To celebrate the release of Elton John biopic Rocketman on Blu-ray, Screen Rant spoke to director Dexter Fletcher about turning the story of a music legend into a fantasy-tinged musical. Rocketman stars Taron Egerton as Elton John, and the multi-talented actor not only sang all of the songs featured in the movie himself, but also learned how to play piano for the role.
Before setting his sights on directing, Fletcher was best known as an actor, appearing in movies like Layer Cake, Stardust, and Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels. Before Rocketman, Fletcher had already received critical acclaim for another biopic starring Egerton: Eddie the Eagle, in which Egerton played Olympic ski jumper Michael Edwards. He also stepped in as the director on another musical biopic, Bohemian Rhapsody, after original director Bryan Singer was fired.
In Rocketman, which was scripted by Lee Hall, Fletcher blends reality with fantasy as the film explores Elton John's life - from his humble beginnings growing up in the London suburb of Pinner, through his rise to fame and tumultuous relationship with manager John Reid (Richard Madden), and then finally into his efforts to recover from drug and alcohol addiction. We sat down with Fletcher to find out about the biggest challenges - and the greatest joys - of making Rocketman.
The "Honky Cat" sequence is so great, and it looks like it was pretty challenging to shoot with all the costume and set changes. Can you talk a bit about what went into putting that together?
I think we earmarked three days for each musical number, generally as a rule of thumb - except "I Want Love," that was just a day. But when it was more expansive than that it was three days. And there was a lot of rehearsal for ["Honky Cat"], there was a lot of rehearsal for "Saturday Night's Alright For Fighting" - those bigger numbers. You kind of create them and stitch them together as they go, and there's this great technology on set now where you can go, "Oh, this shot is going to match with that take." You can sort of do a bit of an ad hoc version on the run. But equally, if you've rehearsed enough and you're ready and you know what you're doing you can have a lot of fun, and I think that sequence is a lot of fun, and that's what ultimately comes over. But yeah, there's technical stuff in there that goes on, and there's a bit that didn't make the final cut of the film that is there in the extras.
Is that the tap dancing? I've heard about that...
Yeah, yeah. It's something else. It's a shame it didn't make the final cut, but you know, the first cut of the film was two hours and 48 minutes, so something simply had to be sacrificed. But it's in the extras, I think, for the Blu-ray.
Which we're promoting!
Are we? You'll see it in the Blu-ray!
Only place you can see it.
The only place you can see it, it's excellent. Richard Madden and Taron are both excellent dancers. Yeah, Richard Madden particularly is good.
Speaking of stuff that looked difficult to shoot, let's talk about the underwater sequence in "Rocket Man." How long did that take to film, and what are the challenges of filming underwater?
I mean we had a day at least in the tank there. I mean the good thing about it is that Taron has done quite a bit of underwater work in his career, for one reason or another, so he's kind of used to it. But nevertheless it takes incredible self-restraint and self-control and it's really challenging. And I think he's done underwater swimming before, but never underwater singing which which he did so brilliantly. It was a tough day, but he rose to the challenge - or sunk to the challenge, whichever way you want to put it. But it's a 20 meter deep pool and he floats down and then turns over and lays on his back and sings looking up with the water. So yeah, I was quite in awe of him that day.
What was it like to take songs that weren't originally designed to tell a story and incorporate them into a musical that is telling a story?
It was really exciting, actually, it was a lot of fun. Finding new meaning and just reinterpreting them and finding a new way to use those fantastic songs and lyrics to inform and express who these characters were and what they were going through. The great thing about music is that when a song works it makes us feel something. That's what it does, it's not an intellectual kind of experience, it just makes you feel something. So that's that's really strong. That's what I love about the element of storytelling with it, so with someone particularly as moving as Elton's stuff can be, that's that's a real bonus. And I think it's one of the great successes of the film.
You worked with Taron three years earlier on Eddie the Eagle. What was it like to come back and work him again? Had he evolved a lot as an actor, or did he surprise you?
No, he's terrible, he's a nightmare, awful, he's got worse! No, look, that's the wonderful thing, Taron and I had such a good experience on Eddie and a lot of fun, and we knew we wanted to find something else. When this came up and when I heard he was in line to play Elton I was like, well, I gotta get that gig, that's going to be great. And I think from what Taron achieves and what he went for in this film in terms of how brave he is with that performance, I'm really proud of that. I feel he needed an ally. I think he feels he needs an ally. You know it can be quite a lonely place to play Elton John and sing his songs, it's a big responsibility and big ask. So to be part of that as his friend as well as his collaborator was really wonderful, and I think his performance is testament to that.
There are lots of amazing costumes in this film - do you have a favorite?
In "Honky Cat," actually, there's a scene at the end, in the scene that's cut, Taron dances in this vest and trousers and a hat that I rather like, I think it's a top hat. There's a sequence as well in the house in L.A., when he's got this kimono on that I rather like [laughs] I thought he looked rather natty in it. And then of course the Queen Elizabeth the First dress, which is fun. They're all amazing.
Rocketman is available on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, DVD and Digital now.