Freddie Mercury’s larger-than-life persona and extraordinary vocal talents have cemented his status as one of the most legendary frontmen in rock history. Portraying Mercury’s captivating flair and presence on screen was a daunting task that actors Sacha Baron Cohen and Rami Malek both attempted to take on. When the Queen biopic Bohemian Rhapsody finally came to fruition with Malek in the leading role, all eyes were on how authentically he could pull off Mercury’s magnetic stage presence and idiosyncratic physicality.
One of the most talked about aspects of Malek’s performance was the oversized prosthetic buck teeth he wore to match Mercury’s distinctive overbite. But just how exaggerated were these movie teeth compared to Freddie’s genuine smile? Let’s break down fact versus fiction when it comes to Freddie Mercury’s teeth on film versus real life.
What Did Freddie Mercury’s Teeth Actually Look Like?
In truth, while Freddie Mercury did have a noticeable dental imperfection with his front upper teeth slightly protruding over his lower lip, it was not nearly as dramatic as the pronounced buck teeth Rami Malek sports in the movie.
According to those closest to Mercury, he was self-conscious about his teeth as a child and endured some teasing over the gap between his front teeth. Reportedly his nicknames ranged from “Bucky” to “Rabbit” during his school days. However, the charismatic singer grew to embrace this unique feature as part of his image over time.
Later in his career, Mercury did consult with a dentist about potentially capping or correcting his teeth to fix the gap. But he ultimately decided against any cosmetic dental surgery because he was concerned it could damage his vocal abilities and alter his iconic singing voice.
Why So Large? Behind the Choice to Exaggerate Mercury’s Smile
Bohemian Rhapsody’s Academy Award-winning makeup and prosthetics designer, Chris Lyons, gave insight into the thought process behind turning Freddie Mercury’s teeth into such a jarringly huge focal point of the look. Here are the main reasons the filmmakers went bigger, rather than smaller, when it came to Freddie’s smile:
Emphasizing His Iconic Overbite
According to Chris Lyons, “We wanted to bring out his buck teeth, to over-exaggerate his overbite. When you look at pictures of Freddie smiling, his top teeth cover his bottom lip. Rami tried dozens of prosthetic teeth but none were big enough.” So a primary motivation was leaning into and highlighting Mercury’s signature overbite in an exaggerated fashion.
Creating an Unforgettable Visual Hook
The filmmakers wanted Mercury’s teeth to become an instant visual trademark that would stick in viewers’ minds, much like his thick mustache. So they intentionally inflated the teeth to an almost cartoonish size to cement that attribute and make it a core part of Mercury’s appearance.
Reflecting Mercury’s Outsized Persona
Director Bryan Singer explained that the gigantic teeth “heightened the lumpiness of his mouth in a way that felt kind of elephant-man-ish…Freddie had a set of teeth that were slightly too large, and he wanted to draw attention to them because he thought they made him look more compelling.” So exaggerating the teeth was a way to visually reflect Mercury’s famously larger-than-life charisma and stage presence.
Enabling Rami Malek’s Performance
For Rami Malek, the prosthetic teeth were key to allowing him to fully inhabit Freddie Mercury’s mannerisms and speech patterns:
“The teeth had a huge effect on my performance – being able to use the overbite and have the teeth stick out beyond the lip line – the teeth affected my talking, breathing, my whole body posture.”
So the exaggerated dental appliance gave Malek the ability to authentically recreate Mercury’s distinctive lisp and physical flamboyance.
Reactions to the Giant Fake Teeth: Praise and Criticism
The huge prosthetic teeth worn by Rami Malek attracted a lot of attention and commentary from fans, critics and dental experts alike. Not everyone was convinced it was the right choice.
Praise from Mercury’s Sister
Interestingly, Freddie Mercury’s sister Kashmira Cooke defended the exaggerated teeth, saying:
“A lot of people said his teeth weren’t as protruding as they have been portrayed in the film – but I always likened him to Bugs Bunny. He had that kind of smile, he had quite prominent teeth.”
So despite the over-the-top application, Mercury’s own sister approved of the look.
Rave Reviews from Critics
Many critics raved about Malek’s transformation into Freddie Mercury, with the prosthetic teeth garnering particular praise. The Guardian proclaimed the giant false teeth as having “an extraordinary totemic power.” Most agreed that while not completely accurate, the exaggerated teeth helped Malek embody Mercury.
Skepticism from Some Fans
However, some hardcore Queen fans were dubious about the extreme size of the prosthetic teeth, arguing it was an unrealistic caricature rather than an authentic representation. As one fan put it, “Freddie’s two front teeth were notably bigger than average, but they weren’t ridiculous buck teeth like a cartoon rabbit.”
Understanding from Dental Experts
From a dental perspective, cosmetic experts understood the dramatic enlargement as an effective cinematic tool, with leading makeup artist Joel Harlow stating:
“It’s hard to pull back and be subtle when the purpose is to create an indelible image of Freddie Mercury. Rami Malek becomes Freddie Mercury in front of our eyes.”
So while dentally exaggerated, the end justified the means in capturing Mercury’s essence.
Why Accuracy Was Sacrificed for Drama
Looking at the arguments on both sides, it seems the filmmakers prioritized creating an impactful and memorable visual representation of Freddie Mercury over precisely replicating reality.
While Mercury’s teeth were enlarged for cinematic effect, ultimately this allowed Rami Malek and the makeup artists to better encapsulate the singer’s inner and outer identity. The exaggerated teeth provided an effective symbol of Mercury’s world-famous smile that complemented Malek’s superb performance – enabling him to fully inhabit Mercury’s unique speech patterns and flamboyant physical expressions.
So in the quest to capture Freddie Mercury’s outsized persona and inimitable performative spirit on screen, precise dental accuracy was sacrificed. But given the widespread critical acclaim for Rami Malek’s portrayal, the toothy artistic license ultimately paid off.
Conclusion: Fact vs Fiction on Freddie Mercury’s Teeth
- In reality, Freddie Mercury had front teeth slightly larger and more bucked than average – but nowhere near as exaggerated as depicted in Bohemian Rhapsody.
- The movie prosthetic teeth were intentionally designed to be much bigger than Freddie’s actual teeth.
- Reasons for exaggerating the teeth included highlighting Mercury’s signature overbite, creating an unforgettable visual marker, reflecting his larger-than-life persona, and enabling Rami Malek’s immersive performance.
- Reactions were mixed, with praise from critics, skepticism from some fans, but understanding from dental experts about the cinematic reasoning.
- Accuracy was sacrificed in favor of creating an impactful and memorable representation of Freddie Mercury’s flamboyant smile and persona.
So while the teeth may not have been realistically sized, they ultimately became an effective symbol of the singer’s outsized spirit and star presence – helping Rami Malek transform into Freddie Mercury in a truly compelling way. The buck-toothed grin became an iconic visualization of Mercury’s indelibly bold and talented personality.