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Read this before you see Rocketman

Despite Bohemian Rhapsody winning four Oscars, many people were quick to criticize the movie's depiction of Freddie Mercury's sexuality. In defense of the film, screenwriter Anthony McCarten said in an interview with Noted, "We're making a movie here, not a documentary." Other outlets, such as Vanity Fair, have tried to set the record straight when it comes to Mercury's love life. 

Now, there's another high profile musical film about a legendary singer set to release on May 31st, and some people are wondering just how faithful and true-to-life it will be. Directed by Dexter Fletcher and starring Taron Egerton of Kingsman fame, it remains to be seen if Rocketman will take off with a faithful representation of singer and songwriter Elton John, capturing the good and bad of the musician's life, or if the project will be grounded by controversy.

Before you see the film, here's everything you need to know about Rocketman.

Who is Elton John?

After first performing publicly at age 14 in a band called Bluesology, Reginald Kenneth Dwight, now known as Elton John, embarked on one of the most prolific and successful careers in music history. Racking up early success with hits such as "Tiny Dancer" and "Rocketman," the British singer became the most successful solo male artist in the history of the American charts and the third most successful artist in the world behind Madonna and the Beatles, according to Elton John's website. In all, John has released 38 gold albums and 31 multi-platinum albums. 

While primarily known for his musicianship, John's achievements extend outside of his music career. In 1992, he established the Elton John AIDS Foundation, which has raised more than $400 million in an effort to prevent infection and combat the disease. In 1998, he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II for his "services to music and charitable services."

Struggles with drugs and alcoholism

As Elton John's fame continued to grow, so did the pressures of stardom. Speaking at Harvard University, he confessed that while music did help to shape his life, his fame eventually become overwhelming. "Once I hit the pinnacle, happiness became elusive and darkness crept in. I lost my own humanity in an excess of drugs, alcoholism, and eating disorders," he said. John further described the effects the drugs had on him, stating, "The drugs turned me into a monster."

John was first introduced to drugs early in his career. In an interview with NPR, he stated that his first experience with drugs came in the '70s, when his manager brought cocaine to a recording session. John told NPR that at first, cocaine helped him to come out of his shell and feel comfortable, but after a while, the drug had the exact opposite effect.

Eventually, the habit became so destructive that John had several brushes with death. In an interview with The Telegraph, he recounted an occasion where he was found passed out in his bedroom after a seizure. He described the incident, saying, "They put me back on the bed and revived me, and they went out, and 30 minutes later I was back doing blow." 

Eventually, the singer finally got sober in 1990 and began going to both Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous meetings throughout the early '90s.

Who is John Reid?

John Reid is one of the key figures who helped Elton John along in the earliest days of his career. One of his most impactful contributions that helped to set the singer apart from other acts of the time were the extravagant and flamboyant outfits Reid encouraged him to wear during his performances. Their professional partnership began when record label Dick James Music decided they needed to appoint a full-time agent to their burgeoning star. Everyone was surprised to find that when Elton named Reid for the position, the two were already living together.

However, this wasn't merely the start of a platonic business relationship. The two were in love and remained in a romantic relationship for the next five years. But as their personal relationship came to an end, their professional relationship had only just begun.

Reid ceased being John's manager in 1998 after decades of working together. The split was caused by John claiming that Reid's managing firm had unduly cost him millions of pounds. According to The Telegraph, the suit against John Reid was ended when Reid agreed to pay a settlement of £3.4 million.

Who is Bernie Taupin?

In 1967, poet Bernie Taupin met an aspiring musician named Reg Dwight, and the pair decided to work in tandem as a lyricist and a composer respectively, according to Taupin's website. Taupin and the man who would later become Elton John were just 17 and 20 years old at the time they joined forces. And for the next 50 years, they worked together while each staying in their own creative lane.

According to The Miami Herald, the first song the two worked on together was "Scarecrow" in 1967. By the release of their ninth album, 1975's Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy, the genius of the pairing was widely recognized, resulting in a spot at number one on the Billboard top 200 chart.

While John has usually relied on Taupin to provide the words to his music, there was a brief moment in his career when the singer decided to try his hand at writing lyrics. In a joint interview with Rolling Stone, John revealed for the first time that he had been the one to write the final verse of his 1970 single "Border Song," explaining why the end of the song was "very mundane."

Who's playing Elton John?

Primarily known for his role as Gary 'Eggsy' Unwin in Kingsman and as the voice of Johnny in the animated musical SingTaron Egerton will be playing the role of Elton John in Rocketman. The pair already worked together once, when the singer made a cameo appearance in Kingsman: The Golden Circle.

