ROCKETMAN, A BIOPIC of Elton John where Taron Egerton plays the singer, unfolded at the Cannes Film Festival 2019 to a standing ovation. Elton spoke to Open about the conservatism of 1950s UK, his parents’ marriage and why he loved the film.
How did it feel watching Egerton play you?
It is strange to watch yourself in a movie when you are still alive. Most biopics are about dead people, except the Tina Turner one. But then it was so like myself I didn’t think it was an actor playing me, which is the biggest compliment I could possibly pay him—he was extraordinary, as was his singing and everything else. I was absolutely amazed and astonished by the way he acted, because he became me.
The film reveals all facets of your life. How do you feel about that?
When it was suggested a movie about my life be made, I wanted it to be as honest as possible, I didn’t want it to be a fantasy. So what happens in the movie is what really happened. Success was fantastic and I couldn’t cope with it; you can’t leave out the bad. I didn’t want things covered up or glossed over. It was difficult to watch because I didn’t want to go back there; thank God I came out of it. Thank God there was redemption. I thank God I had the intuition and help to get out of that place. Also, even though I was in a terrible state, I was doing drugs, I still kept working, I still kept making records and I still kept touring; the music kept me alive. If I had stopped, I would not be here today.
Your childhood was rough. You now have children of your own. How do you show them love?
My parents should never have married. They married after the war, very quickly, and as you see in the film, they were completely unsuited to each other. What I am very happy about is my father and mother both found happiness in their second marriages. Since my mother was unhappy in her marriage, I was unhappy, because when they were together it was always rowing about me. With my children there’s no physical abuse and very open. It was a different time then. It was the 1950s, a very, very conservative era. When a girl became pregnant, she was sent away and it was a disgrace. When my parents wanted to get a divorce, I remember my uncle saying, ‘You can’t get a divorce. What will the neighbors say?’ As I grew older, I appreciated they stayed together for my education. But the more they stayed together, the worse it got, and it was just as hard on them as it was on me—I was in fear. My father was very strict: if I made noise eating celery, he told me off. So if you are walking on eggshells all your life you find something that’s comforting. I found comfort in music and that was joyous. My poor parents argued all the time.
The biopic shows you having sex with your male lover. What was your feeling watching that scene?
Well, I fought for the scene. If I’m telling the story of my life, it has to be honest. I was a virgin until that scene in the movie. I was desperate to be loved, desperate to have a tactile relationship. The way they tear their clothes off, that was how it happened; it was in San Francisco. I’m glad it was there because I’m gay and I did not want to brush it under the carpet. This is who I am. In that scene when he is lying in my arms and I am sitting back with a smile, I am thinking I am normal, I had sex. I did not have sex until 23. My father told me if I masturbated I would go blind; when I was 13, I started to wear glasses and I thought ‘Oh, my God! This is coming true.’ That scene is part of my story. If they had left it out, I would have felt I was cheating people. If they don’t like it, I will understand. But it’s part of my life and of who I am.