When Tom Petty died, I remember thinking that I always liked him, but I never gave that much thought to his music. He was just Tom Petty, that sort of weird looking fella who contributed something like 2 percent of the songs in the soundtrack to my life. I don’t think I’d ever bought a Petty album, but I seemed to know like 30 of his songs by heart. You just kind of know and love Petty through cultural osmosis, and sadly we kind of took him for granted until he left us way too soon.
I felt like that about Elton John for a long time, too. He was just kind of there, belting out songs that I knew all the words to but that I’d never really given that much thought to, either. Elton John was very popular when I was growing up, but he was not cool, in the way that your brother isn’t cool, he’s just your brother. It was like coming of age during Stevie Wonder’s “Part-Time Lover” and “I Just Called To Say I Love You” years. In fact, it wasn’t until the Almost Famous soundtrack and “Mona Lisa and Mad Hatters,” where I realized, “Oh shit. Elton John is cool.” He wasn’t just a mass producer of Top 40 radio hits, the dude had legit talent, too, and then I had to spend another couple of years totally reevaluating Elton John.
And so I really loved Rocketman, because it put a lot of those hits from my childhood in a different context, and I found myself loving songs that I previously did not, like “I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues” and “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” and “Still Standing” because of the way they were injected into the fantastical life of Elton John. (To be clear, those songs are still crap, but they’re crap with a story now!).
In either respect, for those who have seen it, Elton John was also a huge highlight of 2017’s Kingsman: The Golden Circle, and if you haven’t seen it, you are in for a goddamn treat. There’s no way you can really describe and do it justice. You just have to watch it for yourself.
Anyway, as it turns out, it was Elton John’s cameo in Taron Edgerton’s Kingsman 2 that directly led to Rocketman (and it just so happened that Edgerton was also the perfect guy to play Elton). Here’s Mike Ryan, speaking to Matthew Vaughn, who directed Kingsman 2 and produced Rocketman, on how all that came together:
We were shooting a scene that didn’t make the final cut, of him doing a duet with Julianne Moore singing “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart,” one of the most surreal moments. Probably one of the greatest moments, sitting on a piano for 12 hours next to Elton, and he played it again and again and again. And then we did a duet for a little second and I was like “I’ve died and gone to heaven, trying to play piano with Sir Elton.”
But I asked him “What happened to Rocketman? I read about it four years earlier, I’m a fan. I can’t wait to see it.” And he said, “Look, R-rated film, nobody really wanted to see it. When it came down to writing a check, no one wanted to do it.” And I got my car - they sent the script to me, and I never read scripts from phones but in the back of the car - and it just washed over me. I said, “Look, I’m in. 100 percent. I’m backing it, we’re going to be filming within six to eight months.”
Vaughn, however, was not able to direct Rocketman due to scheduling conflicts, which left him with a sense of both pride and jealousy.
Vaughn also spoke to the differences between Rocketman and Bohemian Rhapsody, why Edgerton didn’t lip sync (like Rami Malek did), the decision to include Elton John’s marriage in Rocketman, and Vaughn’s issue with the way Rhapsody took major dramatic liberties by having Freddie Mercury tell the band “I’ve got AIDS” before Live Aid.
Header Image Source: 20th Century Fox