Initially, the announcement that Egerton would be taking on the role of Sir Elton caused some controversy. According to GQ, there were concerns raised by members of the LGBTQ community regarding Egerton, a heterosexual actor, portraying such a gay icon on screen. In response to these concerns Egerton told GQ, "I've approached it wholeheartedly and I hope that for that reason people accept me."

Rocketman's director Dexter Fletcher stands by the decision to cast Egerton and praises the actor's talents. The director told GQ that Egerton's vocal abilities were so great that instead of using recordings of Elton John, the actor would sing for the film. Fletcher explained, "When we shot 'Your Song', Taron sat at the piano and sang it there and then, unplanned, so I filmed it. And it's the same with 'I'm Still Standing.' He sings in that moment and I use what we shot on the day because it's so good."

As for what the man himself thinks, Elton John fully approves of Egerton portraying him in Rocketman. Music producer Giles Martin relayed the singer's sentiments, stating that John doesn't believe he's ever heard anyone sing his songs better than Egerton.

Who directed the movie?

The director of Rocketman is veteran actor and filmmaker Dexter Fletcher. Most recently, Fletcher is known for stepping in to finish Bohemian Rhapsody after the film's previous director, Brian Singer, was removed from the project. Though he originally started his career as an actor — having made appearances in films such as Doom, Kick-Ass, and Three Musketeers — Fletcher has recently shifted gears to focus more on directing.

In 2011, Fletcher released his directorial debut Wild Bill to critical acclaim. Fletcher's work on the film was enough to earn him a BAFTA nomination for Outstanding Debut by a British Writer, Director or Producer. He followed that up with Sunshine on Leith, an adaptation of a stage musical featuring songs from the Scottish group the Proclaimers. Fletcher's efforts here were also well received, with five nominations for the Scottish BAFTA awards in 2014.

Aside from his uncredited work on Bohemian Rhapsody, American audiences are probably most familiar with Fletcher's 2016 biopic Eddie the Eagle. Not only was this story about Olympic skier Michael Edwards a hit with critics, it was the first collaboration between Fletcher and Taron Egerton.

Produced by Elton John

Not only does Elton John approve of Taron Egerton's portrayal of him, the singer is producing the project through his own production company, Rocket Pictures. Because John's role as a producer indicates his endorsement of the film, some are concerned that attaching himself to the project may be a sign that Rocketman will give audiences a romanticized portrayal of the singer. It is perhaps understandable to worry that his complicated past and life struggles might be swept under the rug to present a more appealing and less controversial version of the singer's life and career. 

Despite these concerns, GQ details that while Sir Elton was closely involved in planning and pre-production, "once everything was set he took himself away, promising he wouldn't interfere." Egerton put these fears further to rest at a preview screening, explaining, "Elton essentially gave me licence to go and make him look ugly at times."

It's not a biopic

While many outlets have referred to Rocketman as a biopic similar to the recently released Bohemian Rhapsody, the cast and crew disagree with that description. Taron Egerton set the record straight, telling Collider, "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."

Dexter Fletcher further elaborated on the film's fantastical elements in an interview with Variety. "Elton is our storyteller in the film, and it is his memory of those times," he explained, "and sometimes our memory plays tricks… or we remember things in a particularly colorful or different way." In short, Rocketman promises to be less a biography than an artistic statement about Elton John's life and legacy.

A rumored R rating

Rocketman has inspired some controversy in regards to an alleged love scene between Elton John and John Reid in the film. According to an anonymous source that spoke with The Hollywood Reporter, the film includes the use of the F-word multiple times, shows some rear nudity, and also features instances of drug use. The combination of all of these factors, according to the source, will result in an R rating for the film. Addressing the rumor that Paramount was pressuring Fletcher to secure a PG-13, Egerton told Variety, "There is a love scene in the film. It's been slightly blown out of proportion how extreme it is."

In an interview with GQ, Taron Egerton explained his thoughts on the film's depiction of Elton John's sexual relationships. "Those scenes are desperately important when you have an icon of that magnitude, who means so much to one community," he said. He went on to state, "I don't care how well the film does in Russia. It doesn't matter. It can't matter. What's an extra $25 million at the box office? What are you willing to do for that? Sacrifice sleeping at night because you watered the whole thing down?"

Amidst these rumors, Fletcher responded on Twitter saying, "It's still unfinished so it's nothing but rumors. It has and always will be the no holds barred, musical fantasy that Paramount and producers passionately support and believe in."