At the core of the Elton John biopic Rocketman is, for lack of a better term, the bromance between Elton and his songwriting partner of more than 50 years, lyricist Bernie Taupin. In one key early scene, Elton makes a clumsy, unrequited pass at the heterosexual Taupin, and the way Taupin handles the situation is a heartening example of acceptance, open-mindedness, and most of all, true friendship.
“This was a time when men potentially might have been less accepting. We’re talking about the end of the ’60s,” Taron Egerton, who brilliantly plays Elton in the film, tells Yahoo Entertainment. “It’s this moment that could have been a disaster for their friendship, but it [isn’t]. Through this misstep, through this misjudgment, Elton, in the haze of a few drinks, thinks that there might be more to the relationship. But what actually happens is because Bernie so beautifully deals with it, it fortifies their relationship and strengthens it beyond belief.”
Speaking to Yahoo Entertainment separately to promote the Aug. 27 Blu-ray/DVD release of Rocketman, Taupin says “the friendship aspect is spot-on” in the film, and says the important, “not salacious” scene, depicting a “point of exploration” in Elton’s youth, is “definitely based in truth, because that absolutely happened.” (He does clarify that in real life, Elton didn’t lean in for a kiss but instead put his hand on Taupin’s leg.) If Taupin had reacted the way many other straight men in the ‘60s might have — that is, with homophobic panic and disgust, and a decision to immediately sever the friendship — then all of those iconic John/Taupin compositions would have never existed; music history would quite literally be altered in unimaginable ways. But Taupin explains that — just as it is depicted in the movie — the potentially awkward encounter left him totally unfazed.
“In that particular point in time, and especially where I came from, I came from a very rural area in the north of England,” he begins. “But having said that, my parents were very — I don't want to use the word ‘liberal,’ because I find that word offensive sometimes; it's overused — but my mother was definitely different. She wasn't a product of that geographical location. I was raised in a different [more open-minded] way.
“When I first came to London, when I met with Elton, he was still playing with [blues singer] Long John Baldry, who was openly... well he wasn't openly gay, because it wasn't a possible thing to do back then, but he was a very strong gay character. So we would sort of be tethered behind him going to all these gay clubs,” Taupin continues. “I was really open to that sort of kettle of fish really, really early on, and quite honestly, it really had no effect on me. I was not judgmental. In retrospect, I'm not sure why I wasn't. But I never felt threatened. … I was always very, very comfortable in my own skin, with my own sexuality, and I was very comfortable being around others of a different sexuality.”
Taupin then adds with a laugh: “I was hit on [by gay men in the rock scene], of course, all of the time — because I was pretty cute back then!”
Taupin concedes that there are some artistic liberties taken in Rocketman for the sake of concise storytelling, though he says “the only thing about the movie that isn't chronologically correct is I was not aware of Elton's homosexuality until later than it's portrayed in the film.” In fact, Taupin doesn’t even specifically recall Elton ever officially coming out to him. “I mean, I knew when he sort of went off with [former manager/boyfriend] John Reid that the cherry had been popped,” he quips. “I think up to that point, [Elton] was still struggling with his identity. I was aware of it, but it just didn't manifest itself very much, you know?”
Taupin says the “absolutely stunning” Egerton did a “fantastic job” of capturing Elton’s complexities — “and I'm allowed to critique that, because this is a man that I've known over half of my life!” — and he hopes Egerton is nominated for a Best Actor Oscar, though he worries that another ‘70s glam-rock biopic, Bohemian Rhapsody, “may have rained on our parade a little bit.” But he knows that, just as Bohemian Rhapsody introduced a new generation to Queen’s music, Rocketman is doing that for the John/Taupin catalog, and he has a few recommendations for new fans who want to explore beyond the obvious greatest hits, including “I Feel Like a Bullet (In the Gun of Robert Ford),” “Amoreena,” “Believe,” and “Sacrifice.”
And, as for actor Jamie Bell’s portrayal of Taupin, the songwriter muses, “I don't think necessarily it was Jamie's intention to parrot me in terms of the way I am physically. I think it was more about my inner personality, the way that I viewed things in general. I think that was far more important than the way that I spoke, or the way that I walked, or whatever people do in order to inhabit a role of somebody who's lived or is still living. For that part, I think he did a remarkable job. I think he conveyed a certain amount of sensitivity that I'd like to think I have, a quiet strength as opposed to a rowdy individual, which I don't think I've ever been. I've certainly had my demons in the day, but I was always an observer and a sponge, as opposed to being an upfront, boisterous character.”
So, is there any possibility that Bell could reprise that quiet role in a Bernie Taupin biopic? “I think the movie about me has already been made!” Taupin chuckles modestly. “I think there's enough of me in [Rocketman] to go around. I'm quite happy with that being the beginning and end of my film career.”
Rocketman is available now digitally and will be available on Blu-ray/DVD on Aug. 27.
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