In the new film “Rocketman,” which opened last week and is now playing in metro Atlanta area theaters, Taron Egerton plays legendary musician Elton John. The film covers John’s life as he grows up and becomes a rock phenomenon, as well as his friendship with longtime lyricist and friend Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell) and his realization of being gay. Directed by Dexter Fletcher, the film has gotten strong critical attention to match its impressive early box-office numbers.
Matt Vaughn, a producer friend of his, worked with Fletcher on the film “Eddie the Eagle,” which also starred Egerton, and green-lit the project “half an hour after” he read the script. “He came to me and said I should seriously think about it.” Fletcher recalls. “I knew that Taron playing Elton was a genius idea already.” Fletcher came aboard soon after.
Fletcher feels that Egerton brings a lot to the role. “There is a kind of authenticity about him and a vulnerability and I think it is something he and Elton have in common. Elton always wears his heart on his sleeve and is always open about who he is – and the life he has led. As an actor, Taron can switch between extreme emotions almost in the blink of an eye.”
The film’s musical numbers are particularly inspired, with a catalog of John’s best-known songs. “I knew what I wanted each one to do and how they moved the story,” Fletcher says. “I feel they had to be quiet and intimate and contained.” Yet some numbers feature actors spontaneously bursting into song in the street. “I embraced it fully and didn’t shy away from any of those opportunities. It was about embracing them head on and celebrating the music, which is what separates the film from a standard biopic. I didn’t see this as a biopic, but a memory of a man trying to unpack his past.”
It was important for the director to make an R-rated film and not gloss over aspects of John’s life, as many thought “Bohemian Rhapsody” did. “That was what Elton set out to do,” says Fletcher. “The film sets out to show the highs and lows. The lows were not PG. If you think about the rock and roll lifestyle and the talents that have been lost to various abuses and self-destruction – there is no way of sugarcoating it.”
John was on set some but also was busy with his farewell tour. “He was there during the script process and when it was being developed and was free and easy about how we should interpret things. In the day to day, he let us get on with it. His husband (David Furnish) was there more than he was.”
Fletcher feels the film honors John’s legacy as well as his ease about being out. “As a musician, he is out there entertaining millions of people. As for his personal life, he has been front and center about his sexuality and advocates for people being able to love whom they want to love. He is happily married with children and is no different from anyone else. He lives his life as he is and is happy doing so.”
In 2017, Fletcher was called in to finish the film “Bohemian Rhapsody” after Bryan Singer was released for a myriad of reasons. He looked at it as a warm-up to his work on “Rocketman,” which he takes more pride in. “That film was not my vision. I came in to get the nuts and bolts of that production, to finish it over the line and be conscious to honor that vision and work with those actors and that crew. But I was about to start my own project that I was passionate about. They are different beasts. ‘Rocketman’ is a musical and a fantasy.”