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da BUZZINE.COM del 05/2006
intervista di Emmanuel Itier

Interview with Elton John and David Furnish

Emmanuel Itier: Elton, why do you want to do filmmaking now? You have done so much in your career, so why produce this film, It’s a Boy Girl Thing?

Elton John: I have written screen musicals, stage musicals, and musical scores for films that also gave me an opportunity to do a deal with Disney to do a film at our production company, which David has run for some years. During that time, we’ve only made one film, Women Talking Dirty, but this film gave me an opportunity to work with my production company.

EI: What have you got coming up?

EJ: We have an animated film on the drawing board called Romeo and Juliet about two families who hate each other. It’s the classic Shakespeare film. We have had it on the board for a number of years. When Schumacher left Disney, it’s been on and off for five years. The last time was when Pixar came into the picture when Michael Eisner left, and they had an agenda of their own and didn’t really want to do it. But Dick Cook, who is now the head of Disney, was a huge ally. He said we’ve mucked it around. “We want you to go and make this film in England, where you should have made it in the first place. Here is a lot of money. Go and make this film as edgy as you can.” It’s finally back. Projects don’t really happen in a year. They take years to take off. Movies are a whole different thing. There are so many factors that could go wrong. You have to be very patient.

EI: Is movie making different than what you do in music, or is it an extension?

EJ: It’s an extension. I love visual. I am a culture di-vulture, and I love to be able to be involved in doing things other than writing albums and doing tours. I am lucky to do it.

EI: Did you write songs for Romeo and Juliette?

EJ: I have already written three songs for Romeo and Juliet, and I am writing another four.

EI: Isn’t there a variation of Candle in the Wind in It’s a Boy Girl Thing?

EJ: [laughs] Yes, there is a scene where the radio is playing and the girl hears it, and she says, “Fuck that guy. I hate this shit!” And she throws the music out the window. We did it on purpose because you have to send yourself up. I think of all the songs I have written, people will probably hear that one in particular and say, “I don’t want to hear that played again.”

EI: Do you write music differently when you write for film?

EJ: Of course--you have to write for what’s on the screen. It’s the same in a musical.

EI: Did you do all the music for It’s a Boy Girl Thing?

EJ: We have a soundtrack with Eminem, James Blunt, The Scissor Sisters, Black Eyed Peas, and Ozzie Ozbourne. It’s a really great soundtrack. It’s a multi-million dollar soundtrack because I can ask for little favors here and there. Bryan Adams has written a song for us at the last minute.

EI: As executive producer, what is your involvement?

EJ: I sit there and do nothing. [laughs] I read the script. I see the dailies and say, “That’s not funny.”

David Furnish: It’s great to have Elton to have an outside view. Because it’s great to have the access to Elton who says, “This works, this performance works, this plays well.”

EJ: To get a multi-million dollar soundtrack is very unusual. I can pull in a favor. What you need in a film like this is chemistry between your two lead actors, and, thankfully for us, it works incredibly well. When I saw the original first cut without any music, I was crying. It’s an emotionally pulling movie. I am very happy with that. It’s not just American Pie, which I love as well. It has a big heart in it too.

EI: This movie is about putting yourself in each other’s shoes. When have you put yourselves in the other’s shoes?

EJ: People ask me what I’d like to be if I was reincarnated. You have to come back as a woman. You have to find out what the other side is like. That’s where the humor comes from in the movie. He’s a football player, she has to learn how to play football, she wakes up with an erection…it’s very funny. If I am reincarnated, I want to come back as a female.

DF: That’s what happens in the film--the boy becomes a girl, the girl becomes a boy, and they hate each other. They have been next-door neighbors for years. She is very studious. His parents are very working-class. He is the star jock at school. They are completely the opposite end of the spectrum, and all of a sudden they are on a school trip in other people’s bodies.

EI: Have you two found the secret to a perfect relationship?

