Rocketman’s four-minute standing ovation had barely ended at Thursday’s Cannes Film Festival premiere when audience members began tweeting about star Taron Egerton’s Oscar potential. As Vanity Fair critic Richard Lawson wrote in his review, the British actor dazzles as Elton John—playing the musician as he rises to unfathomable richness and success, and then copes by plunging into drug and sex addiction. Compared to last year’s smash hit Bohemian Rhapsody, which glossed over Freddie Mercury’s sexuality and drug use, Rocketman is a gratifyingly un-censored exploration of fame and the vices that numb the isolation that accompanies it. And given Hollywood’s current affection for classic-rock movies, not to mention Bohemian Rhapsody star Rami Malek’s Academy Award win (despite the film’s controversies), Egerton, to Thursday’s Rocketman audience at least, seems like the first serious contender of the 2020 awards season. But what does Egerton make of this early Oscar chatter?
“That’s a horrible question,” said Egerton, at Friday’s Rocketman press conference. When a reporter pointed out that Malek won the Oscar without singing, while Egerton provided actual song vocals for Rocketman, Egerton defended the Bohemian Rhapsody star.
“I’m lucky enough to know Rami personally and he’s the nicest, most brilliant man, and one of the most talented actors of our generation,” said Egerton. “I’m very proud that we are mentioned in the same breath and I’m going to ignore the part [of the question about the awards].” He explained, “There is no good answer. But [Bohemian Rhapsody] has been such a global phenomenon and success and rightly so. It’s a great, rip-roaring piece of entertainment.”
Joking about how Rocketman director Dexter Fletcher replaced Bohemian Rhapsody’s Bryan Singer while production for the Freddie Mercury biopic was still underway, Egerton deadpanned, “I can’t remember who finished that off. But our movie is a different animal. Our movie is a musical,” he explained. “It requires an actor who can sing in the lead role. For a biopic, that’s not necessary. I’m very grateful that people compare us. Hopefully, it shows that there’s an appetite for movies [like this]. However, that movie is a unicorn.”
At that point, director Dexter Fletcher interrupted to move the conversation back to the movie they had just premiered.
“And Rocketman is really good,” the filmmaker reminded reporters.
Co-star Bryce Dallas Howard chimed in to note that Rocketman is more than just a musical biopic. With its whimsical costumes and fantasy sequences, it’s more of an experience—like Cannes jury president Alejandro G. Iñárritu was referring toearlier this week—viewed best on a theater screen.
In the age of streaming, the actress said, “It takes a giant spectacle to get people to go to the movies. People go to the movies for an experience, that is memorable and can be shared. Stories about musicians bring that spectacle and demand a united experience. It would be a shame to watch this movie alone.”
Added Fletcher, “From now on, we’re having Bryce answer all our questions.”
Onstage at Thursday evening’s Rocketman party, Elton John told partygoers that he was so thrilled with the musical about his life that he doesn’t care how it does at the box office.
“Even if the movie doesn’t make one penny at the box office—which will kill [Paramount C.E.O.] Jim Gianopulos—it is the movie I wanted to make.”
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