men Apocalypse, when he reportedly showed up late and unprepared, was ‘emotionally very frail’ and would cry if challenged.
‘From the beginning of Bohemian Rhapsody, he was up to his old tricks,’ the insider said.
British actor Tom Hollander, who plays Queen’s manager Jim Beach, was so annoyed by Singer and his absences that he quit the film for a time. Hollander did not return requests for comment this week.
Malek found the experience so impossible that he allegedly made at least one formal complaint to Fox, saying Singer was ‘not present on set’, and that he deplored his ‘unreliability and unprofessionalism.’
During one confrontation, Singer was said to have thrown something, reportedly a piece of electrical equipment, on set.
After filming Singer denied it all. ‘Any discussion about fights between myself and Rami Malek are simply an exaggeration of a few creative differences that were quickly resolved. This is normal on a film set,’ he said.
The Atlantic quotes Gregg Schneider, a now-estranged friend of Singer’s, saying that Singer stormed off the set on November 21 and didn’t leave his hotel suite for four days.
Schneider describes Singer during this time as a ‘vortex of brokenness.’ Singer agrees that, in November, he asked to be allowed to go home for a few weeks and cease filming. He said he needed the time ‘to deal with a parent who was sick. This was also affecting my own health. I felt we could finish up the few remaining days in January. The studio did not.’
Kevin Spacey exits the courthouse after making an appearance during his arraignment on January 7, 2019 at the Nantucket District Court, in Nantucket, Massachusetts
He added in a statement: ‘I wanted nothing more than to be able to finish this project and help honour the legacy of Freddie Mercury and Queen, but Fox would not permit me to do so because I needed to temporarily put my health, and the health of my loved ones, first.’
More bad news was to come for Fox. On December 7, 2017, three days after the news broke that he had been fired, actor Cesar Sanchez-Guzman filed a lawsuit against Singer, saying the director had raped him in 2003, when he was 17.
The following day a former boyfriend of Singer’s, Bret Tyler Skopek, gave an interview and said their life together had revolved around orgies. Then came the Atlantic expose.
GLAAD, the gay and lesbian alliance, immediately dropped Bohemian Rhapsody as a best original film nominee at its Media Awards.
Bafta also took action. In a statement, the academy said: ‘BAFTA considers the alleged behaviour completely unacceptable and incompatible with its values.
‘BAFTA notes Mr Singer’s denial of the allegations. The suspension of his nomination will therefore remain in place until the outcome of the allegations has been resolved.’
Fox said yesterday: ‘We fully support BAFTA’s decision.’
This, surely, is the killer blow — a repudiation of the director whose latest film has taken £643million and rising at the box office, making it one of last year’s biggest hits.
Singer is claiming that all allegations are evidence of a homophobic conspiracy — not unlike with his friend Spacey.
It was Singer who cast Spacey in the film which made him a star, The Usual Suspects, after admiring his theatre work. Spacey won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role in 1996. Actor Gabriel Byrne recently recalled that the film was ‘shut down’ briefly because of inappropriate sexual behaviour by Spacey.’
Singer and Spacey were reunited on the film Superman Returns when Spacey took on the role of Lex Luthor. Spacey said that they were old friends hence his agreement to take on the blockbuster.
In December, Singer mounted a defence of Spacey, telling the website TMZ that the actor, facing court for allegedly assaulting an 18-year-old, ‘will always be able to work. It’s just up to the audience.’
Actor Anthony Rapp, whose account of Spacey trying to seduce him when he was 14 began his slide into disgrace, said he hoped it would prove impossible to make another Bryan Singer film.
‘Any actor who agrees to work on this film is complicit in keeping a predator in power and will be put on blast,’ he said.
The question is: Would anyone now dare?
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