Rocketman is an epic musical fantasy about the incredible human story of Elton John’s breakthrough years. The film follows the transformation of shy piano prodigy Reginald Dwight into international superstar Elton John. This inspirational story – set to Elton John’s most beloved songs and performed by star Taron Egerton – tells the universally relatable story of how a small-town boy became one of the most iconic figures in pop culture.
Rocketman also stars Jamie Bell as Elton’s longtime lyricist and writing partner Bernie Taupin, Richard Madden as Elton’s first manager John Reid, and Bryce Dallas Howard as Elton’s mother Sheila Farebrother.
Bringing a rock star legend to life not only requires talent in front of the camera but talent behind as well.
Costume Designer Julian Day
Costume designer Julian Day is a veteran of 58 movies and is no stranger to musical icons having done Bohemian Rhapsody, Nowhere Boy and Control but Rocketman presented “a completely new level of design, this being after all Elton John, a man known to have something of a penchant for, well, the most outlandish, extravagant and plain brilliant stage costumes ever created.”
“With this, Dexter (Director Dexter Fletcher) wanted me to push the musical fantasy as far as I could go so that then he could pull back,” explained Day. “It was never about reproducing the same outfits Elton wore, but my interpretation of them. It was never about being half-hearted. The full gamut of stage wear and extravagance is explored here. This is genuinely an escapist musical with the audience immediately pulled into big musical numbers and drama going through many different periods. I hope people come out of the cinema with a smile. It is a roller coaster of a film. People are not going to have a moment to breathe.”
The opportunity to pay tribute to one of his all-time favorite singers only got more surreal when to prepare for Rocketman, Day found himself invited to visit John’s personal archives, an experience he describes as being a bit like being in that giant warehouse at the end of Raiders Of The Lost Ark, “only a bit more glittery”. “Just being there was amazing, obviously,” said Day. “But of all of it, I was most amazed by how much detail there was in each piece.”
Day went on to say, “But that’s the thing with this movie – it’s a fantasy. We didn’t want to repeat what had been already seen, it had to fit into our film. We wanted to create our own look, not necessarily a different Elton, just our Elton.”
Day’s success in doing so was noticed and appreciated by the man himself as well as the man playing him. “What Julian has done is have one eye on the actual Elton outfit, and one eye on putting his own spin on them,” said Egerton. “And for me as an actor, where it is about trying to take ownership of a behemoth of a character, that is hugely helpful. If you look at every single one of these costumes, it is a moment of Elton’s life and it’s a moment that Julian has helped me recreate.”
Hair and Makeup Artist Lizzie Georgiou
There can’t be a better compliment for a hair and make-up designer than the one Lizzie Georgiou received the day the first ever images of Taron Egerton – the star she had spent months molding into Elton John – first hit the internet. Just a few minutes after they were released, her phone pinged with a text message. “It was from Elton,” Georgiou laughed, “saying that he thought the pictures were actually of him.”
Georgiou was the person who finally convinced Egerton to shave the front of his hairline for the role, for practicality’s sake more than anything. She also fixed his teeth.
“We did clear a mouth guard that had the little gaps in the teeth that Taron felt was an essential part of his character, but Dexter was worried that it might cause him to lisp a bit and it could make live singing harder,” said Georgiou. “But Taron was desperate to keep the gaps, so in the end, we ended up painting the gaps in, lost the mouth guard and used a tattoo ink they’ve made especially for teeth. It looks like his teeth aren’t straight but it’s actually just a little bit of paint.”
“Through the dance you’ve got to show the emotion of Elton, and so too with the hair & make-up and the costumes and everything,” said Georgiou. “They are all gelled together to take you through the emotions. Every dance routine is a transition for Elton growing or going through a different stage of his life, and in those make-up transitions it helps us carry him forward another five years down the line or so, so we can tell the story without sort of doing deep cuts.”
Georgiou found Edgerton a more than willing partner in presenting audiences with the most authentic Elton John they could ever imagine. “Taron threw himself into the transformation,” said Georgiou. “He would come into the make-up bus and sit in the chair and do his warm-ups and practice his singing. By the time he came out of the chair, we’d all be singing along.”
Crucially, for Rocketman, Georgiou wasn’t responsible for producing one Elton John, but many versions. “We’ve had to put Taron through prosthetics, and balding looks and rougher looks from when Elton reaches his lowest ebb,” said Georgiou. “We’ve done handsome Elton, and really young, fashionable, sexy Elton to Elton becoming drug-fueled and not being able to cope with that and then going into rehab. Then we’ve done the Elton who comes out the other side as well.
