The story of Elton John’s rise to fame was one of this year’s biggest biopic. We had backstage access to the stars and crew bringing the tale to life – including ‘Elton’ himself, Taron Egerton.
Rocketman Blasts Off
It’s nearly midnight at Bray Studios, where the Elton John biopic is in production – and, evidently, tonight’s shooting schedule for Rocketman is in full swing. The track for Saturday Night’s Alright (For Fighting) is blaring, and Taron Egerton is practising a dance number.
It’s 1960, and a 17-year-old Reggie Dwight (Egerton) – who will one day become pop icon Sir Elton John – leads 120 extras, 30 dancers and 24 stuntmen as they perform a dance number that becomes a complex fight sequence. I’m reminded of what Egerton said when we met for lunch. “If you’re on set tonight, we’re going to be rehearsing Saturday Night’s Alright (For Fighting).” He deadpans: “It’ll be very dull.”
The star of Eddie The Eagle and the Kingsmen franchise is taking on his most ambitious project yet. Charming and engaging, Egerton began our chat by bursting into song: “It’s a little bit funny, this feeling inside”. It is, of course, John’s iconic Your Song, which also happens to be Egerton’s favourite.
“I do all my own singing, and I love to sing,” he says. “The first time I sang professionally was in [animated movie] Sing, in which I sang Elton John songs.”
The film’s executive producers include John and his husband David Furnish. Understandably, Egerton has been drawn into their inner circle since beginning this project. “Elton has been amazing… He’s a disarmingly honest person. I think it’s part of having been through a recovery process, sharing with others, and going through that healing process. My experience of him is that he is phenomenally open – to quite a shocking degree, actually.”
The film spans John’s life from age six to about 43, when he first entered rehab. While John is a complicated, colourful personality, to his credit he ensured that the film didn’t present a whitewashed version of his life.
“This is an uncensored story; there are times in my performance where I probably stretch what are typically accepted as endearing characteristics in a protagonist,” says Egerton. “Elton is notoriously tempestuous, or was, and is famously polarising in his character traits. My performance reflects that.”
The film is directed by Dexter Fletcher, who most recently took the reins from Bryan Singer when he could no longer fulfill his directorial duties on Bohemian Rhapsody. Is it purely a coincidence that Fletcher has helmed back-to-back musicals? He corrects me. “I don’t count Bohemian Rhapsody as a musical. That was a film with music. This is a musical,” he says, gesturing to the actors and dancers. The hits in the film include such classics as The Bitch is Back, Tiny Dancer, Your Song, and Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.
The film also goes into the dark side of John’s life. Egerton discusses his history of drug abuse.
“Elton’s big demon has been cocaine. He had a serious problem with it because it’s not something he could pick up and put down. I think as soon as it was in his system, it was all that he could think of. It’s tricky because I don’t know how much I’m supposed to say about his life, but I know that he took so much that he had seizures but would then carry on afterwards. It’s not a glamorous or sexy drug. I think relationships with hard drugs like that compound your relationship with alcohol, and alcohol becomes problematic because it leaves you open and vulnerable to something like cocaine.”
Today, John’s music legacy is unparalleled. “Although this might be a grandiose thing to say, Elton has changed all of our lives in some way because we all connect with his music. And that’s a true phenomenon,” says Egerton. “I mean this genuinely. The film will blow you away, and I’m not just saying that. I couldn’t be more excited for a film to come out.
“By far, this experience has been the greatest honour of my life.”
Rocketman is now available on DVD.