The Two Films Elton John and Taron Egerton Did Before ‘Rocketman’
When Taron Egerton signed up to play Elton John in the Rocketman movie, he knew he was taking the risk of facing up to of his heroes. But he didn't have to worry, because the connection appears to have created something of a mutual admiration society – though the foundations were laid many years ago.
Living through a childhood where he felt something of an outsider – just like John – the young Taron Egerton (his first name is a variation of the Welsh word for “thunder”) found himself gravitating toward acting. When he auditioned for the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London when he was 17, he chose the John classic “Your Song” as his performance piece, and it helped secure his education.
“It’s a song that I sorta feel like has been there throughout my growing up,” Egerton, now 29, told GQ. “There’s a story in it and I think that’s the great thing about Elton and Bernie [Taupin]’s songs. … There’s quite often a story or a character or a narrative. There’s something about ‘Your Song.’ … It may not be a story but it’s performable; it’s sort of an address to someone, so you can sing it and also treat it like a piece of performance, a speech.”
Four years after graduating, Egerton found himself performing the voice of Johnny, an animated gorilla, in the 2016 movie Sing. The role included a performance of John’s hit “I’m Still Standing,” which happens to be a favorite of the actor's half-sisters. Even though he didn’t know it at the time, that recording was to be a springboard in his career.
“I knew you could sing because I heard ‘I’m still Standing,’ which you did in the film Sing,” John told him recently. “And you’ve redone that in this film, so I think you should do an album of different versions of ‘I’m Still Standing’!”
Listen to Taron Egerton Sing ‘I’m Still Standing’
The following year, Egerton had the opportunity to meet John when they both worked on Kingsman: The Golden Circle. Egerton reprised his role as outcast Eggsy Unwin, who finds himself in an eccentric world of spies and conspiracies – which eventually includes John, who plays himself.
“I was supposed to be in the last one, but I turned it down, and then I saw it and I thought, ‘I wish I’d have been in it,’” John recalled. “So they asked me to be in this one … and I jumped at the chance. I'm so thrilled to be in it.”
The movie's director, Matthew Vaughn, described John as “a serious man that doesn't take himself seriously, which actually sums up Kingsman.” Explaining how he hired Egerton, he told The Hollywood Reporter that he's "very instinctive about casting.” That instinct paid off for all three of them.
Watch Elton John in 'Kingsman: The Golden Circle'
John’s husband and Rocketman co-producer David Furnish recalled meeting Egerton on the Kingsman set. “Elton and I were like, 'Wow, this guy is really handsome and has a real striking presence,'" he said. “We took a real shine to him.”
They also took a shine to Vaughn, who became involved in conversations about Rocketman. When John and Furnish told him they were having problems with the script and locking in actor Tom Hardy, Vaughn offered to help finance and produce the project, but he had some concerns.
“I said, 'Look, I don't understand how this hasn't been made, and if you want me to team up with you, I'm in,’” he remembered. And while he thought Hardy was "one of the best actors," he "felt he was too old for the role. And they said the idea was Tom was going to lip-sync.”
When Vaughn suggested Egerton might be the ideal replacement to act and also sing, he said John and Furnish were “on the fence” at first. That changed when he told them about “I’m Still Standing.” “When they heard Taron sing, it was like a no-brainer," he recalled. "They were like, ‘Okay, he’s unbelievable.’”
Then the time came for Egerton to meet John under the auspices of working together. “Intimidating,” the young actor told GQ. “He’s obviously someone who feels a bit like royalty. … He’s such an icon that … until you meet him you forget he’s a real person. He’s sort of more like an idea then he is a walking, talking human being. ... But through being fortunate enough to spend some time with him, you very quickly realize that although he’s intimidating at first, and delights in being a little bit provocative and a little naughty, he’s the kindest, most generous warm-spirited person.”
Rocketman is no straightforward biopic. Presented from the perspective of an emotionally exhausted John, who’s seeking refuge in rehab in the ‘90s, it uses his songs to illustrate his own take on his larger-than-life career. Viewers can expect to hear “Crocodile Rock” performed two years before it was written, while watching Egerton as John levitates above the stage.
“There was a keen sense that it was a part I could do well, a part I was passionate and excited about, which is important,” the actor told GQ. “There are things you do for different reasons, but in many ways, this one was for me.”
“Taron was perfect,” Furnish said. “When I first met Elton, I was quite taken by his masculinity. He’s quite a blokey gay man. You can take him and put him in these costumes, pile up the feathers or the crazy stuff, and it all just kind of lands on him in a very masculine way. Taron has real gravitas and it’s very similar. He has the incredible sensitivity and gentleness that Elton has, but he also has this manliness too. It’s a very complex quality. He couldn’t have stepped up any more than he did.”
Understanding that Egerton might be too intimidated to sing his songs with him present, John kept clear of filming after offering the best advice he could. Furnish told The Hollywood Reporter that John "told Taron, ‘Don’t copy me. Don’t think you have to sing it exactly the way that I sang it. Don’t think you have to perform it the way I performed it.' I think it’s the challenge for the actor to embody the spirit and not get into thinking they have to do an impersonation.”
With shooting complete, Egerton was asked to reflect on his relationship with John. “I don’t think the experience of playing him would have been anywhere near as rewarding … if it weren’t for having gone hand-in-hand to getting to know him,” he responded.
“He’s a fascinating man. He can be simultaneously very intimidating and very, very vulnerable. I mean, everyone can be different things very quickly, but he has that in extremity. There are times when you sort of sit with him and he can seem like a childlike figure, but then he can be this massive, gregarious, intimidating, almost scary person as well. He’s very in command of himself and of who he is and can really run a conversation.”
Egerton added that John "doesn’t disappoint. They say don’t meet your heroes, but that isn’t true for Elton John.”
During a recent edition of John’s Beats 1 radio show, the pair discussed their shared experience in a way that demonstrates the strength and depth of their relationship.
“I think we’ve gone about it the right way," Egerton said of the movie. “It’s been put together by the most passionate collection of people I’ve ever had the good fortune wot work with. And it’s a great story, Elton – your story is an extraordinary one. It is the thing that I’ve been a part of that I’m most proud of.”
To which John replied, “It’s going to take you to another level, and it’s going to elevate your career.”
Watch Elton John and Taron Egerton Sing ‘Tiny Dancer’