Elton John's road to 'Rocketman' was a fight for 'honesty'

By Ben Hooper
Elton John's road to 'Rocketman' was a fight for 'honesty'
Elton John (L) said he knew Taron Egerton (R) was the right choice to play him in the film "Rocketman" when he heard the actor sing "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me," which he described as a particularly difficult song to perform. Photo by David Silpa/UPI | License Photo

May 30 (UPI) -- Elton John, whose musical biopic Rocketman releases Friday, said it took decades for him to warm to the idea of a movie about his life, and years more to make sure the pieces were properly assembled to make certain it was done correctly.

The singer, born Reginald Kenneth Dwight, said it wasn't until after the birth of his sons -- Zachary in 2010 and Elijah in 2013 -- that he felt a need to chronicle his life story.


"I did start thinking about them in 40 years' time, being able to see or read my version of my life ... I liked the idea of them having a film and an autobiography, where I was honest." John wrote in an editorial for The Guardian.

He said that desire for honesty caused further delays in the film's genesis.


"With the film ... I'm as honest as I can possibly be," he told The Sun newspaper. "There's no holds barred."

John said he was adamant the film carry an R rating so as not to shy away from his struggles with drug addiction and promiscuous sex.

"Some studios wanted to tone down the sex and drugs so the film would get a PG-13 rating. But I just haven't led a PG-13 rated life," he said.

A script was commissioned from Lee Hall, and John said he was pleased at how the screenplay echoed the darker moments of 1997 documentary Tantrums and Tiaras, directed by his now-husband David Furnish.

"There are moments in it -- and moments in the film -- where I'm completely disgusting and awful, but then, at my worst, I was disgusting and awful, and there's no reason to pretend otherwise," he said.

John said he also heard concerns about the unconventional nature of the script, which called for a jukebox musical approach and the use of fantasy aspects such as a scene where he floats in the air during a performance.

He said the early skeptics included his writing partner, Bernie Taupin, who is played in the film by Jamie Bell.


"He read the script and he didn't like the fantasy aspects of it ... Then he saw it and completely got it," John wrote.

Rocketman director Dexter Fletcher explained the fantasy aspects of the film were a necessary to bringing the singer's personality to the screen.

"Elton is all about fantasy and imagination and magic," Fletcher told Rolling Stone. "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 film asks you to take an imaginative leap, as you would if you went to the theater," he said.

The musical approach and fantastical elements draw a stark contrast between Rocketman and last year's Bohemian Rhapsody, which chronicled the life of Queen singer Freddie Mercury.

The temptation to draw parallels between the two rock music biopics is strong, with many critics comparing the films in their reviews. The two movies share a director in Fletcher, who stepped in to finish Bohemian Rhapsody following director Bryan Singer's exit, and even have a character in common -- John Reid, played in Bohemian Rhapsody by Aiden Gillan and in Rocketman by fellow Game of Thrones alum Richard Madden.


Fletcher said the films took very different approaches to their subject matter.

"Bohemian Rhapsody was the PG version of that story," he told IndieWire. "R-rated was always part of our aim, our vision [for Rocketman] ... There's quite a lot of R content."

Fletcher said he felt a stronger emotional connection to Rocketman.

"I wanted to do a good job and bring it home ... I drove it and propelled it, but was not emotionally attached to it," he told IndieWire of the Queen film.

Another major difference was Bohemian Rhapsody featured star Rami Malek lip-syncing along with recordings of Mercury, while the singing in Rocketman is performed by star Taron Egerton in character as the legendary singer.

"Our movie is a different animal. Our movie is a musical," Egerton told Vanity Fair of comparisons between the biopics. "It requires an actor who can sing in the lead role. For a biopic, that's not necessary."

John said it was Egerton's singing that convinced him the actor was right for the role. Egerton had previous experience singing John's music, having recorded "I'm Still Standing" for the animated film Sing.


"As soon as I met him, I felt there was something special there," John said in a promotional interview released by Paramount. "When I first heard him sing 'Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me,' I was flabbergasted."

"Our songs are not easy to sing, they're not," John told Entertainment Tonight.

He credited the soundtrack's success to musical director Giles Martin, son of legendary music producer George Martin, who worked with John on several occasions in the 1990s. John said Martin helped Egerton find his rock 'n' roll voice.

"When I look at him singing, and when I look at him acting, I am not looking at Taron Egerton. I'm looking at me," John said.

John did not spend much time on set, allowing husband and fellow producer Furnish to serve as his eyes and ears during the production.

"I gave some suggestions, saw a few daily rushes, said yay or nay to some important decisions ... I figured it would be uncomfortable for everyone to have the person the film was about lurking around," he said.

John said he didn't see the completed movie until the May 23 premiere at Cannes Film Festival. He said the end result was a film that met all of his expectations.


"Even if the movie doesn't make one penny at the box office -- which will kill [Paramount CEO] Jim Gianopulos -- it is the movie I wanted to make."

Rocketman hits theaters nationwide Friday. The film soundtrack is available now on CD and streaming services.

Taron Egerton, Bernie Taupin attend 'Rocketman' premiere

Taron Egerton plays Elton John in the film. Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo

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