When Bryce Dallas Howard got the script for the Dexter Fletcher-directed film Rocketman, she was admittedly shocked. How could Elton John’s mother, Sheila (whom she was playing), treat her son so cruelly? The actress wanted to investigate further, she felt something didn’t add up and assumed Sheila’s portrayal in the script could be vilification.
According to Vanity Fair, Howard reached out to affiliates of Sheila’s – people who were not involved in the film – and they all confirmed: The mother of one of the biggest musicians in the world was mean. “In honestly every single conversation, it was confirmed to me that, yeah—this was a very dysfunctional relationship, and she was a broken woman,” Howard said.
A huge part of the film is John’s search for somebody who would love him unconditionally. But his childhood was unstable and for any millennial reading this, it seemed so similar to Matilda’s upbringing in Roald Dahl’s famous novel of the same name; John’s parents just didn’t seem to love him a whole lot.
“Elton was born. . .in Pinner, England—right after World War II,” explained Howard. “The city had gone through so much, and there was still rationing in place, so it was certainly not an easy time. She married Elton’s father when Elton was six years old, and they just absolutely hated each other.”
This was confirmed by John himself in a piece he wrote The Guardian recently. “They gave every impression of hating each other…My dad was strict and remote and had a terrible temper; my mum was argumentative and prone to dark moods. When they were together, all I can remember are icy silences or screaming rows. The rows were usually about me, how I was being brought up,” John wrote.
Despite his mother’s coldness, John supported her financially once his career took off. Sheila was always one to talk to the press about her son, saying how much she had given up for him – something Howard classed as Sheila feeling resentful toward her John.
The mother and son would have bouts of not speaking to one another and the biggest row came when Sheila publicly denounced David Furnish – John’s husband and the love of his life – for apparently turning the singer against her. “[Elton] had always been very kind to me until he got with David Furnish,” she told The Daily Mail. “It’s pretty obvious if anyone thinks about it. Elton didn’t even fall out with [longtime personal assistant] Bob [Halley] really. The relationship ended abruptly…Everybody was got rid of all of a sudden. That’s what happened, and everybody has gone – me included. . . .and we know who is behind that!”
Sheila claimed Halley was “like a son to me” and when she died, she delivered one final blow, despite she and John reconciling: She left her life savings to Halley. John was worth AUD $595 million. But it wasn’t about the money. It was about his mother loving another person more than her own blood.
After the Rocketman film premiere in Cannes in May, John turned to Howard. “Bitch,” he said. “It was just the one word,” laughed Howard when she spoke to Vanity Fair. “It was good feedback.”
Rocketman is in Australian cinemas now.
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