“Taurus” is the semi-autobiographical tale of a rap-slash-rock star on the tail-end of a self-destructive kick. Set to premiere at the Berlin Film Festival Feb. 13, the film stars Colson Baker (better known to fans as real-life rap-slash-rock star Machine Gun Kelly) as Cole, a Kurt Cobain-esque musician struggling with fatherhood, the music industry, substance abuse and his ex-wife (played by Megan Fox).
Tim Sutton, who wrote and directed the film, conceived of the idea after directing “The Last Son,” in which Baker plays a 19th century bank robber. “I went over to [Sutton’s on-set] living quarters and we were smoking a joint,” Baker recalled. “And he was like, ‘If you ever do a documentary on yourself, or make a movie, you have to let me make it.’” Baker agreed and a few weeks later Sutton sent over a script.
That first draft, Sutton says, drew more heavily from stories of rappers who had died young, such as Lil Peep and Mac Miller, but as the script went through re-drafts, Baker’s own experiences were increasingly infused into it. “What I wanted was the sense of authenticity and the sense of comfort, and also giving [Baker] the space to be this character, this character that’s both him and a fictional character all at once,” Sutton said.
“I was always asking God why I kept missing the bullet that is death,” Baker said of the similarities between himself and his on-screen counterpart. “With all of the drugs that I would do, with all of the strangers who have nothing but their own selfish interests in mind when, you know, giving me things or encouraging a downfall mixed in with my own self-inflicted will to sabotage myself. So that was not necessarily — it wasn’t even a character [in “Taurus”]. That was just me getting a chance to actually be me.”
“Taurus” is also something of a homage to “Last Days,” Gus Van Sant’s fictionalized version of Kurt Cobain’s demise (which Sutton said he had Baker watch in preparation for the role) as well as, less obviously, Mozart. “You have Mozart, who’s like, one of the greatest rock stars of all time,” said Sutton, drawing parallels between the 18th century composer’s life and the “Emo Girl” singer’s. “All he really wants to do is just make his music and everything gets in the way until he decides to write his own requiem. That’s the movie.”
For his part, Baker’s biggest influence when approaching the role was “myself.” Was he concerned that re-enacting Cole’s more destructive tendencies on screen would take him to a dark place? “That side of me is where I always felt more comfortable,” Baker said. “I’d much rather watch someone [for whom that self-destruction] is second nature than to watch some actor pretend. There’s nothing more annoying than watching a thespian fake being a rock star. It’s the worst.”
“Taurus” is as much a critique of the music industry as it is of rock star excess. While there has been a renewed focus on women’s treatment in the industry, such as Britney Spears and Amy Winehouse, does Baker think male artists are under similar pressures? “I don’t think the issue is men or women, necessarily,” he said. “I think the issue is entertainers choosing between being puppets or choosing to walk with no strings attached. […] We all have a moment where we feel controlled and where we make decisions that don’t reflect who we truly are.”
Certainly Baker appears acutely aware of the gulf between his public persona and his inner life. “I have a huge issue with how, when I go to events or when I do performances or when I do interviews, I have this like, smile that I put on,” he said. “Because it’s not real. I don’t feel that way. And I’m just scared to let fans down because I don’t want them to think that I’m taking these opportunities for granted.”
It was playing Cole, with his curtain of shaggy blonde hair, that allowed Baker to connect with himself. “When I finally got to hide behind [the hair], a lot more of my real self was able to show ‘cause I didn’t have to make eye contact with anybody. I just got to be insular and showcase what was really going on inside instead of succumbing to the pressure of what an entertainer is supposed to be.”
Despite pouring so much of himself into “Taurus” (“this film is my heart,” Baker said), he is sanguine about how audiences may react when the movie premiers in Berlin. “I would feel more exposed if I was playing a character,” he said. “I am not doing it for someone who’s there to cast an opinion. I’m doing it for someone who needs to relate. I’ve had films guide my life, save my life, change the trajectory of my life — because I saw something that made me relate. This film is for the ones who are trapped and in need of a vessel to be something or to have a realization or to have a course or find a connection.”
Sutton agreed. “[The film] is sculpted in a way that tells a very emotional and meaningful story. [Baker’s] not looking for an audience, you know, he’s making something beautiful. And I think that’s our protection.”