Chronicling the life of Elton John (played by Taron Egerton), Rocketman is a juicy prospect – John’s life has hardly been a quiet one. We headed to Abbey Road Studios to watch some early footage of the movie and hear cast and creators talk about how it came to be. Here are the biggest things we learned.
This is not a standard biopic
That there is a film being made about Elton John is not surprising; he’s one of the most famous musicians in the world. Anyone expecting your standard ‘normal boy becomes global superstar’ drama, should think again. The film’s director, Dexter Fletcher, says, “I wouldn’t describe it as a biopic…It’s a musical”. The first minutes of footage showed Taron Egerton as Elton John and a huge troupe of extras dancing through a fairground singing ‘Saturday’. John’s songs will be woven into the narrative, with characters breaking into song as they would in any other musical.
There’s some really nutty stuff here
One scene in particular showed the “musical fantasy” that Fletcher wanted to make. In his first big US gig, at The Troubador, John starts playing ‘Crocodile Rock’ for a crowd that’s never heard it, or him, in their lives. It goes so well that Elton starts to levitate with joy, followed by the entire audience, until everyone’s floating several metres off the floor. There were hints of other surreal sequences, including Elton playing piano at the bottom of the sea. “Elton’s our storyteller in the film,” says Fletcher, to explain the fantasy. “It’s how he remembers things and sometimes your memory plays tricks on you.”
It won’t whitewash Elton’s life
Dexter Fletcher’s last directing job was We Will Rock You, which he had to finish off after original director Bryan Singer was asked to leave. That film gave a very sanitised look at Freddie Mercury’s life. Taron Egerton says Rocketman pulls absolutely no punches, delving fully into all Elton John’s addictions. In one scene, looking rather worse for wear, John says, “I’m an alcoholic, sex addict and probably a shopaholic.” Egerton adds that the film begins with John entering rehab, then the film unfolds as he tells of how he ended up so broken.
Taron Egerton does a mean Elton John impression
He looks a bit like him, certainly enough to see why he might be chosen for the part. But Egerton really sounds like him. He recorded all the vocals for the movie and at times you’d be hard pushed to tell whether it’s him or John singing.
It will be camp camp campety camp
Hardly surprising, but Fletcher’s not holding back on the glitz and spangle of John as a performer. There were shots of him as Elizabeth I, a giant parrot and many other highly sequinned get-ups. The riotously colourful cinematography makes sure it never looks drab.
Bernie Taupin is second lead
Bernie Taupin, Elton John’s long-term lyricist, is barely a public figure. He’s jointly responsible for some of the most famous songs ever written, but most people couldn’t pick him out of a line-up. This film is just as much Taupin’s story as John’s. Fletcher says their relationship is “the film’s central love story” (He means platonic love, not romantic). Taupin is played by Jamie Bell, who will get his own musical moments, with one scene showing him singing ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’ after he and John fight.
Don’t expect the soundtrack to sound exactly as you remember
Everything has been re-recorded for the film, at Abbey Road Studios, under the production supervision of Giles Martin (son of George Martin). Martin says that Elton John and Bernie Taupin gave the production full permission to mess with the arrangement of their back catalogue, so think of this as a sort of concept covers album.
It actually looks really good
Honestly, we were quite surprised too. Musical biopics with the full involvement of the person being…bio-ed?…or their immediate family (Elton John’s husband David Furnish is a producer) are usually careful and dull, but this looks like an absolute blast that might actually tell us some things we don’t already know. We’ll find out how good it is when it’s released on May 24.