EXCLUSIVE: “It’s like Moulin Rouge on acid about Elton John” - why Rocketman isn’t a standard musical biopic

Taron Egerton as Elton John in Rocketman

Later this month the long-awaited Elton John movie Rocketman hits cinema screens, and if the recent run of musicals is anything to go by, there are going to be a lot of eyeballs on it. Last year, Bohemian Rhapsody was the only film in the top 10 highest-grossing worldwide that wasn’t a franchise film/sequel or based on a comic-book.

Rocketman has been in the works for some time, with Elton’s life and music seemingly ripe for the big screen treatment. Tom Hardy was attached at a one point, before Kingsman star Taron Egerton went on to land the lead role. Dexter Fletcher, who overtook directing duties on Bohemian Rhapsody, is calling the shots on this one.

While the film will incorporate Elton John’s biggest hits, it won’t be a standard biopic, as the director and cast tell our sister publication Total Film magazine in their new issue. You can take an exclusive look at Taron Egerton in character below:

Taron Egerton as Elton John in Rocketman

(Image credit: Paramount)

“One of the first phrases we used was that it’s a true fantasy,” Fletcher tells Total Film of the movie’s approach. “It’s a musical about the most unpredictable and extraordinary personality in music over the last 50 years. When the script came, it was screaming out to be a fantasy. It was screaming out to not just be a biopic. Look at Elton – he smacks of fantasy and largesse. He’s larger than life.”

The film co-stars Jamie Bell as lyricist writing partner Bernie Taupin, and Game of Thrones and Bodyguard actor Richard Madden plays John Reid, the former lover and manager of Elton. “It’s like Moulin Rouge! on acid about Elton John,” says Madden. “Which I’m like: ‘I’d watch that.’ That’s what the script feels like – these trippy abstract sequences, and musical numbers, interspersed with real drama.”

So don’t expect the formula of Bohemian Rhapsody all over again: Rocketman is set to be altogether more daring. “[Producer Matthew Vaughn] did say to me we are doing a musical that explores the warts and all, dark underside of where Elton went,” Fletcher adds. “On Bohemian Rhapsody, the choice was different, which was fine. I fitted into what they designed that to be. There you’re dealing with a completely different subject matter because the person is no longer around. They don’t have a voice. There has to be a modicum of reverence about that. Elton is very different. He’s not a wallflower. He’s not like, ‘I don’t really want to talk about it.’”

Rocketman opens in the UK on May 22, before opening in the US on May 31, and you can read much more from Fletcher, Egerton, Madden and more in Total Film’s on set report, which you can find in the latest issue, which hits shelves this Friday, May 3. It also features a huge Men in Black: International exclusive, and much more, including the latest on Star Wars, an in-depth look at Toy Story 4, Yesterday, John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum and much more besides. Check it out!

Total Film's Men in Black: International cover

(Image credit: Sony/Total Film)

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(Image credit: Total Film)
Matt Maytum
Editor, Total Film

I'm the Editor at Total Film magazine, overseeing the running of the mag, and generally obsessing over all things Nolan, Kubrick and Pixar. Over the past decade I've worked in various roles for TF online and in print, including at GamesRadar+, and you can often hear me nattering on the Inside Total Film podcast. Bucket-list-ticking career highlights have included reporting from the set of Tenet and Avengers: Infinity War, as well as covering Comic-Con, TIFF and the Sundance Film Festival.