Richard Madden was having lunch with director Dexter Fletcher when the latter took out his phone and played a recording of Taron Egerton singing Elton John’s classic “Rocket Man.” “I just heard the song brand new,” says Madden, 32, best known for playing the titular bodyguard David Budd in last year’s hit BBC series Bodyguard. “I thought, ‘If this is the first little trimming I’m getting of this movie, then I’ve got to do this!’”

That project became Rocketman, a fantastical biography of music superstar Elton John, produced by John and directed by Fletcher, who stepped in and finished last year’s Oscar-winning hit Bohemian Rhapsody after director Bryan Singer was fired. The musical stars Egerton as John and Madden as John Reid, his lover and first manager. Madden and Reid actually share the same Scottish hometown just outside of Glasgow, but that’s where his proximity to the mercurial music manager ends. The real-life Reid didn’t participate in the film, understandable considering the fraught demise of Reid and John’s relationship. Instead, Madden spoke to people who knew and worked with him. “What excited me so much about him was there were so many conflicting stories,” says Madden. “Some people said he was the most terrifying man; he’d fire anyone on the spot. Then others said he was the most generous, lovely man — the soul of the party. Connecting all these stories and then pulling out what elements I could in the script was really interesting.”

With the research done and his hair “dyed to oblivion” (to the point it looked like it had been Sharpied in black), Madden pulled on his Cuban heels and tackled the most challenging part of the project, the dance sequences. Because what’s an Elton John movie without a (tiny) dancer or two? “It’s Moulin Rouge on acid,” says Madden, who practiced his moves between takes so he could concentrate more on his acting and less on his footwork. “All the songs are incorporated in a really brilliant storytelling way.” Madden credits Fletcher for seamlessly transitioning from dramatic scene to extravagant musical moment. “Jumping from one to the other is quite an abstract thing to do,” he says, “but Dexter had such skill at bridging those gaps. It’s not just, Oh, stop, here’s a number.

Another element Fletcher made sure to get right: Portraying John’s story without censoring or straight-washing, especially after internet rumors claimed as much. Indeed, Madden says it would’ve been a “disservice” to leave out a much-hyped love scene between John and Reid. “It’s an intimate thing between these two characters and a significant moment in Elton’s life,” he says. “And Elton’s life was very R-rated, wasn’t it?”

Interviews From 2019

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