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Elton John’s Magical Mystery Movie: Inside The Making of ‘Rocketman’

With fantastical elements and more, Elton’s new big-screen musical is anything but a standard biopic

Taron Egerton in Rocketman from Paramount Pictures.

Taron Egerton stars as Elton John in 'Rocketman.'

David Appleby/Paramount Pictures

When director Dexter Fletcher signed on to make a movie about Elton John, he knew that a traditional docudrama — like Bohemian Rhapsody, say, or Walk the Line — simply wouldn’t fly. “Elton is all about fantasy and imagination and magic,” Fletcher says. “We wanted to use his songs to elevate this to be more than just a biopic. We wanted to make a magical fantasy that tells the story of his life, or at least elements of his life.”

The result is Rocketman, in theaters May 31st, which presents Elton’s life as an elaborate musical with fantastic elements, like the carnival crowd that does a choreographed dance to “Saturday Night’s Alright for ­Fighting.” And unlike in Bohemian Rhapsody, where Rami Malek lip-synced to recordings by Freddie Mercury or an impersonator, Rocketman star Taron Egerton does all of his own singing. “Musicals are all about expressing yourself through song,” the British actor says. “If you don’t sing them yourself, then you aren’t really expressing anything.”

The movie begins with Elton John entering rehab in the early Nineties to kick an addiction to drugs and alcohol that nearly took his life. “He’s our narrator, and he’s telling the story as he recalls it,” says Fletcher. “He’s dealing with his demons and trying to see the light again through the darkness. That lends itself to imagination and these kind of emotional beats and gestures. And what I find interesting about that is that I can tell you a story of an event that I remember, but it’s going to be colored by my own perception of what was going on at that time.”

So even though the movie hits on many familiar beats in Elton’s story — from his pre-fame days in the band Bluesology to his first encounter with lyricist Bernie Taupin in 1967, the writing of their breakthrough “Your Song” and John’s battles with substance abuse at the peak of his fame — the filmmakers weren’t afraid to take some liberties with the truth when it aided the storytelling. When Elton makes his U.S. debut, at L.A.’s Troubadour in 1970, for example, he performs “Crocodile Rock” even though he wouldn’t write the song for another two years. “I was aware of that,” says Fletcher. “But what I care about is capturing the moment cinematically and musically.”

The heart of the movie is Elton’s relationships with Taupin and former manager/lover John Reid. (Reid, who also managed Queen from 1975 to 1978, is a pivotal ­character in Bohemian Rhapsody as well, played by a different actor.) In scenes previewed for the press, Taupin is seen challenging John to let go of the trappings of fame and focus on the music. During a verbal spat in a restaurant, Taupin belts out “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” to vent his frustrations. “Elton and Bernie are brothers and they love each other,” says Egerton. “This was a great opportunity to put their relationship front and center.”

It was very important for Fletcher to use Egerton’s voice every time Elton’s music is heard. “We don’t use any original recordings of Elton,” he says. “If I’m putting together a sequence and I dig something out of Elton’s catalog, like [1970’s] ‘Amoreena’ for instance, Taron has to go back in the studio and record it. That was even the case for little pieces of music from Bluesology. I was absolutely adamant that we only use Taron.”

Taron Egerton, Elton John and David Furnish on the set of Rocketman from Paramount Pictures.

Taron Egerton, Elton John and David Furnish on the set of Rocketman. Photo credit: David Appleby/Paramount Pictures

Long before either of them met Elton, the actor and the director were fans. Egerton auditioned for drama school at 17 by singing “Your Song”; Fletcher did the same when he tried out for a role in The Rocky Horror Picture Show in his mid-twenties. During production, they both grew close to Elton, who produced Rocketman with his husband and manager, David Furnish. “He doesn’t disappoint,” says Egerton. “They say don’t meet your heroes, but that isn’t true for Elton John.”

Egerton knows some fans might be taken aback by scenes like the one where Elton literally floats above his piano as he sings “Crocodile Rock,” but he hopes they’ll understand. “The film asks you to take an imaginative leap, as you would if you went to the theater,” he says. “It’s not a Wikipedia entry.”

 

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