Dexter Fletcher • Director of Rocketman
"The musical has that great element which I call the ‘to be or not to be’ moment"
by Kaleem Aftab
- CANNES 2019: We spoke to British helmer Dexter Fletcher about the ins and outs of Rocketman, his Elton John biopic
British director Dexter Fletcher arrived at the Cannes Film Festival to accompany his Elton John biopic Rocketman [+see also:
interview: Dexter Fletcher
film profile], which screened out of competition. The helmer, who was brought in to finish the Queen biopic Bohemian Rhapsody [+see also:
film profile] last year, spoke to us about the process of bringing British singer John to the big screen, in a crowd-pleasing film that is hitting UK cinemas this week.
Cineuropa: The movie’s central narrative thread is the relationship between Elton John and his songwriter, Bernie Taupin. What was it like to screen the film for them at Cannes?
Dexter Fletcher: The movie attempts to be emotional and touches on some very deep-rooted feelings and moments from their lives. Seeing that visceral reaction from Elton and from Bernie took me right back with them. It was great to be part of that long journey for them.
Elton was very much involved in the film; did he give you any instructions or advice on how he wanted to be portrayed, and was there anything he didn’t want put in the movie?
Well, we can’t tell you what he didn’t want us to do in the movie [laughs]! In truth, he was very clear from the outset, right from when I first read the script and originally started discussing it with him. He made it plain that he didn’t want it to be self-serving. There is no upside for him in that, and he has always been very honest about who he is. The film attempts to reflect that and be a part of it as well. I think that is one of his great strengths, the fact that he does not hide who he is, and that is why it’s so full of this kind of joie de vivre and lust for life.
You have become a master of using music to tell stories in movies about singers, from the Proclaimers to Queen, and now Elton John; how did you approach it this time?
You are really spoiled for choice when you are faced with making a musical and you have this incredible catalogue of songs and lyrics to explore and expand on – and, what’s more, you are given free rein to reinterpret the songs as you want. We just dive in, and we are very proud of that. Elton gave us his blessing, and the music we use doesn’t get in the way of the film; it is part of the film.
When you use “I’m Still Standing”, the video was shot in Cannes, and you reflect that in the movie. Was it destiny for it to screen here?
For me, the musical has that great element which I call the “to be or not to be” moment, when your actors can sing and open their hearts and tell you what their inner voice is saying. That is an incredible storytelling tool. That is why opera moves you the way it does, because when you open your heart, it sings. For me, there is nothing more unifying in cinema than that moment in the film because the right note combined with the right image sends shivers up your spine. That is an incredible experience, and it’s what we go to the movie theatres for.
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