A Golden Globe nomination for Rocketman for Best Picture, Musical or Comedy caps off a banner year for actor-turned-director Dexter Fletcher, whose fourth feature at the helm—or “four and a half”, quips Fletcher, after he stepped in uncredited to salvage Bohemian Rhapsody last year—was also his highest grosser to date. Fletcher, who has worked as an actor since he was a young boy in films like Bugsy Malone, had long harbored dreams to direct when he made his indie debut with Wild Bill in 2011. A few years later, he landed high on Hollywood’s watchlist after his Elton John biopic, starring Taron Egerton as the musical legend, premiered at Cannes in May. But what makes him tick?
MY FIRST FILM LESSON
You’re going back so far; I started acting when I was a kid. It seems trite to say, “you’ve got to know your lines,” but you do. I worked with some great actors. Patrick Stewart, Jon Pertwee, Alan Rickman. All those guys were very sharing, and they were great teachers. They believe in passing on their experience, and there’s always a sliding scale of experience on a set. I remember being at the Royal Shakespeare Company with Patrick Stewart when I was 11. He was Oberon in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, clad in a loincloth. Watching him was like a masterclass.
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THE BEST ADVICE I EVER RECEIVED
It came from Eric Stoltz when I told him I was going to direct a film. He passed on some advice he’d gotten from John Hughes, I think, and it was: wear comfortable shoes. You’re on your feet all day long, and I don’t know why, but as a director your feet do really hurt. I noticed it most on Rocketman. You wake up in the morning and your feet are still aching from the day before. Maybe I have the wrong pair of shoes?
THE MOVIES THAT MAKE ME CRY
I enjoy a good cry the older I get. In the theater, War Horse really broke the floodgates for me, but I don’t know if the film did. I think I was more connected to the theatrical experience. Funnily enough, Darkest Hour moved me. I don’t know why, but it was that speech at the end. I thought it was beautifully shot. And, of course, let’s not forget Porky’s. There’s something so moving about that one. OK, maybe that was a joke!
MY BIGGEST CHALLENGE
As a director, you’ve got to learn to confront more and more, particularly as the films get bigger. I think maybe going head-to-head with Jim Gianopulos on certain aspects of Rocketman, like the “Benny and the Jets” sequence, would qualify. I wanted it to be especially dark, and he said, “You are ostracizing the audience; you’re actively pushing them away.”
It was difficult because Jim is not just an incredibly powerful man, but incredibly likeable. It is a relationship I value highly and respect greatly. I can go to battle with producers, but when Jim’s like, “It’s long and it’s too much, I want you to re-cut it,” it’s the dictatorial nature of that note which is the thing you have to navigate around.
But at the same time, it’s his money, it’s his studio, it’s his thing. And this one was hard, because Jim was right. It wasn’t hard that he was right, but sometimes you can get lost in the tunnel vision of what you think the film should be, and you’re fighting other battles. That sequence now is just the right amount; it works.
THE THEMES I RETURN TO
I think I’m most interested in parental relationships. Wild Bill was certainly about that, and Eddie the Eagle, too. That’s definitely present in Rocketman as well, so it’s starting to become a recurring theme. What is interesting for me about that is we’ve all got a mum and dad. That’s the minimum requirement for being alive. Whether they’re absent, or dead, or overbearing, or whatever their role is, they’re there.
DESERT ISLAND MOVIES
Hard Eight; The Color of Money; Singin’ in the Rain; Aguirre, the Wrath of God… or Fitzcarraldo. Should I only take one? No, I’d take both. How many do I get? I don’t want to get bored. Can I have The Incredibles, too, for a bit of light entertainment? I love the music in that. Oh, and Crazy, Stupid, Love. And Predator. And Escape from New York. Alright, I’ll stop.
MY KARAOKE PLAYLIST
My go-to is “I Feel Good” by James Brown. I also do “Brown Sugar” by The Rolling Stones. Anything by Michael Bublé if I’m going for a crooner. “One Nation Under A Groove” by George Clinton. I normally go for the Stones, because they’re so good.
THE MOST FUN I’VE HAD ON SET
The Bounty was a lot of fun, because the whole experience was the set. We were in Tahiti for three months with incredible people like Tony Hopkins and Mel Gibson. But Wild Bill was also fun, because it was my first time directing. I was learning as I was going along, and I had so much experience on set by then that I felt I knew what I was doing. All my actor friends would come in and do a day here and there, and it was lovely.
MY DREAM PROJECT
It would be something like a Star Wars for me. I would love to do something like that. I’m not sure my trajectory is taking me in the direction where Kathleen Kennedy is going to be, like, “Let’s call Dexter Fletcher.” But if she’s reading… Kathleen, watch this space [laughs].
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