This month’s Elton John biopic, Rocketman, stars three young U.K. standouts—Taron Egerton, Jamie Bell, and Richard Madden—who grew up in the world Sir Elton built. Here, they share how his hits intersected with their lives.

One afternoon in February, Taron Egerton, star of the new film Rocketman, was at the Sunset Marquis in West Hollywood, talking about the complicated task of playing Elton John. John is still alive, for one thing. Not just alive—he’s on a three-year goodbye tour titled Farewell Yellow Brick Road. You should go, if you can: He plays 20 to 25 hits, back to back, with the vigor and energy of a guy who knows there’s nothing to save for later. Bernie Taupin, John’s longtime songwriting partner, played by Jamie Bell in the movie, is also still alive; so is John Reid, John’s then-manager, played here by Richard Madden. You have to find a way to be these guys that still leaves them space to be themselves, you know?

The film—directed by Dexter Fletcher, who stepped in to rescue last year’s Bohemian Rhapsody after Bryan Singer was removed from the project—bills itself as “based on a true fantasy.” So, step one for Egerton, he said: Don’t play Elton John. Rocketman is a musical of sorts, winding through John’s life and catalog and many-splendored costumes. Egerton sings a lot of Elton John songs in the film. But “it’s me,” Egerton said. “I can’t do Elton.” (Giles Martin, son of George, helped write new arrangements for the film.)

John’s catalog has soundtracked the lives, one way or another, of some huge percentage of people walking the earth today. (At one point during our conversation, Bell wandered into a restaurant playing “Rocket Man”—“Hey, I wrote this,” he said, channeling Taupin.) So we asked Egerton (age 29), Bell (33), and Madden (32) to reflect on their own lives through the lens of John’s music.

Taron Egerton

Rising star of two very fun ‘Kingsman’ movies; Hollywood’s most recent incarnation of Robin Hood.

“Can You Feel the Love Tonight” (1994)
Like many people of my age, The Lion King was a huge thing. I watched it over and over and over. At the time, my mother and I were living in a bungalow on the isle of Anglesey, which is an island off the north coast of Wales. It’s quite remote. You have to cross a very beautiful expanse of water over a bridge to get to it. We’d moved there from the North of England. It was probably a couple of years after my parents had separated. I remember it being this sort of adventurous time in our lives, where we were off in this new place. And that was a big, fairly formative piece of film in my life. It was one of those things that stick out as being one of the first things I really fell in love with.

“I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues” (1983)
I’ve always been quite an old soul in terms of musical tastes. David Bowie was a big part of why I fell in love with music. Elton John was certainly a part of it. The Beatles, Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles, lots of Motown. And I remember that Elton released a greatest-hits album in 2002. It had a white cover: It was him circa probably around ’76 to ’78, with a big, very starchy ’70s collar. My stepfather would drive me to school sometimes, and we would always listen to “I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues” first, because it was one we’d just sing together. At this point we had moved to a different part of Wales, because my grandmother was sick. And that’s where my mother met my stepfather, who she’s still with. I was 13, 14. I remember being a little unhappy, a little uncomfortable in my own skin. Like, I’d put on a bunch of weight. I had a big mop of hair. So that thing when you’re sort of trying to express yourself but not really sure how to?… But home life was good. My relationship with my mother, my stepfather—we’re a nice unit.

“Your Song” (1970)
I auditioned for drama school for the first time when I was 17. Most drama schools in the U.K. ask you to sing a song—whether you can sing or not—as a sort of performance piece. And I sang “Your Song.” This is that age where you’re kind of experimenting—you know, alcohol, weed, whatever. It feels like an exciting new time. You feel invincible. You’ve got all of this life ahead of you. Anyway, I sang it when I was 17, and I was rejected everywhere. I think I was immature in my approach to it and my attitude in the auditions. So then I auditioned again at 18. And I’d done some things in the interim. I did some volunteering in Africa, in Kenya. I worked in retail, in a clothes store, and I did some café jobs as well. This time I got into a few places. But both years, I sang “Your Song.” It spoke to me, like it does 99.99999999 percent of people everywhere. It’s got a magic to it. It’s got a simplicity and a purity to it. And a voice in it. There’s a character in it. There’s a person talking in it, you know? Two of my best friends got married recently. And I sang it at their wedding at Christmas.

Jamie Bell

Former child actor; veteran screen presence; cheerful survivor of both ‘Fantastic Four’ and ‘Nymphomaniac.’

