Bohemian Rhapsody director Bryan Singer today faces a raft of new sexual assault allegations, many of them concerning underage boys, after an explosive in-depth investigation published by The Atlantic.
The article lifts the lid on the private life of a 53-year-old director whose films — among them Superman Returns and four X-Men movies — have earned more than $US3 billion at the box office.
In the report, four men allege Singer had sexual encounters with them when they were teenagers in the late 1990s.
In a statement through his representative, reported by The Hollywood Reporter, Singer said: "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."
One of the men, Victor Valdovinos, said he was a 13-year-old extra on the set of Singer's 1998 film Apt Pupil when Singer fondled his genitalia.
He claimed Singer "grabbed my genitals and started masturbating it," and that the director "rubbed his front part on me".
Singer's lawyer said his client "did not know who Valdovinos was and denied that anything had happened between them".
The three other accusers are identified in the story by pseudonyms.
One, identified in the story as Andy, said he had sex with Singer in a Beverly Hills mansion when he was 15 and Singer was in his early 30s.
Another man, identified as Eric, said he was 17 when he began having sex with the director.
Singer would have been 31 at the time.
The third man, Ben, has alleged that he and Singer had oral sex when he was 17 or 18.
"He would stick his hands down your pants without your consent," Ben said. "He was predatory in that he would ply people with alcohol and drugs and then have sex with them."
By the late '90s, Singer, then in his early 30s, developed a reputation in gay Hollywood for throwing extravagant pool parties at his house.
A friend of Singer's told The Atlantic he remembered being shocked at the young age of many of the guests.
"It felt like a high-school party," the friend said.
Filmed in 1997, Apt Pupil was Singer's next project after the runaway success of his breakthrough film The Usual Suspects. The story of a fugitive Nazi war criminal and a high school student who wants him to share his stories, the film was plagued by controversy due to one shocking scene.
The scene showed the film's young male lead, played by 16-year-old actor Brad Renfro, showering in a high school gym. Around him were naked extras, some as young as 14 — actors who claimed that only when they arrived on set were they told they'd need to be naked in the film. It was on this day, Victor Valdovinos alleges, that he was molested by Singer, preyed upon while he was alone on set wearing nothing but a towel after being ordered to strip off for the scene.
The film's star Renfro makes another appearance later in The Atlantic article: Accuser 'Andy' alleges seeing a then-15-year-old Renfro at a Hollywood party with Singer, who he says would refer to the young actor as his "boyfriend".
Later, he says the three of them ended up in a bedroom. Clothes came off.
"I don't think Brad was gay, or even bi. I think he was going with the flow. We talked about it. Like me, he looked around at all of the things these guys had, all of the money. Maybe he thought the guys were going to do things for him," Andy told The Atlantic.
Renfro died of a drug overdose in 2008, aged 25.
TROUBLE ON SET
Fast forward almost 20 years, and controversy plagued another Singer-helmed film, Bohemian Rhapsody. By this point, stories of Singer's erratic behaviour on film sets abounded.
In 2002, production on X-Men 2 was halted for a day when producers deemed Singer to be too affected by painkillers to properly direct. Filming Superman Returns in 2005, Singer sometimes appeared "heavily medicated".
But Bohemian Rhapsody would be his most dramatic unravelling.
The Atlantic states that at one point during filming, Singer told Stacey Snider, the chairman and CEO of 20th Century Fox, that he was exhausted and needed to delay production by more than a month — "an extraordinary request on a major feature shoot, given salaries, schedules, and equipment and studio rentals".
His request was denied, and Singer reportedly clashed with the cast during filming — angry fights with star Rami Malek and behaviour so bad it made actor Tom Hollander, who plays Queen's manager, to briefly quit the film.
Singer was fired from Bohemian Rhapsody in December 2017 a couple of weeks before filming wrapped, amid rumoured tension with Malek, 37, and other members of the cast. The unexpected sacking caused production to temporarily shut down before British director Dexter Fletcher stepped in to finish the job.
Just days after his firing, Singer was sued in a civil action over an accusation that he raped a 17-year-old boy.
CLOUDS FORM OVER SURPRISE HIT
Despite poor reviews, Bohemian Rhapsody has been a runaway hit, raking in more than $US800 million ($A1.12 billion) at the worldwide box office and sending Queen's music skyrocketing back up the charts.
Considered an outside chance, the film was a surprise Best Picture winner at the Golden Globes this month, making it a very real Oscars contender.
The win was a stunning upset, but as the movie's stars and producers took the stage to claim their prize, there was a much bigger elephant in the room — sacked director Bryan Singer.
The question was raised by reporters backstage following Bohemian Rhapsody's Best Picture win, but neither Malek nor producer Graham King were interested in giving Singer much airtime.
"It's not something I really wish to talk about tonight," King told members of the press.
Responding to why he hadn't thanked Singer in either of his speeches, Malek was firm but evasive: "There's only one thing we needed to do and that was to celebrate Freddie Mercury in this film.
"He is a marvel. There is only one Freddie Mercury and nothing would compromise us giving him the love, celebration and adulation he deserves."
Shortly after learning he earned an Oscar nomination, Malek told the Los Angeles Times he wasn't aware of Singer's allegations before making the movie.
"I didn't know much about Bryan. I think that the allegations and things were, believe it or not, honestly something I was not aware of, and that is what it is," he said.