Taron Egerton has been on the verge of superstardom for a few years now. The British actor’s breakthrough moment came in 2014, when he starred in the bigscreen spy comedy Kingsman: The Secret Service, a role that looked as if it would catapult him into squarejawed leading-man territory. The film franchise instantly made him a household name, a situation he found challenging. “You become the focus of attention,” says Egerton, who was born in Birkenhead, near Liverpool, but grew up on the island of Anglesey in north Wales. “It requires you to simultaneously be very vulnerable and emotionally exposed, but also incredibly robust and thick-skinned.”
In his new film, Egerton relates the story of another man balancing his artistic career with life in the spotlight. Rocketman sees him play a young Reginald Dwight – who became better known as Elton John – as he wrestles with the trials and tribulations of fame and fortune. “I have a comparatively very meagre experience,” Egerton says. “I’m an actor from Wales who has been in five or six films. He is Elton John.” Here, the 29-year-old talks about portraying a living legend and how he got to know the real man behind the performance…
Q: How old were you when you first became aware of Elton John?
A: He’s been ever-present throughout my life, and I’ve been a fan of his music since I was very young. I was 12 when his Greatest Hits album came out in 2002, and my stepdad and I used to sing along to I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues while driving to school. Then I sang Your Song to get into drama school when I was 17. He was my audition piece and now I’m playing him.
Q: How did you go about creating your character for this film?
A: This idea of becoming someone else, like, “He became so-and-so, he was channelling so-and-so”… you can’t fucking channel someone. I’m an actor and I created a character with elements that are hopefully informed by the real person. My performance, while acknowledging the extremes of Elton’s character and not hiding the fact he has had difficulties, is also just my interpretation of him – and my interpretation is that he is one of the most amazing people I have ever met. At the forefront of my mind was that I wanted everyone to fall in love with him all over again.
Q: Was this a nerve-racking role to take on?
A: I felt it was a part that I could do. There is some crossover between his personality and mine; I don’t think I am quite as extreme as Elton, but I do feel that there are extremes of feeling and emotion in me. I am someone who is quite ‘heart on the sleeve’, and I know I can be a very big personality, but I’m also someone who can be quite vulnerable. I feel that’s who Elton is as well. Don’t get me wrong, I was hugely intimidated and scared and I felt a huge amount of pressure, but I had quite an inherent sense that it was a part that I could or should play.
Q: How was your relationship with Elton John while making the film?
A: I know that for the sake of promotion I’m required to say we have become good friends, but we really have. I really love him and I felt quite lucky to be let into his life. It meant that the experience of making the film felt important, not just in the sense of the legacy of Elton John, but because I care about him as a man. He’s a really beautiful person.
Q: Is it true he gave you access to his diaries?
A: Yes, he let me read his diaries when I went to stay at his house. He has diaries from 1971 to 1976 that he thought were lost, and he only reacquired them a few years ago. They were great and really informative. One entry that has stuck in my mind is: “Woke up this morning – went to the laundry – wrote a song called Honky Cat.” Then the next day it would be something equally iconic.
Q: The film doesn’t shy away from portraying Elton John’s problems. Can you understand how someone who is successful in showbusiness gets involved with drugs?
A: Yes. It’s everywhere. There is no escaping from it in the entertainment industry, and you have a lot of very expressive, emotional, vulnerable people. Singers, actors, artists… we all feel the need to convey something about our experience of the world. That means you expose yourself. It can be quite intense and you feel like there is a spotlight on you. Also, this is fucking Elton John. He was Elton John at 23 and he has been Elton John for the past 50 years. He has been one of the most famous people alive for decades. The pressure that comes with that, as well as the allure of incredibly glitzy, seemingly perfect party experiences? I can totally understand.
Q: Do you ever feel that kind of pressure in the public eye?
A: When I leave these junket days, I’ll go back to my flat and I can’t sit still. I have to walk around, I have to call people, I have to do stuff. Because although this feels like a conversation, I’m actually performing. I’m trying to be genuine and create a true version of myself, but I am still attempting to convey that version through the quality of performance. It’s really hard to come down from that. When I have troubles in my life, I call my mum. She is rational, sane, functional, normal, and she has wisdom to impart. I don’t know that Elton had that with his mother and other people in his life.
Q: How do you protect yourself from the problems that Elton John went through?
A: I am not Elton John and I don’t know if he did protect himself very well. He got very involved in that lifestyle and ended up going to rehab, where he saved himself. That’s what our film is about. It’s about Elton John saving himself.
Rocketman is in cinemas nationwide from May 24; paramount.com/movies/rocketman