'Rocketman': 4 of the Film's Stars and Their Real-Life Inspirations

11:56 AM 6/1/2019

by Abbey White

Find out how Taron Egerton, Bryce Dallas Howard and more prepared for their roles in the Elton John biopic.

'Rocketman'
'Rocketman'
Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Paramount's $41 million Elton John biopic Rocketman traces the life and career of one of music's most influential artists. Produced by the singer-songwriter, written by Lee Hall (Billy Elliot) and directed by Dexter Fletcher — who replaced Bryan Singer on last year's award-winning Queen biopic Bohemian Rhapsody — the film has been described by its star Taron Egerton as more of a fantasy musical biopic than a strict, dramatic adaptation of the entertainment legend's life.

Rocketman follows John from his days as a prodigy at the Royal Academy of Music through the formation and development of his creative relationship with lyricist Bernie Taupin, one of music's longest, most influential and dynamic partnerships. In addition to charting the incredible highs and successes of the performer's career, the pic also explores John's struggles with depression, substance abuse and accepting his sexual orientation.

While Rocketman is open about its use of creative license, all the main characters are based on real people. Below, read more about the cast, the people they portrayed and how the film's stars prepared for their roles. 

  • Taron Egerton as Elton John

    David Appleby/Paramount Pictures; Chris Walter/WireImage

    Named Reginald Kenneth Dwight at birth, Elton John began his mainstage career in the early 1960s. Starting as a member of the English R&B group Bluesology, he would soon meet lyricist Bernie Taupin while they both worked as staff songwriters for DJM Records. Around this time, Reginald Dwight became Elton John — a combination of two former Bluesology bandmates' names — before kicking off a 50-year-long, nearly continuous creative partnership with Taupin that would produce numerous gold, platinum and multi-platinum albums.

    With 30 studio albums under his belt and more than 300 million records sold worldwide, John has earned numerous accolades, including multiple Grammys, an Oscar, a Tony and a Golden Globe. The singer-songwriter has performed over 4,000 times in more than 80 countries, is a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee and was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1998.

    In addition to a physical transformation, which required Kingsman actor Taron Egerton to paint a gap on his teeth, thin his hair out and wear a bald cap, preparing to play the music icon meant spending months learning choreography and recording at the famous Abbey Road Studios, Egerton said in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter. However, the 29-year-old actor also visited with John, and his husband David Furnish, at their Windsor estate, where he was granted access to the musician's diaries from the '70s to help with research for the role.

    "We managed to find Elton's hand-written diaries from 1970 to 1976," Furnish told THR. "And Taron came down one day and sat on the front lawn of our house, on a nice sort of hazy, late-spring day, and sat by the pond and read them." 

  • Bryce Dallas Howard as Sheila Eileen

    David Appleby/Paramount Pictures; KMazur/WireImage

    Elton John's mother Sheila Eileen Dwight, or Sheila Farebrother, helped expose her son to popular artists and rock 'n' roll music while he was growing up. She also supported her son playing the piano, beginning at the age of 3, through professional piano lessons and playing in local pubs. In her home is where John and his longtime creative partner Bernie Taupin wrote early hits like "Your Song."

    Sheila was married to John's father, Stanley Dwight, before they divorced in the singer's early teens and she remarried to Fred Farebrother. She died in January 2018.

    In the film, Bryce Dallas Howard stars as John's mother from her 20s to 70s. Due to that substantial onscreen age progression, the Jurassic World actress told Business Insider that she and a makeup artist got creative in aging her realistically. For the part, Howard donned a black, curly wig and wore prosthetics for her later-in-life scenes but ultimately wasn't made to look like an older version of John's mom. Instead, the makeup team made up Howard to look like her mother, Cheryl, who visited the U.K. set during filming.

    "I was working on the movie and the makeup artist came over one day to do tests on me with the prosthetics and we needed to age me until 70," the actress told Business Insider. "We were doing it and we felt that it didn't quite look right and my mum walked in. This was at the hotel we were staying at, and she came and stood next to me and we were like, 'Wait a second, we need to make [Bryce] look like her [Cheryl]!'" 

  • Richard Madden as John Reid

    David Appleby/Paramount Pictures; M. Fresco/Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

    John Reid was Elton John's manager for nearly three decades and at one point his romantic partner. Growing up in Scotland, Reid began his career in the late 1960s as a promoter for EMI and as a label manager for Tamla Motown before starting his own management company in the early '70s.

    After meeting at a label party, John would become Reid's first client, and the two would enter into both a professional and romantic relationship, with the latter ending after just five years. Reid would ultimately continue to manage John until 1998, when the musical legend fired him over a financial dispute. During his decades-long career as a music manager, Reid also notably managed Queen between 1975 and 1978.

    Game of Thrones and Bodyguard star Richard Madden plays Reid in Rocketman. In addition to having dinners with John at his home, according to British GQ, Madden shared in an interview with Elle that he had spoken with both friends of the singer and his former manager to get a better sense of Reid's past. One of those people was Donatella Versace, whom the actor says was quite helpful to him in identifying Reid's defining qualities. "She said, 'The thing about John Reid was that he was never wrong,'" Madden said of their conversation.

    Beyond research, Madden's physical transformation into John's former manager and ex-lover involved a few cosmetic changes. "My hair in that movie is very long and very '70s," Madden said while speaking to the Evening Standard. "It was dyed very black along with my eyebrows, which was not fun to live with. I looked like my eyebrows had been Sharpied in."

     

     

  • Jamie Bell as Bernie Taupin

    David Appleby/Paramount Pictures; Chris Walter/WireImage

    A lyricist and singer, Bernie Taupin is best known as Elton John's longtime musical collaborator. He has written Grammy- and Golden Globe-winning lyrics and published books of his songs and poems in addition to releasing albums as a solo artist and later with his band Farm Dogs.

    Born in 1950, Taupin grew up on farms and left school at the age of 15 to work for a local newspaper before spending several of his teenage years traveling and hanging with friends. In 1967, he and John would both answer a newspaper job advertisement for songwriters, and that connection would jump-start their 50-year career together.

    In total, the lyricist-composer duo has worked on more than 30 albums, producing hits including "Candle In the Wind," "Rocket Man" and "Tiny Dancer." The two collaborated more closely at times than others and during breaks in their professional relationship, Taupin worked with artists like Alice Cooper and Heart.

    Jamie Bell, who plays Taupin, told IMDb that the chance to portray the lyricist, "someone who did something so magnificent," was an honor that "comes with a certain amount of trepidation as well." To accurately portray Taupin, Bell met him and his wife, Heather, at a restaurant in Santa Barbara. There they discussed Taupin's personal life and work. The Billy Elliot and Snowpiercer actor also used Taupin's memoir A Cradle of Haloes: Sketches of a Childhood to learn more about his early life.