EJ: A secret to a perfect relationship? I think it’s honesty and communication. And I think, in any relationship, the worst thing you can ever do is not be open. You can’t keep things inside. It must be balanced--it must be a 50/50 thing. Whenever I had a relationship before David, I never had a 50/50- relationship because of my position. I am a celebrity, someone who goes around the world playing. I always took the other person with me. I never had a person who had their own job and identity. David already had that when I met him, and he fought for it. He made me understand that to succeed in a relationship, it had to be a 50/50 thing. I am so relieved that I have found someone like that.

DF: Elton helped me. I was very good at confrontation in a professional context, but I was not experienced with personal confrontation. I grew up in a family where we didn’t fight very much--we got along quite well. So when there were difficult emotional issues in my relationship with Elton, I initially found it very hard to express my feelings. I used to keep things inside. He was very good at saying, “Hang on a minute. I know something’s wrong. You have to tell me about it. Get it off your chest.” I said, “It’s nothing, it’s fine.” He said, “No, no, get it out.” He helped me with that.

EJ: And honestly, because we spend so much time apart, because I am away and he is away with work, it’s communication.

DF: Be honest about your feelings and be honest about your needs.

EJ: It’s not easy being a partner for someone like me because I am entrenched in a career. But by the time I met David, I had done a lot of work on myself. I had been sober for two years. I was in good shape physically and psychologically, and I was much more mature.

DF: If we had met ten years earlier, it probably wouldn’t have worked.

EJ: No way, no way.

EI: Has marriage changed anything, Elton?

EJ: I feel much happier. The day we did it, it was a very special and happy day.

DF: It was overwhelming, the amount of support we had from people. I couldn’t believe it. We walked outside the Guild Hall, and there was all the people and press, and people from all walks of life, and we went, “Wow!” We thought we were going to get picketed--it’s still not everyone’s cup of tea. I mean, the world is still changing. The world is still a very divided place, and everyone there was so supportive and positive.

EI: Does that mean we are living in more tolerant times?

EJ: It depends where you are. I mean, if we were in Iran, we’d be dead. [laughs hysterically]

EI: Did you see the opposite side?

EJ: We had a couple of nasty letters that people sent to Guild Hall, but honestly, compared to the other response we got and the other letters, it was a tiny, tiny drop in the bucket. I do think sometimes that it’s a very vocal minority who sometimes make the world seem that it’s a lot less tolerant than it actually is. I think most people are straight down the middle. Everyone is like, “They are not doing any harm. They really love each other. Get on with your life.” I was very proud of being British that day. I was very proud of my country and of being a British citizen. We didn’t have all this religious hatred that went on in some of the churches in Belfast--they got picketed. We didn’t get that. I said to David to watch out for the old flour bomb coming our way, and we didn’t get it. We could have handled that. It’s alright.

EI: Do you think it’s easier for a heterosexual marriage to last than a gay one?

EJ: Relationships are relationships, whether they are female/female, male/female, or male/male. Again, you go back to communication, the way you share things. I think a lot of women in relationships are abused. I think it’s far harder for women to get out of those situations, which is very sad. That’s why a lot of women turn to other women, because they are so fed up with being abused by other men.

EI: Did one of you get down on bended knee?

EJ: I did.

DF: In front of my parents.

EJ: In front of his parents--and the Scissor Sisters. [laughs]

DF: I had no warning. We had agreed it would be a great thing to do on the first day it was legal, because it’s history-making legislation. It’s waking up one day and being given civil rights that you never thought you’d have. It was such a seismic shift in the way you look at life and how society looks at you. We said, “Let’s do it on the first day and applaud this is happening and make a statement for the world, and hopefully put something out positive about that.” I didn’t know there was going to be any proposal or anything like that. And then he suddenly got down on bended knee in front of my parents. My mother burst into tears. It was sweet.

EI: With filmmaking and musicals, will you be cutting down on touring?

EJ: At the moment, we are involved in stage musicals. There are four stage musicals, ie: The Lion King, Billy Elliot…there are four or five films on the plate, including a film of my life story, which is being written by Lee Hall who wrote Billy Elliot, which will be done through Disney. It will be a musical fantasy movie, like Moulin Rouge meets Tommy.

EI: Who is playing you?

