Rock superstar Elton John began developing Rocketman, the musical fantasy biopic about his own life, all the way back in 2011. And while the movie is finally poised to hit theaters in just a few days, it had its fair share of obstacles to overcome: namely, that studios initially wanted to tone down the sex and drugs in the story and to strip the movie of its fantasy elements. Thankfully, neither of those wishes came true.
In a piece at The Guardian, John recounts an abbreviated version of his meteoric rise from unknown session musician to one of the saviors of rock and roll.
In any movie like this where the subject of the film is involved in a creative capacity (John is an executive producer of Rocketman), it’s difficult to shake the lingering suspicion that the events depicted in the film may have been sanitized to protect the subject’s image. But when studios suggested that Rocketman make some adjustments, John was adamant that those aspects of his story remained in tact:
Some studios wanted to tone down the sex and drugs so the film would get a PG-13 rating. But I just haven’t led a PG-13 rated life. I didn’t want a film packed with drugs and sex, but equally, everyone knows I had quite a lot of both during the 70s and 80s, so there didn’t seem to be much point in making a movie that implied that after every gig, I’d quietly gone back to my hotel room with only a glass of warm milk and the Gideon’s Bible for company.
And some studios wanted us to lose the fantasy element and make a more straightforward biopic, but that was missing the point. Like I said, I lived in my own head a lot as a kid. And when my career took off, it took off in such a way that it almost didn’t seem real to me…But when it happened, it went off like a missile: there’s a moment in Rocketman when I’m playing onstage in the Troubadour club in LA and everything in the room starts levitating, me included, and honestly, that’s what it felt like.
The entire movie certainly could have gone further with its depiction of drugs and sex, but scenes like that have become such a staple of music biopics that I ended up coming away from the film feeling relieved at the balance the filmmakers struck. And along with Taron Egerton’s excellent, emotional performance as Elton John, the fantasy elements of this film are what separates it from its contemporaries. To remove those would have robbed the movie of its entire reason for existing. It’d be like asking Elton John to record an album, but demanding that he not use the piano or sing during the process.
Rocketman hits theaters in North America on May 31, 2019.
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