“It’s been a real journey,” she said. “And Taron was up for going the whole hog. Once he did that it was uncanny how much he looks like Elton. When you sit with him up-close, he looks like Taron, but when you get him in front of the camera, he just becomes Elton.”
Choreographer Adam Murray
Together with music producer Giles Martin, it was choreographer Adam Murray who brought to life the series of stunning song and dance sequences that give Rocketman its heartbeat. “The story and the scenes are what ground the film,” Murray said. “But the musical numbers are there to heighten any element of emotion the story is telling through the songs.”
For Rocketman, Murray has delivered some enormous numbers that would make classic musicals blush. One, set to ‘Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting’, was a creation that took 300 extras, 50 dancers and 12 weeks of prep to make real. “And then, having rehearsed it to perfection,” remembered Murray, “the sequence gathered mothballs while the bulk of the film was being made. Then, when it came to actually shooting it, we had just one day to re-rehearse it before it went in front of the cameras.”
If that wasn’t challenging enough, the sequence in question didn’t just have hundreds of individual moving parts, it had to be achieved in one single, seamless take. “Everyone needs to be in the right place, at the right time, on the right beat, or the sequence is lost,” said Murray.
“This has genuinely been a true collaboration,” said Murray of the evolving process. “We’ve all come together as a team and really bounced off one another. The result is seamless. The dance numbers have become a part of the structure of the script. They don’t sit out as a separate entity; they are finely knitted into the film. You don’t know when they start and when they finish. When you hear the music, sometimes you hear part of a song and you’ve not even realized what it is until you get to the middle of the song and you’re like, ‘Oh my god, this is ‘Your Song’ or ‘Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting’.”
“We had to open them up (the songs),” is how Murray described this process to shine a new light on an icon the world feels it knows but may not, yet, fully understand. “All the songs you know and love are still rooted in what they are,” the choreographer said. “They do transport you emotionally and move you. But the fact that we’ve not been confined means we can take it to another level.”
“That’s the rarity of what we’re doing,” said Murray. “We are telling somebody’s story who is still alive, and still working at the top of his game. We are honoring someone who is going to actually sit there and watch this story back. So, you know, let’s have him be as blown away as any other audience member out there.”
Production Designer Marcus Rowland
Production Designer Marcus Rowland has got quality UK credentials pumping through his veins, making him the perfect person to bring to life this most British of icons. Blooded, specifically, on the work of Edgar Wright, all the way through from Wright’s brilliant TV debut, Spaced, to his, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost’s famed ‘Cornetto Trilogy’ of Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and The World’s End, Rowland has been adding English authenticity to the country’s greatest exports for nearly two decades. Although it was his last movie with Wright, the acclaimed box office smash Baby Driver, that put him in the driving seat to bring to life the journey of Reginald Dwight to the Elton John we all know and love.
“Baby Driver gave me a terrific grounding in the musicality that was needed on Rocketman,” Rowland explained. “It came in massively useful when it came to designing the sets for this – that understanding of the fluidity and authenticity that was needed.”
“The freedom of that brief was to create something not too weathered, not too period,” he said. “To be more imaginative – jumping off Elton John’s particular style and creating a fantasy based around what his incredible music inspires. We always wanted to twist the dial a bit and make it more extreme than reality. It’s exuberant because the narrative is of Elton looking back on what happened. It’s intrinsically his recollection, from his mind’s eye, so we’ve allowed his imagination to steer us to be much more vibrant and dramatic with what we’ve done.”
As far as Fletcher is concerned, the results of Rowland’s build have been nothing short of magical. “Marcus has realized all of the moments of Elton’s life brilliantly,” Fletcher said. “And that’s an amazing achievement. There isn’t one set in the film that looks like a set. And when you think that we span four decades, from the ‘50s to the ‘80s, that’s astonishing. I dare anyone to figure out what is a set and what isn’t in Rocketman.”
“It was a deliberate policy to make the sets all very exciting and reflect the tone of what’s being told at the particular point in the story,” Rowland said of his vision. “Dexter let us go free as well. He wanted it to be edgy and exciting, and to capture Elton’s flamboyance. He wanted to even have some slight excess.” He laughed. “And I like to think that on that front we have more than delivered.”
These are just a few of the crew professionals who helped to make this stunning and heartfelt film. You might want to listen to rerecording mixer Mike Prestwood Smith discuss mixing Rocketman music and working with Elton John in this THR Behind the Screen podcast.
Hosted by THR tech editor Carolyn Giardina, Behind the Screen features the cinematographers, editors, sound pros and other talent behind the making of motion pictures and episode series.
Hear it all below on Behind the Screen — and be sure to subscribe to the podcast to never miss an episode.