Bell may be new to movie musicals, but that’s precisely what makes ‘Rocketman’ the best fit for him.
The phrase “biographical fantasy musical” is the perfect way to pitch a movie about Elton John. The traditional biopic route is just too boring for a musician of his caliber; someone so famous for his indiscriminate musical prowess. Elton John also has the extravagant public persona to match, and his extensive career is most deserving of an exceptional biopic.
We’ve heard about Elton John’s upcoming biographical film for years. Aptly titled Rocketman, it has been talked about since 2011, and only recently began really taking shape. Elton John himself and Billy Elliot scribe Lee Hall have been attached to the project since the beginning, as executive producer and screenwriter, respectively. Directors and actors, on the other hand, have since come and gone while the project stewed in development.
Michael Gracey was tapped to direct Rocketman once upon a time, way before The Greatest Showman shot him to fame. Eddie the Eagle and Bohemian Rhapsody helmer Dexter Fletcher has since been confirmed to spearhead the film. Meanwhile, a number of big names have been considered for the titular role. Justin Timberlake was once eyed to play Elton John, and Tom Hardy was actually cast at one point. However, the honor now belongs to Kingsman’s Taron Egerton, whose angelic voice actually proves absolutely fitting for the role of John.
Variety now has the scoop on who will play one of the most important people in Elton John’s professional career. Jamie Bell is negotiating to star as songwriter Bernie Taupin, Elton John’s longtime collaborator who has written the lyrics to the singer’s songs since 1967. The men met by chance when they both answered the same ad for talent from a Liberty Records A&R man. Elton John later read some of Taupin’s poetry, and the rest is history. Together, the duo has co-written a total of 30 albums.
Rocketman will span the highlights of Elton John’s illustrious career, covering his time at the Royal Academy of Music up until he reached stardom alongside Taupin. The film will reportedly not shy away from darker points in Elton John’s life either, even if it adopts an unconventional approach to telling the story. Back in 2011, Steve Hammond Shaw, who is a producer on Rocketman, remarked that the film will be told “in a non-linear and hyper-visual manner that will transport people through the many intense experiences.”
Egerton concurs, telling Collider at CinemaCon this year:
“Everyone thinks it’s a biopic. It isn’t. It’s a fantasy musical, so it’s actually his songs used to express important beats in his life at emotional moments. He’s not the only character that sings. It’s going to be fun.”
In looking for ways to characterize Bell’s rendition of Taupin, we have to look at his filmography for clues. While he has definitely danced — coincidentally enough in Stephen Daldry’s Billy Elliot, which marked the feature film debut of Rocketman scribe Hall — he has yet to sing in a movie before. It’s easy to have faith in Bell’s potential, though. In a project overseen by professional musicians and songwriters, odds are everyone is going to sound great.
Regardless, Rocketman definitely stands out as Bell’s most exciting post-Fantastic Four project, and it thankfully already sounds like something well worth celebrating. Yes, Bell was one of the casualties from Josh Trank’s ill-fated reboot, playing The Thing, or Ben Grimm as he was originally called. Bell’s performance, like those of his equally talented co-stars, is actually one of the best things about Fantastic Four. The cast of that film will always be more deserving of a cohesive narrative.
Fantastic Four was mainly a shame because in the years prior, Bell had firmly made a name for himself as both a compelling leading man and memorable supporting actor. After Billy Elliot shot him to stardom, Bell steadily worked with noteworthy directors such as Clint Eastwood, Thomas Vinterberg, Cary Fukunaga, Bong Joon-ho, and Lars von Trier, just to name a few. He was lucky enough to star in a series of roles that truly showed off a considerable range; for instance, proving an ability to convincingly play both a likable character such as the doomed Edgar in Snowpiercer and intensely sadistic as with K in Nymphomaniac.
These contrasting roles also bolster the blockbusters Bell has starred in. He collaborated with the best of the biggest, appearing in acclaimed Peter Jackson and Steven Spielberg films. Bell was a key soulful figure in Jackson’s King Kong remake, delivering a pitch-perfect, emotionally available performance. His work on that film then booked him the eponymous leading part in Spielberg’s The Adventures of Tintin. Even amidst the uncanny technical achievements of motion capture, Bell played Tintin impeccably.
In a way, Bell’s career has been a lot quieter since the fallout of Fantastic Four, despite the fact that he hasn’t been short of leading roles. All of his work has skewed biographical in the last couple of years, coincidentally or not. Bell spent a good three years on the AMC historical drama Turn: Washington’s Spies, playing spy ring member Abraham Woodhull. On the big screen, he starred in 6 Days opposite Abbie Cornish and Mark Strong and played Annette Bening’s love interest in Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool. Bell wrapped a biographical drama titled Skin in March this year, although no release date for the movie has been announced.
These roles definitely have their merits. They provide Bell the chance to work with some industry greats and headline several seasons of a television show. However, it still feels like we definitely haven’t seen as much of Bell as we should.
Luckily, Rocketman seems like the perfect segue for him to get back into the spotlight in a huge way. Although despite nicely fitting the biopic trend in Bell’s filmography, the movie is also guaranteed to present extra challenges by virtue of its musical leanings and the iconic nature of its subject matter.