EJ: I think, because of the various weight changes in my life, God knows who! [laughs] I don’t know. It will probably be two or three people. Obviously, I would like Justin Timberlake to do something because he is so great in music videos. I don’t know. That’s up to the director. It’s like a musical fantasy movie. But rather than a What’s Love Got to Do With It film, or Walk the Line or Ray, which were all three great films about musicians, we are going to take it a little further. My life has taken so many twists and turns. It’s been an incredible journey, from football and God-knows-what I’ve done with my life, and I think you have to make it into more of a fantasy thing.

EI: Would you like to be a director?

EJ: No. I have produced my own record and have a new album coming out in September. I have the Vegas show. I am turning 60 next year.

EI: How do you feel about turning 60?

EJ: I am very excited by it. We have a trick up our stage for my 60th birthday. David and I thought about it a couple of years ago. It involves New York.

EI: Elton, you have classical training. Do you think the fact that so few musicians have classical training has taken its toll on the standard and quality of music?

EJ: I am very glad to have had the experience of having a classical background, because it makes you appreciate all sorts of music. It also helps you as a writer because, as a keyboard player, you tend to write with more chords than a guitar, and I think that has a lot to do with my piano playing and my love of Chopin, Bach and Mozart, my love of singing in a choir. I think my songs have more of a classical leaning to them than other artists who haven’t had that classical background, and I am grateful for that.

EI: But do you think that has taken its toll on standards?

EJ: No, not necessarily. Paul McCartney didn’t have some training, and he’s done some pretty wonderful things. My songs tend to veer towards the classical style because I just like that kind of music and I like that kind of chord.

EI: But do you listen to pop music?

EJ: Yes, absolutely. Classical gave me a good ear and the ability to pick up things very quickly because you have to. When you are a student, you have to sing in a choir and learn quickly. Everyone there is so talented that you have to keep up.

EI: And why are so few people liking musicals now? Why is it just Andrew Lloyd Webber?

EJ: It is tough writing musicals. It’s a long process. It’s two or three years of your life. You don’t know what the outcome is going to be. I like the process very much because I am a team player. I like working with other people. But I have always resisted the Yellow Brick Road/Elton John musical road. I am not a fan of musicals with songs thrown together with some pretty bad dialogue. I would rather try something more adventurous, even if it fails, and put my heart and soul into it, than do something like that.

EI: As a filmmaker, will you venture into more edgy subjects?

EJ: We have only made one movie--we have made two now. We have two or three on the go which will be made. The more you do, the more people respect you, the more you get offered, the more risks you can take.

DF: We like to take risks, which is why we didn’t want to tell Elton’s life story as a straight-forward documentary. Let’s see if we can take the genre and turn it on its head, and make it more like a fantasy story. He has had such a wonderful life. You can go to so many different places with it. And in terms of our animated film, Romeo and Juliet, now that Miramax has picked it up under the Miramax banner, we are not as restrained under the Disney banner. Again, we want to make something that’s a little more grown-up, a little more edgy.

EJ: We want it to be more like “The Office” or a “Little Britain”, and it can have that English ironic humor which the Americans don’t particularly get sometimes.

EI: Working with friends or lovers can create friction. Do you have that problem working with David because you are now married?

EJ: I have been very lucky with partnerships in my life. I have been with Bernie Taupin 39 years. The reason we have lasted that long is because we gave each other enough rope, we didn’t stifle each other. For example, when Bernie did go away and write with other people sometimes, even though we were probably hurt and a little jealous with each other, we didn’t stop it. We let that happen. Because you cannot hate anyone

EI: What did you think of the criticism of your musical, Lestat, in America?

