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Rocketman's Director on Why the Sex Scenes Go Further Than Bohemian's

Rocketman's Director on Why the Sex Scenes Go Further Than Bohemian's

ROCKETMAN TARON EGERTON

Dexter Fletcher, who made the Elton John biopic and finished Bryan Singer's Freddie Mercury film, spoke candidly about the movies' differences to The Advocate.

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Dexter Fletcher has another hit on his hands. Rocketman, the rollicking, imaginative take on Elton John's early career is packing in the early summer movie crowds.

The British director -- who got his start as an actor in films like Band of Brothers and Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels -- also brought Bohemian Rhapsody to fruition after disgraced gay director Bryan Singer was fired for erratic behavior. Even though industry rules dictated Singer would keep the director credit, Fletcher steadied the ship and ensured Freddie Mercury's story made it to the public. The movie would turn out to be a massive commercial and critical success.

Now, Fletcher is behind two definitive biopics of LGBTQ musical icons. But Rocketman is a much different film than Bohemian; more abstract, sexy, and, dare we say it, joyous.

Fletcher spoke to The Advocate about his creative vision for Elton's story, why the sex and drugs were so important, and why many of Bohemian's creative choices were "not [my] decision."

The Advocate: Rocketman felt like a joyous Broadway musical. Were there shows you were thinking of when you were conceptualizing the film?
Dexter Fletcher: All That Jazz and Cabaret and Tommy were at the forefront of my mind and I have a great relationship with Singin' in the Rain as well and An American in Paris. Those are my sort of Top 10 films. And even back to my own roots as a child actor in Bugsy Malone and stuff I did on stage when I was a young man at the Royal Shakespeare company. And there was a great production of Top Hat in London a couple years ago that I enjoyed.

For each number, I indulged my own fantasies in terms of what can we do as a musical number. So some are quite intimate and small and others are filled with life and energy and try to take us on a journey of a young man discovering a wider world.

The "Saturday Night" sequence where Elton transforms from a boy to a young man was so grand and gorgeous. How long did that take to shoot?
That took three nights to shoot but about six weeks to rehearse. It was quite an elaborate set-up and the attempt was to make it look like one shot.

There was some tussle over the film's rating. Could it have worked as a PG-13 film?
I suppose any film could be made as a PG-13 film, but this was never conceived as such. It was always an R-rated film.

Elton was reportedly very adamant about including the sex and drugs, and all the realities of his life back then.
It's about someone's isolation and loneliness. That's not a PG place. You can't show the highs without the lows. It's not to say that sex and drugs are all just lows, because I think the film tries to balance out that bit. There is real love and intimacy between two people that's wonderful as much as there is lost-in-the-abyss faceless humping. Because the film is a musical it allows us to look at it in a more imaginative, poetic way. I'm thinking of the "Benny and the Jets" [number] -- he's hit rock bottom but it isn't that graphic, but it's clear that Elton's trying to lose himself in this hedonistic zeal. But it doesn't pass judgment.

I remember a line in the movie where Elton says of his wild life, "Well, I actually had fun."
He tried to hurt his mother as well [by saying that], because they had a complicated relationship. He does say that, but I know Taron and I spoke about how that was a big lie he was telling himself -- "I loved having sex with all these people, I loved taking every drug known to man." But for Elton, it was ultimately empty and shallow. In that moment, he's actually in pain, crying out for his mom. "See me! I'm lonely." She only talks about him being lucky and recounts his amazing achievements.

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Above, far right, Dexter Fletcher

Rocketman is the first big budget, studio movie to have a sex scene between two men. Were there concerns about it being too explicit or not explicit enough?
No more discussion than with any other sex scene. I do have a more explicit version, of course. The guys spent a whole afternoon in that motel room filming that moment. But it was my judgment, my call as a director as to how much was enough. I didn't want it to become salacious, I wanted to keep it on the right side of a very special, intimate moment between two people regardless of what the agenda was. I approached it exactly the same way I would with any love scene. I made that clear to the studio [Paramount] at the outset and they never came to me and said, "Does it really have to be two guys?" [laughs]. They knew it wasn't optional [to not have that scene].

I just was concerned about when am I just straining into voyeuristic [material]; two people humping instead of a special connection between two people. That was the only line I had to be careful of; my own line. [Paramount] knew they were getting. It's 2019. If people have an issue, it's theirs, not ours. I'm not going to pander to that. Some people don't like musicals, don't go see it then. But if you go see it, you might change your mind.

Bohemian Rhapsody was much more of a straightforward biopic, compared to Rocketman. If you directed Bohemian from the outset, would it have looked more like Rocketman?
It's hard to answer because Bohemian was someone else's vision that I came on and finished. And I very much tried to keep it within what was established. Of course, it would have been a different film if I did it from the beginning; I don't know how exactly.

Bohemian is a biopic and an excellent biopic, but Freddie isn't around to defend himself. So that means the people who loved him, or love him, are guardians of him; the custodians of his legacy. But Elton's around, so we can be a lot more upfront about [his life] because he said, "Put it all out there; I have nothing to hide." Elton said, "What do you want to know? Ask me anything." Freddie can't do that.

So, it's different. [Adding imaginative or sensational elements without Freddie's approval] means it would become a hatchet job. Because if you can't defend yourself, you have no voice in the process. I was very aware of that.

Elton said, "We've got to be honest." [Bohemian] is not not honest, but it maybe doesn't shine a light where it could of. But it wasn't my decision.

Rocketman is in theaters now.

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Neal Broverman

Neal Broverman is the Editorial Director, Print of Pride Media, publishers of The Advocate, Out, Out Traveler, and Plus, spending more than 20 years in journalism. He indulges his interest in transportation and urban planning with regular contributions to Los Angeles magazine, and his work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times and USA Today. He lives in the City of Angels with his husband, children, and their chiweenie.
Neal Broverman is the Editorial Director, Print of Pride Media, publishers of The Advocate, Out, Out Traveler, and Plus, spending more than 20 years in journalism. He indulges his interest in transportation and urban planning with regular contributions to Los Angeles magazine, and his work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times and USA Today. He lives in the City of Angels with his husband, children, and their chiweenie.