Q+A With Ben Hardy (Roger Taylor)
After starring in the long-running BBC soap opera EastEnders, English actor Ben Hardy made his film debut in Bryan Singer’s X-Men: Apocalypse, co-starring as winged mutant Archangel. He played John William Polidori in Haifaa Al-Mansour’s period romance A Storm in the Stars and starred as fire-fighter Wade Parker in Only the Brave. He also played the lead part of Walter Hartright in the BBC adaptation of The Woman in White. In Bohemian Rhapsody he stars as Queen founder member, drummer and songwriter Roger Taylor…
Did you have any pre-existing connection to Queen?
I think everyone is subconsciously aware of Queen without even thinking about it because every time you go to a sports game there’s the stomp, stomp, clap of We Will Rock You. You see an advert and I Want To Break Free will be the sound track. You can’t not know Queen’s big hits. But I suppose the conscious moment I had with Queen — and I wasn’t completely sober to be honest with you — was when I was in a bar late at night and Bohemian Rhapsody came on. It was the first time I had really listened to it. I obviously had heard the song, but it was time I really listened to it and I ended up feeling quite emotional. There’s a lot of pain in that song. It really hit me so that was probably my first time of appreciating just how great they were.
When did you first meet Roger Taylor?
The first time we met Roger was actually at Abbey Road Studios, which was amazing in itself; it’s just so iconic. We were there to do some pre-record stuff and they were getting Brian and Gwilym to sing We Will Rock You and to blend the two together. That was the first time I met him. I remember I was so nervous, partly because I’d watched so much footage of them. I felt like I was a stalker, in a way. Literally, I had seen hours and hours of footage. I don’t usually get star struck, really, but to meet someone who you have literally obsessed over, for work, for the past few weeks, was a really strange experience. But he was really supportive, really kind, and gave me a little drum lesson.
Could you play the drums beforehand?
No. I couldn’t. I told them I could.
Of course you did, like every actor says they can ride a horse…
You say yes and then just figure it out later (laughs). I was quite early on into my drum tuition at that point so I was really nervous. It wasn’t my idea; it was one of the producers because he wanted to set it up and take photos. I felt like he really dropped me in it (laughs)! But it was actually a great experience and Roger was so understanding of my position and just wanted to be helpful and show me his signature stuff.
What did he show you?
He always lifts the hi-hat on the backbeat slightly to make this kind of splashy sound. It is really distinctive. You can hear it on almost every track. He gave me little techniques like that. It was stuff I had already heard about but to see him do it was really helpful, and to be doing it at Abbey Road Studios as well, was just awesome.
Did you pick up the drums quite easily?
Definitely not easily. The two things that were really difficult were the four-limb independence — to get that took time — and then also to get the hand speed and the foot speed because those muscles build gradually over time. Because it was a crash course, there’s only so much that those little, intricate muscles can grow in a short space of time. They were the two main things that I was contending with.
Rhythmically, I think I managed to pick it up, and mentally, but it was not easy. It felt like something I could do but it was just trying to make the amount of progress I needed to make in such a short space of time that was difficult.
Will you carry on playing?
The thing is that I live in a flat in southeast London and I don’t have room for a big drum kit. I have got one back at my parents’ house, which I play every time I go there. I miss it; really miss it. And because I am always travelling for work I tend to take a guitar with me but I’d love to keep up with the drums.
What are your memories of recording the Live Aid gig?
It was so cool but also so daunting because we were starting with the end of the movie and we were all worried about our musical ability and also about our chemistry as a band. We were lucky because we had a five-week rehearsal beforehand, so we had a lot of time to bond, but it was a huge first hurdle. After that, it was helpful to have done it. What I found amazing about the experience was that while we didn’t get to experience what Queen would have experienced playing at Wembley Stadium to 70,000 or so people, and millions worldwide, I still had a massive adrenalin rush from playing to the 200 extras that were there. I had never been in a band; it was such a rush.
