Baron Cohen to star, Graham King to produce untitled pic

The “Hugo” team of producer Graham King and star Sacha Baron Cohen are moving forward on their next project, as “The Queen” helmer Stephen Frears has emerged as an early frontrunner to direct GK Films’ untitled pic about Queen frontman Freddie Mercury, sources tell Variety.

Insiders close to the project insist that several other filmmakers remain in the mix for the coveted gig, but Brit helmer Frears appears to have the inside track for the job, though negotiations have not yet begun.

The latest draft of the script comes from the writing team of Stephen J. Rivele and Christopher Wilkinson, who together penned “Ali” and “Nixon.”

Baron Cohen’s deal to play Mercury is expected to close in the coming weeks, which will see the release of the Brit thesp’s next film, “The Dictator.”

King and Tim Headington are producing the Freddie Mercury pic in partnership with Robert De Niro and Jane Rosenthal’s Tribeca Prods. and Queen Films.

Story focuses on Queen’s formative years, leading up to the band’s heralded appearance at Live Aid in 1985. Mercury died of complications from AIDS in 1991, though the film won’t focus on the singer’s last days.

Producers have already landed a music-rights package that includes Queen’s biggest hits, including “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “We Will Rock You” and “We Are the Champions.” It’s the first time the surviving members of Queen have licensed songs and music publishing rights for a movie about the band. Brian May, Roger Taylor and John Deacon formed Queen Films to be involved with the production, though it remains unclear whether Baron Cohen will perform the musical numbers himself.

Frears, whose gambling comedy “Lay the Favorite” was acquired by the Weinstein Co. out of Sundance, is currently directing the legal drama “Muhammad Ali’s Greatest Fight” for HBO. His schedule appears to be clear after wrapping that telepic, though he is attached to direct remake “The Bengali Detective” for Fox Searchlight. Helmer has earned two Oscar nominations for directing “The Queen” and “The Grifters.”

Frears is repped by ICM.

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