How 'Rocketman' Director Dexter Fletcher Lets His Imagination Run Wild [Interview]

Rocketman is no run-of-the-mill rocker biopic. While many movies about innovative and ambitious artists play things off-puttingly safe, that's not the case with Dexter Fletcher's Elton John film. Rocketman is not afraid to be bold like its artists, and just like their music, the final result bursts with creativity and life.

The scope of the musical numbers, and how succinctly yet naturally Elton John's story is told, it's quite a feat for Flecther as a filmmaker. He's made a piece of grand spectacle that feels so intimate and personal, which again, is spot-on for capturing the soul of Elton John's music. If Fletcher's talent behind-the-camera got overlooked in some corners with Eddie the Eagle, it won't be in Rocketman.

Recently, we had a short conversation with Fletcher about Taron Egerton's performance, depicting the Troubadour performance, and his conversations with Elton John.

The scope of this movie is gigantic. With a canvas and timeline this large, where do you even begin figuring out the aesthetic and all the musical set pieces? 

I suppose it's born of seeing him, talking to him, looking back on what he's done and who he is and how he's approached his career, and my impressions of that. Also, what it means to have a musical and how does that allow me, the filmmaker, to let my imagination run wild. I'm better to let it run wild and then pull it back in rather than to not have enough.

I just never felt restricted in terms of where it could go, what it could do, because the script when I first got it was already very much in the camp of this is a musical. Also, recognize that it's not a biography, it's a memory of time with all that baggage and trying to come to terms with who they are, and that's a very different kind of movie from on Monday I got "Candle in the Wind" and then Tuesday I went down the shops and then Wednesday I met Bernie Taupin. That's a very different beast. It's R-rated as well. And so those things kind of obviously got that freedom, and when I got my head around that I was up and running, really.

I'm curious about attention-to-detail in this movie. Whether with Elton John's costumes, homes, or the venues he plays at, what were some of the tiniest of details from his life and career you wanted to show in the movie?

Well, we filmed it in the streets he grew up in Pinner and the outskirts of London, and we tried to stay as true to the Troubadour as we could even though we were not in LA. We built the outside of it and the inside of it, so we tried to stay as true to it as we could, but mix with our imagination and to allow ourselves because it's Elton's memory. It's fallible as memory is, and not always the most reliable source of information or fact; it can be attached to a feeling. Certainly, his childhood home, he walked around that set and went, "Okay, this is where the piano was, that's where the kitchen was," so there was a bit of that. It made Elton understand what we were trying to do and recreate that domestic family environment. Everything gets more fantastical, so then we take more liberties with the details. You know, his record player was in the front of his house as a kid, like it is in the movie, and his dad not wanting him to touch the records, all of these things he talked about.

Since you based it on your impressions of his memories, how did his memory of his first performance at the Troubadour influence how you conceived that sequence? 

Let me tell you it's just an extraordinary thing but, I kind of wrote up that idea on my first pass of the script. I knew that it was an extraordinary night in terms of what it did for his career. I did the research and I read the script and I knew that this incredible review came out the next day, and all of that happened and I was trying to find a cinematic way of communicating what an incredible moment that can be. I wrote down that, and kind of broke down that idea, and then when he read that, he was like, "That captured it, that is it." Yeah, it sort of just always felt like a very mechanic response to what he talked about before.

It's a really hard thing to capture if I'm honest. "Tell me about your night at the Troubadour," so yeah, "it was amazing," "it was great," "it was really really good." There are not words that begin to sufficiently describe what it's like to walk in space. Do you know what I mean? There isn't the vocabulary to, but as soon as you start saying, "Oh it felt like everyone in the room was floating," it becomes an imaginative, creative and emotional leap, that people can connect to. Once we'd cottoned on to that and he went, "Gee, that's what it was like," I expanded that idea and, I looked at that picture of him jumping, there's a classic young Elton with his hands on the keyboard, jumping with his legs up in the air. I just wanted to capture that moment and expand upon it. He absolutely made it clear that I was right, and it's just the same way or articulating something that is hard to articulate. Do you know what I mean?

Absolutely. It's such a rush like "Saturday Night's All Right for Fighting." That's a big musical set piece, so what was it like prepping and shooting it? 

It was a real lot of fun. It was the choreographer, Adam Murray, had been rehearsing with these troop of dancers for pretty much six weeks to prepare and I'd come and watched stuff and go, "Oh great, we'll have this, that and the other." We'd sit and talk about stuff and have a laugh and do other things and I'd come back a week later and they'd moved along again and they had a big marquee built for them on the car park out behind the studios for them to dance and rehearse and cook up ideas, all sorts of things. But that was a combination of six weeks work, that started very early in the process and Adam got off with his shoot and we did it over three nights. The attempt is always to try and get one long continuous dance number that allowed young Reggie to become young man Reggie and have this kind of journey of him going, "Oh God, there's a wider world and I want a part of it and music is my key to that door."

It was very exciting for all of us I think, the dancers worked so hard and amazingly and Taron came in with this energy and it was hard for him because he was an observer to a lot of it, that's what discovering the wider world is. You've got to be an observer in a way, to do that, he's not always driving the narrative through that song, but actually, it's about what he focuses on and what he's influenced by and what he experiences. It was always a big ask, it was one of the first things that Adam and I sat down and talked about.

Taron Edgerton disappears in this movie as Elton John. Besides how he looks and sounds, what qualities of Elton John's were crucial for you both to stay true to and express?

Well, yeah obviously those things were almost secondary. I think it was always about where he was at emotionally at that particular time, or psychologically in the story, that always took precedent for us because we took it as that Taron was Elton. He's our Elton and he was an Elton of 30 years ago, so we know he has this amazing voice, and great acting's about truth and as long as he knew we were being truthful to how he felt, and that there was a continuity for that was stitched together, that was really what was paramount and I think the success of Taron's performance. He doesn't look particularly like Elton, but hopefully, people will go, "You don't sing like him but there's only one person who does, and that's Elton John." I could have searched forever to find someone who looks exactly like him, but can they sing, can they act, can they dance? Probably not. So those are the things that are important and Taron's relentless pursuit of the truth in the moment.


Rocketman is now in theaters.