Taron Egerton channeled a pop god in the Elton John biopic ‘Rocketman’ and won raves — and a Golden Globe — for his portrayal of how a shy piano prodigy became an international superstar.
But in his last role, as a convicted drug dealer in the new Apple TV+ drama “Black Bird,” he didn’t have outlandish sunglasses or feather boa to shoot wrapped up every day. “Black Bird,” which is based on a true story, required him to reject something darker: the confessions of Larry Hall, a man convicted in the death of a girl suspected of kidnapping many more. raped and murdered.
“While it was an amazing experience creatively, there were days when I went home feeling like I don’t really want to listen to this stuff anymore,” said Egerton, whose character it is to provoke those confessions, in a recent declaration. video call from his kitchen in London.
Egerton, 32, who has lent his soulful tenor voice to both flamboyant (John) and furry characters (the mountain gorilla Johnny in the animated musical “Sing”), could have picked just about any musical role after “Rocketman.” And then there are those chiseled good looks and piercing green eyes, which seem to beg for a cape and spandex.
Instead, he wanted his next big role in front of the camera to be one that showed the world that he was more than a man of song and dance.
“I wanted to do something that felt very different from ‘Rocketman,'” he said. “People tend to see you as the last thing you did. They don’t want to take that risk by giving an actor a role they’ve never seen him play a version of.”
He found it in the psychological thriller “Black Bird,” a six-episode miniseries that author and screenwriter Dennis Lehane (“Mystic River”) adapted from the prison memoir “In With the Devil,” written by James Keene with Hillel Levin.
The series, which debuts on July 8, centers on Egerton as Jimmy Keene, who is given a chance to commute his 10-year sentence on one condition: he must convince Hall (Paul Walter Hauser) to tell him where he is. body of at least one missing girl, and maybe a dozen more.
“A role like Jimmy — or actually a part like Elton — those are definitely the roles I want from my career,” Egerton said. “That’s not to say that everything I want to do has to be heavy and dark — I’m definitely attracted to that sort of thing — but it’s really, really creatively nourishing to write like this, because it makes you want to give your very best to do.”
EGERTON WAS NOT ALWAYS SO ENTHUSIASTIC about acting. He was born into a British working-class family, with a father who ran a bed and breakfast in Liverpool and a mother who worked in social services. They divorced when he was 2, and he moved to Wales with his mother.
When he was 12 he moved to another part of Wales, Aberystwyth, leaving him feeling desperately lonely. “I lost all my friends I had as a kid when I moved,” he said. “I was quite cocky and confident, but that was to mask the insecurity I felt.” He didn’t start acting until he was 15. “It was about being social and making friends as well as an interest in acting,” he said.
The acting stuck. After graduating from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in 2012, he landed a few minor roles, appeared in a stage production of “The Last of the Haussmans” at the National Theater in London and appeared in the British TV dramas “Lewis and “The smoke.”
Then came his big break: Director Matthew Vaughn (“Kick-Ass,” “X-Men: First Class”) cast him as the street rat spy Eggsy in the 2014 British action comedy film “Kingsman: The Secret Service.” The role made him a colleague, alongside Colin Firth, despite Egerton’s never being on a movie set.
“He came in and did a perfect audition,” Vaughn said on the phone. “He was Eggsy. I loved that side of him in the part because Eggsy was also about a world you’ve never been in and it’s growing.”
Following the success of the first “Kingsman” film, which grossed over $414 million worldwide, he landed roles in “Eddie the Eagle,” the Disney animated film “Sing” and a sequel, “Kingsman: The Golden Circle.” †
Then he found himself in a tough spot, first in the title role in Otto Bathurst’s 2018 film adaptation of “Robin Hood,” and then as the antagonist of the 2018 biographical crime drama “Billionaire Boys Club.” Both were critically mocked box-office flops.
“I ignored my instincts on those two jobs because I was offered quite a bit of money to do them,” he said. “And that’s just deadly. You can’t choose roles like that.”
“But I feel like I should be nicer to myself,” he continued. “I was a 25-year-old boy raised by a single mother with very little money. I wanted to make money, not only for myself, but also for people who are important to me. And as much as I wasn’t happy with how those two movies turned out, I can see very clearly in retrospect why I made them.”
Things turned around with “Rocketman”, for which he learned to play the piano and sang many of his songs live.
“He has an incredible singing voice,” said Dexter Fletcher, who directed “Rocketman.” “But he was also an actor who was willing to go to a place where he wasn’t afraid to make a fool of himself. He wasn’t into being this super cool, emotionless, handsome guy.”
Vaughn, who was a producer on “Rocketman”, said he believed the part helped prove that Egerton could “play literally any part”.
“He’s in a rare, rare club,” Vaughn added. “Hugh Jackman is the only other man who is truly an action star and a musical star.”
It was that versatility that caught the eye of Lehane, who developed, wrote and produced “Black Bird” when he was looking for a leading man.
“I had just seen ‘Rocketman,'” he said, “and I was like, ‘My God, the range on this kid.'”
Egerton needed more than range to shoot “Black Bird”; the series was also incredibly heavy. Lehane said making a scene in episode 5 made him cry — the first time he’d experienced that while writing a script. Hauser said he was so moved by his role as Hall that his life started to spiral out of control. Eventually he had to sober up.
“Because you’re Larry Hall 12 hours a day, you want to go home and eat junk food, drink booze, eat something,” he said in a recent phone call. “It was like living in a haunted house.”
But Egerton, whose character serves as a sounding board for Hall’s disturbing revelations, managed to stay mostly above it, Hauser and Lehane said, despite a taxing six-month shoot in New Orleans.
“It’s hard to do,” said Egerton, who grew up playing Keene, a hefty former high school football star. “Especially with long days, work nights, it can be hard to switch off. But you find a way.”
Egerton, who also earned his first honors as an executive producer on “Black Bird,” said he was immensely proud of the result, especially his scenes with Ray Liotta (“Goodfellas,” “Field of Dreams”), who is the father of Keene played. Liotta passed away in May and the role appears to be Liotta’s last for TV.
“I loved that relationship,” Egerton said of his and Liotta’s characters. “These two complicated, very, very flawed, imperfect men, but with this real love for each other.”
“He had such an edge and such toughness,” he added of Liotta, “but also this incredible ability to be very open and very childlike and vulnerable.”
IN THE THREE YEARS SINCE THE RELEASE OF “ROCKETMAN,” Egerton has done a lot of voice work and is back on stage as well. In March, he made his West End debut in a revival of the Mike Bartlett comedy ‘Cock’ opposite ‘Bridgerton’ star Jonathan Bailey.
On opening night, however, he collapsed on the first outing and, after a successful but brief return, tested positive for Covid-19. He eventually left the production, citing what the producers said at the time were “personal reasons”.
“Towards the end of last year, a close relative was diagnosed with cancer and I stopped watching a movie to come home and be with that person,” he explained. “I thought I was done with the piece to get back to work, but I wasn’t. I had to leave, and it was sad, and definitely one of the hardest decisions I’ve had to make.”
Things seem to be back on track and looking ahead, he has no shortage of acting. He stars as Tetris Company founder Henk Rogers in the Apple TV+ movie “Tetris,” due out later this year, and a return to the “Kingsman” franchise.
He also hopes to succeed Jackman as the next Wolverine and has met with Marvel Studio executives, including the company’s president, Kevin Feige.
“I don’t think it would be wrong to say that,” he said with a laugh. “I’d be excited, but I’d also be worried, because Hugh is so attached to the role that I wonder if it would be very difficult for someone else to do it.”
He paused and then grinned. “But hopefully they’ll give me a chance when it comes.”