Which bits of Roger Taylor footage gave you the greatest insights into his techniques and nuances?
I watched everything. In terms of character there is a really interesting interview with him and Brian in 1982 or 1984 in Austria. It is really interesting because you can see the relationship between him and Brian. There’s a bit of friction there as well but also there’s respect and there are a lot of idiosyncratic movements that he does, little nervous tics and things like that. I found that really useful because when you are playing someone who is a real life person, even though you have all this video footage of them, you are always seeing them in a certain scenario. Like me now talking to you is not how I necessarily am when I am talking with my friends of 15 years. It is about trying to decode that. And often when he was on his own in an interview there was maybe a bit more awkwardness and nervousness whereas when he was with Brian he was more comfortable.
I have to touch on the I Want to Break Free video because Roger famously looks
fantastic as a woman…
I felt the pressure of that, you know. Everyone was going, ‘Oh, are you going to be as good looking as Roger as a girl?’ And I was like, ‘I didn’t realize that this was such a big deal.’ Joe Mazzello, who plays John Deacon, was winding me up all day. He said, ‘You are disgusting. Your thighs are way too big. Roger had way smaller thighs. You are a terrible woman.’ He just gave me shit all day (laughs).
What is your singing like? Roger’s vocal range was extraordinary, which we see on the making of Bohemian Rhapsody when he hits those super high notes…
I’m not great. My falsetto is weak and not like Roger’s. His vocal ability is remarkable, insane. His range is crazy.
He was such an important cog in the band, more so than many drummers…
Oh yeah, he was so important. In fact, if Freddie was under the weather he would take the high harmonies in a lot of songs. You often had a higher harmony anyway and he would do some of those vocals because his voice is just insane and it seems effortless. I sang the falsetto when we did the Bohemian Rhapsody scene but I am not sure if they used my voice or not.
Beyond I Want To Break Free do you have any particular favourites among their videos?
One that sticks out is maybe the Radio Ga Ga video. I found that really interesting. I did hear them talking about where the inspiration came from. I think it came from a movie. I can’t remember what the movie was. Have you seen the video?
Yes. I think they looked to Fritz Lang’s Metropolis…
Yes, that’s right. They were clearly so inventive in everything they did. In their music especially but in the videos too, they just keeping it interesting. They were obviously very creative people, even outside their music.
And Roger wrote that song…
Completely, and that song is Roger’s number one hit. All the band had a number one hit with the songs they wrote, and that’s Roger’s.
What do you regard as Queen’s best albums?
Technically, I think that their best albums are A Night At The Opera and A Day At The Races. That said, I really love the first two albums, Queen and Queen II. I really love them, especially the first one. My favourite song is White Queen (As It Began) off Queen II. But Queen, there is something so raw about it; even the production of it is not particularly good. They had limited resources back then, but working with the Sheffield brothers they had that rawness; you can almost hear the hunger, the desire they had to be at the top of the game. There are some great songs on that. Great King Rat and Liar. There is a really rock’n’roll sound and that’s what I tend to lean more towards. In interviews I always try to drop the names of songs that I want people to listen to. In the movie there are about 35 songs, maybe, including soundtrack and performance but because they have such a vast array of amazing songs we were not able to include all of them, obviously. I want people to go back and listen to those early albums.
In the film, when you’re Queen playing live or in the recording studio, which of those moments stand out the most, bar Live Aid?
Queen in Japan. We shot it in a smaller space. So for Live Aid we shot in an airfield and even though we had extras as a crowd it still felt very open and a very wide. You had to imagine the stadium being full. But for Japan we were in a smaller space, a rehearsal studio; the Stones rehearse there all the time. It was an intimate space and we had about 100 or 150 people in there and it felt like an intimate gig. That was our Madison Square Garden and our Japan tour. That’s the closest I felt to performing in a rock band with everyone screaming your songs back at you.
Interviewet er i samarbejde med 20th Century Fox / PR Nordic