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Candid ‘Rocketman’ Dares to Show Elton John as ‘Vulnerable,’ ‘Damaged,’ ‘Ugly’

Elton John movie “Rocketman” dares to portray the singer’s personality early in his career to have been, at times, “ugly,” Taron Egerton – who plays the pop star – told an audience at London’s Abbey Road Studios Friday, following a screening of 15 minutes of footage from the film. It is a candid portrayal, showing him at his “most vulnerable… most broken and damaged,” Egerton said. It is a story “about someone who was not well becoming well,” he explained.

“What I felt was very special about this project is largely down to Elton’s very specific personality type, and especially him having gone through recovery, which I think leads to a certain quality of openness and candidness,” Egerton said.

“The movie begins with Elton marching into rehab, in a real bad way – sweaty, grinding his teeth… and that’s our jumping off point for the film, and we learn about his life through him recounting his experiences from this therapy room.”

Reminding the audience that Elton produced the film through his own production company, Rocket Pictures, he continued: “For him to come at this from a standpoint of ‘I’m going to show everyone myself at my most vulnerable and my most broken and damaged,’ I think that quality of bravery and lack of concern with how one comes across is quite unusual actually, and it is right at the heart of what makes ‘Rocketman’ quite special, because Elton gave me the license to go and make him look quite ugly at times and that was always very important to me.

“This movie is primarily a celebration of Elton’s life and work and his musical partnership with [song-writing partner] Bernie Taupin, but it is also a story about someone who was not well becoming well, and that was always what I found most interesting and most exciting about it, and I feel that the balance [director Dexter Fletcher] struck between those two primary aims was really great.”

Egerton underscored the importance of Elton’s relationship with Taupin – played by “Billy Elliot” star Jamie Bell – in the film, rather than his romantic relationship with his manager and former lover John Reid, played by “Bodyguard” and “Game of Thrones” actor Richard Madden.

“The most significant gay relationship explored in the film is Elton’s relationship with John Reid, but if there is a love story in this film, it is the love story between Elton and Bernie Taupin, and the incredible music they have produced over the past 50 years,” Egerton said.

“Although Elton puts his relationship with Bernie front and center constantly, he is the unsung hero of all of those songs that we all know and love. So this movie, quite rightly, is about a friendship and a writing partnership as much as it is about this icon we all know and love.”

He said Bell was “just such a perfect fit for someone intensely likeable, dependable, consistent, always there, with creative verve and a glint in his eye. He was just a perfect person to play that role, and we had a great time bringing that relationship to life.”

Fletcher said the film is a rendition of Elton’s story told from the singer’s perspective, with a healthy dollop of poetic license. “Elton is our storyteller in the film, and it is his memory of those times, and sometimes our memory plays tricks on us or we remember things in a particularly colorful or different way, and I think that’s the idea we are playing with,” he said.

Fletcher said that they used Elton’s songs in the film as “an inner voice” or “a soliloquy,” through which the characters could express their true feelings. “We reveal our hearts through a song,” he said. “Music is one of those great mediums that cuts down a lot of barriers. If a song gets you, it grabs your heart and it moves you.” The songs allow a character in the film “to open their heart and expose who they are and show their vulnerability.”

Egerton praised the director. “All of the unbridled joy and color and magic it has is in no small part down to Dex and his energy, his vision, his creativity, his warmth – he gets the best out of me and he’s the best director I’ve ever worked with, and I think his work is a triumph in this,” he said, perhaps forgetting momentarily that Matthew Vaughn – his director on the “Kingsman” franchise – is also a producer on “Rocketman.”

Returning the compliment, Fletcher said of Egerton’s efforts, “It’s a real snot, blood, sweat and tears performance… Emotionally and psychologically, the character goes through a real roller-coaster – that’s what keeps [the film] engaging, that’s what takes us on the journey – it is a huge journey that Elton is going on, and it was incumbent on Taron to bring that every day and that’s exactly what he did… It’s an incredible, outstanding piece of work.”

The film, distributed by Paramount Pictures, is likely to premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, with the U.S. release set for May 31.

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