Brits have always done well in Hollywood, but few have excelled as much as Academy Award-winning producer Graham King, who will participate in a keynote Q&A at today’s BritWeek/BAFTA Film & TV Summit. His projects — which include best picture Oscar winner “The Departed,” directed by Martin Scorsese, toon Oscar winner “Rango,” and Scorsese’s Oscar-nominated “Gangs of New York,” “The Aviator” and five-time Oscar winner “Hugo” — have garnered 53 Academy Award nominations and earned more than $2 billion in worldwide box office.
However, those successes have largely had a decided American slant to them. Now King, a rights buyer who cut his producing teeth on “Gangs” and launched GK Films with business partner Tim Headington in 2007, has a number of British-themed pics in the works. First up is the untitled Freddie Mercury biopic about the flamboyant Queen singer, whom King describes as “a bigger-than-life personality and a fascinating character.”
“I’ve always been a huge fan, and it’s a story that’s never been told,” he says. “What’s really extraordinary about Freddie is that while he was so obviously gay — and was one of the first major celebrities to succumb to AIDS — he also had this very macho side to him. Guys just accepted who he was and never really cared. He got away with it because he was Freddie.”
King confirms that Sacha Baron Cohen will play Mercury. “We haven’t closed the deal yet, but I want him to do it and so does he, and he’s the one who actually brought the project to me while we were shooting ‘Hugo,’ ” he says. “I immediately contacted the band’s manager, told him how passionate I was about making it, and I think he loved the fact that I’m a Brit living and working in Hollywood.”
King says he hopes to announce the project’s director soon. “We have a great script that goes roughly from the late ’70s to the late ’80s, we’re talking to directors right now, and I hope to start shooting by the end of the year.”
Locations will include London and Eastern Europe.
“It’s really a celebration of the music, which is known throughout the world and is iconic,” says King, who plans to use at least 15 original Queen songs on the soundtrack. “You can’t go to a sporting event in America without hearing Queen, so it’s going to be an upbeat look at Freddie and the band. It’s not a dark story about a gay singer.”
Another passion project with a decidedly Blighty angle occupying King lately is “Battle of Britain,” for which Robert Towne is writing the script.
“As a kid, I loved the original ’69 version with Michael Caine, and I still remember that great scene with two kids standing by the side of the Thames, looking up at the dogfights above them,” he recalls. “To my knowledge, no one’s ever really done that — a war above a huge city.”
King stresses that he wants the resulting film to be, “an old-fashioned, all-star-cast, British director-type of movie. Once I get the first draft from Robert, I hope to attach a director and get started on that too.”
The busy producer also has “Dark Shadows” releasing May 11. “It’s not really British, except that we shot it all in the U.K., and it’s so much fun,” he says. “Working with Tim Burton and Johnny Depp is a blast, as they’re so in sync with each other after all their collaborations. In fact, their relationship reminded me so much of the whole Scorsese-DiCaprio or Scorsese-De Niro relationship, where you have that very easygoing shorthand.
“It’s been a bumpy year or so, and it’s no secret that ‘Hugo’ struggled at the box office,” he sums up. “But I’m so proud of it, and the year ahead looks great.”