EJ: I was aware of the criticism. I saw it in San Francisco and thought the criticism, on the most part, was valid. Then I brought someone in and worked on it for six weeks, and the difference between San Francisco and when it opened in New York was astonishing. It’s nowhere near as bad as what people say it is. I was thrilled with the score. It’s 180 degrees from where it was. I have to be totally honest with you now. I think the reviews that it got in San Francisco…I think people still had that idea. I think the PR on the musical was pretty poor from San Francisco onwards. I think people thought it was a pile of shit and made their minds up onwards. But then there are a whole lot of people who have seen it and love it. Like the Guns ‘n Roses band. Axl Rose has been and seen it and loved it. He kept telling people, “You’ve got to see this musical.” It’s not the traditional kind of musical. He wrote me the most beautiful letter telling me how much he loved it. Although it’s deeply upsetting to get bad reviews, you have to go on. There are things I would change if I had the opportunity to do it all over again. Sometimes you think you know everything, and sometimes you are proved wrong. I think some of the reviews were unfair and insulting in a way. People are going to like what they like. But I just think there is a groundswell of anti-Elton on Broadway because of the idea of Disney, because I’ve never done anything on Broadway that hasn’t been done by Disney or Warner Bros. People on Broadway are very protective of their territory. They don’t like Disney, and don’t like Warner Bros. They like Broadway to be Broadway. And I understand that mentality, but I think it’s a little jaded. There is a musical on at the moment called The Driving Chaperone, which starts off by having a go at me and Disney. It says, “Unfortunately, in the old days we had wonderful music by Cole Porter, and now we just have Elton John and Disney.”

EI: Looking back over your career, is there one performance that you think is your best performance and one that you consider your worst?

EJ: I played in Melbourne, Australia once which was a pretty bad performance. I was drinking a lot in those days. I think I did a 25-minute version of Rocketman where I was going on about the Ayatollah and the Pope. And the idiots still clapped at the end of it. As far as good performances, you’re only as good as your last performance. I did a charity thing last week in Britain on my own for 50 minutes, and I really sang well. The great thing about performing is that you never really know what kind of night it’s going to be. You set yourself certain standards, but I can’t honestly say there was one performance. When I went to the Troubadour Club in 1970 and played to 250 people with a three-piece band and became well-known more or less overnight in America because of one review in a newspaper in the LA Times, that was a groundbreaking performance. We had been performing like that in Britain, but the Americans hadn’t seen it. There are some things you remember because of the occasion. Dodger Stadium was incredibly moving, playing to 75,000 at Wembley Stadium. I am not one to reflect. I am more thinking about how I can improve.

EI: Where do you see yourself going, in terms of expressing yourself as an artist?

EJ: I’ve given up the idea of trying to write hit singles. I mean, my last three albums I have tried to be as honest I can. With Songs from the West Coast and “Peachtree Road”, and the new album, which is called Captain Captain and the Kid (a follow up to Captain Fantastic), I have tried to be as honest as I can. I am not 30 anymore. I am not going to go straight to the charts. I get played on certain radio stations in America, but not much. I am not listening to record companies who say, “You have to have a hit on your new album.” I am just going in there doing what I want. The new album, which was written and recorded in 20 days, is probably the best work I have done since 1976. And it’s freed me up because I don’t have the expectations of having a hit single. I’ve made my albums, but what happens now is I can have a hit single with 2Pac music, because Eminem will produce a track. I’ve written a new Scissor Sisters record with them: I have written Are You Ready for Love, which was a huge hit single. I can have little things like that which will keep me interested by doing other projects. After this new album, the next album will be so different. I am going to be doing an R & B album with people like Dr. Dre, Eminem–a fusion album between my piano-playing and my song-writing, and their production people. I have always wanted to do that kind of album, but I don’t know how to do hip hop or beat. So I am pushing the barriers. Then I want to do an album with Diana Crawl–a jazz album.

EI: You were talking about your marriage, but is there anything else you want to see introduced in Britain?

EJ: I would like to see a much firmer step on crime.

EI: What about AIDS? There was so much publicity about it years ago, and

EJ: I think there is not enough money being spent on education. When HIV started in Britain, it was the Thatcher government in power. It did a tremendous job of educating people, and we had one of the lowest infection rates in the western world because of the education and the money spent on it. I don’t think the current government is doing enough to educate people again. There are so many things going on in the world that is horrible, but the AIDS academic is not going away. We have the information to educate people in our hands, but to not to be able to educate a whole new generation is terrible. The Catholic Church has been responsible for so many people dying, it’s unbelievable. It’s genocide. I’m sorry, but it’s true.