“Candle in the Wind” (1973)
I had a karaoke machine when I was a kid. I was a dancer, starting about when I was 6; I come from a very kind of dancy, musical-type family. So music was always important in our house. “Candle in the Wind” was on the machine, and I remember just being incredibly moved by it. I didn’t know who Norma Jeane was. I didn’t know Marilyn Monroe. And I certainly didn’t know who Elton John was or Bernie Taupin. But I was very affected by the storytelling element of the song. I couldn’t understand why I was, but I was nonetheless. I never met my father. So a lot of the music that I was into were all records that he left behind. I think in some weird way I kind of felt close to my dad that I didn’t know because I would listen to his old albums. It was Whitney Houston and Tom Petty and then, like, show tunes and classical music. But “Candle in the Wind” I remember clearly—both the content of the lyrics that meant something to me, that made me feel sad, moved, and the melody was…it was just like: “Yeah, this must be a classic song.”

“I’m Still Standing” (1983)
When I was 14 years old, Elton John came to the premiere of Billy Elliot, and he loved it. I met him, and he was weeping. I had never met anyone that famous. It felt very surreal. I think the movie, the relationship with the father, was for him reminiscent of his own relationship with his father. But weirdly, while we were rehearsing that movie, there was a certain routine in the movie where we considered using “I’m Still Standing.” So I danced to that repeatedly for weeks, rehearsing this song. We didn’t end up using it in the end, but I remember that’s the first time I’d heard it. And when I met him, I knew, like, “Oh shit, this is a really, really famous person.” I was very overwhelmed. None of it made any sense. Elton John’s, like, crying and shaking my hand and wanted to hug because he’s literally so moved.

“Rocket Man” (1972)
I have a 5-year-old son. They do these rockabye versions, lullaby versions of pop bands or rock bands. David Bowie has one. Led Zeppelin has one. Radiohead have one. I don’t put my kid to bed to Radiohead. Even in lullaby version, it’s still kind of fucked-up. However, Elton’s music—and I don’t want this to be misconstrued; it’s certainly not music to fall asleep to—but there’s just something so eloquent about his melodic structure that plays so nicely as a lullaby. So my son, since he was 2, has been falling asleep to “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” and “Your Song” and “Rocket Man.” And when I was prepping for the movie, I was hearing it all the time, and he’d go like, “Oh, that’s my lullaby.”

Richard Madden

Brutally murdered as Robb Stark on ‘Game of Thrones’; reborn last year on the BBC/Netflix sensation ‘Bodyguard.’

“Circle of Life” (1994)
My parents always had lots of music playing, and Elton was part of it. But I think my first encounter was as a child in primary school, watching Disney movies, like The Lion King, with my sisters on evenings and weekends. I was always a bit interested in films from a young age. I tried to sneak watching films we weren’t allowed to watch. I remember the day of my grandfather’s funeral, when Mom and Dad and everyone’s busy dealing with that, I watched two of the films that were on the “not allowed to watch” list, which were Taxi Driver and Shallow Grave. Obviously kind of dark, and I’m not really a dark person, but those were definitely on the top shelf of “not for the kids.” But that’s what I’d do as a kid, really: I’d be watching The Lion King and then throw on Taxi Driver.

“Tiny Dancer” (1971)
Heavy metal, I wasn’t into. But apart from that, I was very general about my music tastes. I was just a regular kid that had the radio on. I would make cassette tapes of songs I liked. I saved up all my pocket money and bought a mini-disc player, when they existed, and I would download music and listen to that to and from school. I was already acting at this point, as a teenager. I don’t remember listening to Elton John by design, but I’m sure I did listen to lots of it. My favorite was always “Tiny Dancer.”

“Bennie and the Jets” (1973)
We all know lots of Elton’s songs. But it took being cast in this movie for me to really dive into his music and watch all his music videos and listen to all these albums and tracks. Now I kind of know a lot of songs by heart, which I love. Every song is a hit. Joyous to listen to. “Bennie and the Jets” is up there as my top favorite now. It’s so unique and strange. I just love it. In the film, the way we do it, it’s a real treat for the audience. In Cinderella, I did a grand waltz. But apart from that, I’d not really done any singing and dancing. So this was a bit of a tough challenge to take on, but it was a great team. We were on set for a long time. And if I wasn’t on set, I was with the dancers practicing the dances or in the studio practicing the singing. So that’s kind of your life.

Taron Egerton, Richard Madden and Jamie Bell on Elton John’s Iconic Style

Rocketmen stars Taron Egerton, Jamie Bell and Richard Madden give their insights and opinions about Elton John’s iconic style, as well as touching on some of their very own style heroes.

Interviews From 2019

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