It was fitting that Paramount chose West Hollywood’s historic Troubadour as the site of Monday night’s sneak peek of “Rocketman,” the eagerly awaited Elton John biopic, opening May 31st. That’s where John made his U.S. debut and skyrocketed to superstardom in the summer of 1970. The reception featured Taron Egerton as Reg Dwight-turned Elton John, Bryce Dallas Howard as mother Sheila, Jamie Bell as long-time lyricist Bernie Taupin, and producer David Furnish (John’s husband). (Director Dexter Fletcher was in post-production and unavailable for the event.)
The 20-minute presentation, starring an eerily spot-on Egerton (who does his own singing), covered all of the ups and downs of the rock star’s rollercoaster ride throughout the ’70s and ’80s, but in a much more audacious and unconventional way than the popular Freddie Mercury biopic “Bohemian Rhapsody” (on which Fletcher replaced Bryan Singer as uncredited director).
The fantasy musical (shot by George Richmond of “Kingsman”), however, doesn’t shy away from John’s dark side of drug and alcohol abuse and depression, and treats his career as a surreal, out of body experience. The highlight of the footage, appropriately enough, was the piano-playing prodigy elevated high into the air during a rousing rendition of “Crocodile Rock” (his first U.S. number one single in 1972) at the Troubadour debut.
Alex J. Berliner/ABImages
Yes, while “Rocketman” plays fast and loose with history as part of the fantasy vibe, Furnish said they had John’s blessing. “It may seem strange but we found that it was the right song for capturing the spirit of the moment and Elton was fine with it. The songs weave in and out in different creative ways,” he said.
For instance, Taupin storms out of a restaurant singing “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” after a fight with his inebriated best friend and musical partner. “They had a weird friendship and partnership,” added Bell. “They never wrote together [Taupin delivered the lyrics and John whipped out a melody on the piano in 15 to 30 minutes]. They were like brothers but Bernie was happy being almost anonymous.”
Dallas Howard said she enjoyed the unpredictability of John’s mother. “She would be there for him and then all of a sudden she wasn’t,” added Howard. “It was wonderful having that complexity to play with.”
For Egerton, who first bonded with John on “Kingsman: The Golden Circle,” trying to channel the rock star involved a certain amount of reverse engineering. “I can’t really articulate it, but it was like [comparing older and younger versions],” he said. “We became friends on ‘Kingsman,’ and he provided some valuable insight. It was certainly easier playing the older Elton than the younger one.”
Meanwhile, the timing of “Rocketman” comes at the best possible moment for John, who turns 72 on March 25. He’s currently in the midst of his triumphant three-year “Farewell Yellow Brick Road” tour around the world, and recently announced the October publication of his autobiography. “This film is the legacy for [our] children [Zachary and Elijah],” said Furnish.
While John has yet to watch the footage and would prefer to wait until it’s completed, Furnish was cagey when asked if the “Farewell” tour will conclude full circle with a Troubadour concert. “We’re working on something special,” he said.