Elton John aimed for honesty in Rocketman: You can’t leave out the bad
Elton John pushed for honesty in biopic
The audience at the Palais des Festivals at the Cannes Film Festival gave a rapturous seven-minute standing ovation to Rocketman, the Elton John musical movie based on his life.
The cameras pointed to John who was weeping as he and the cast hugged each other after the screening and acknowledged the applause. Star Taron Egerton was teary-eyed as well.
"Even if the movie doesn't make one penny it is the movie I wanted to make, and that doesn't happen often," John said later at the after-party.
Rocketman, which opens here on June 13, is no sanitised version of John's story. It deals openly with his sexuality, depression and drug problems. Egerton, who plays John, sings the songs himself.
The cast includes Jamie Bell as John's lyricist and lifelong friend Bernie Taupin, Richard Madden as his manager and lover John Reid and Bryce Dallas Howard as John's mother.
Today, 72-year-old John has been sober for almost 30 years, and has been with husband David Furnish for 25. They have two sons, aged eight and six.
At our interview at the Corinthia Hotel in London, the British icon talked more about his passion project.
What was your reaction to the film?
I found it very, very painful to watch some of the drug situations, because it just was an awful situation. But the one scene that did get me was when Bernie comes to visit me in rehab, because Bernie is the thread of the movie.
Our friendship is the only thing I could seem to cling onto. He is the person who walked away from it because he couldn't bear it anymore.
When he came to visit me in rehab, which he did in real life, that was the beginning of the second chapter of our lives.
When he gave me the lyrics to I'm Still Standing and I sit at the piano and a light comes on, I knew I was going to get better.
It was incredibly moving, because in over 50 years now, we have become closer than we were to start with. I always get emotional about that.
Would you talk more about Taron's portrayal of you?
It was odd to see myself being portrayed, but then it was so like myself that I didn't think it was an actor playing me, which is the biggest compliment that I could possibly pay Taron.
He was extraordinary. And his singing and everything about it, I was absolutely amazed by the way he acted, because he became me.
Was it hard to show your life struggles so openly?
When I wanted to make a movie about my life, I wanted it to be honest. It's a fantasy movie, but what happens in the movie is what really happened.
Success was fantastic and then I couldn't cope with it. You can't leave out the bad. This is how my life was, and I didn't want to cover it and gloss it over.
Even though I was in a terrible state - I was doing a lot of drugs - I still kept working. I still kept making records and kept touring. The music kept me alive.
Why did you want the sex scene in the movie?
I was desperate to be loved. I am so glad it's in there because I am a gay man and I didn't want to airbrush it under the carpet.
I think this is the first major studio film with a gay love sex scene in it. I am proud of that. It is part of my story. If I had left it out, I would have felt so stupid and I would have felt I was cheating people. If they don't like it, I understand, but it's part of my life, it's part of who I am.
What did it take to turn your life around and find the love you were always seeking?
It took a lot of work. I had to learn to become a human being again. I had to listen and I had to shut up. I had to take people's advice, even though sometimes I didn't want to.
I learnt to do what I was told for the first three years of my sobriety. I didn't tour the first year and then I went to about 1,200 meetings in three years. I worked my butt off. And I started to get better as a person.
Is the struggle over?
There are still parts of a performer that will lead you to the dark side.
I would get up and it seems like the world got dark. But it doesn't last long because I have David to get me out of it. I also have my children. When they are around, I never feel dark.
I never would have thought that I would be in a relationship for 25 years or have children.
You have to be willing to change and life will get better. And it really did. I had everything going for me and I nearly threw it all away.
The writer is the president of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, a non-profit organisation of entertainment journalists that also organises the annual Golden Globe Awards.