Vogue.com –Taron Egerton keeps his cap on throughout dinner at White City House. It’s not that he’s worried he’ll be “spotted”—this West London outpost of Soho House attracts a crowd that would look the other way if the pope were propping up the bar. The 29-year-old actor is simply suffering the aftereffects of a “terrible” haircut; to play Elton John in the forthcoming biopic Rocketman, he had his hair thinned and his hairline raised.
It’s a forgivable sliver of vanity from an actor who has spent much of his professional life running away from his good looks. Egerton’s 2015 breakthrough role in the action flick Kingsman: The Secret Service placed him—jawline first—on the conveyor belt of conventionally attractive Hollywood heroes. Almost immediately, he wanted off. “It’s more fun to play things that are ugly,” he explains. In pursuit of that ugliness, he took on the titular role in Eddie the Eagle—a 2016 underdog comedy based on the true story of a hapless British ski jumper with a prominent underbite. And now he’s playing (and singing) the part of Elton: a man famous for many things but not, primarily, his good looks. “I mean, I think he’s got a lot of sex appeal,” counters Egerton when I point this out. He momentarily loses his train of thought. “Sorry, my mind was just imagining Elton reading this.” (Encountering the famous singer for the first time, he tells me, was a bit like “going to meet the queen.”)
Born in England, Egerton moved to Wales at age three. For a while he lived in Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch—a village with a name so ridiculous that pronouncing it has, reluctantly, become his talk-show party trick—“particularly in America, I think, because it’s so alien.” He then spent his formative years in Aberystwyth, a remote town on the Ceredigion coast of Wales. When he left to pursue acting in London (at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, where he sang Elton John’s “Your Song” to audition), he missed Wales ferociously. He actually moved back there for a while after Kingsman, making the surreal transition from blockbuster fame to a room in his mum and stepdad’s bungalow. “I didn’t have enough money at that point to buy a place in London,” he says. “I was quite anxious about what the future held.” Even now, the walls of his West London flat are decorated with the work of artists from his hometown.
Anxiety crops up a lot with Egerton, although it comes across as thoughtful, not crippling. When we meet, he has yet to see the final cut of Rocketman and is worried that the more volatile elements of his character will be squeezed out in edits. “It’s a story about a man addicted to drink and drugs. You can’t do a pretty version of that. Not with a great deal of integrity,” he says. The success of Rami Malek as Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody—a “revelation” is how Egerton categorizes the critical consensus—also hangs heavy. “It’s like . . . I don’t know that I’m a revelation.”
For the record, Rocketman’s director, Dexter Fletcher, doesn’t think Egerton need worry. “He’s amazing. He’s the most committed, versatile, vulnerable, strong actor that I’ve ever had the pleasure to work with,” he gushes on the phone. What does he think about Egerton’s decision to not watch Bohemian Rhapsody? (Fletcher finished up directing that film, too, after Bryan Singer was fired.) “It’s probably a smart choice,” he agrees.
After dinner, the conversation ranges from what Egerton is reading (Donna Tartt’s The Secret History) to his friends (he describes Richard Madden, his costar in Rocketman, as “the best mate I made in 2018”) to fashion. Egerton, who has dressed for our meeting in a sort of elevated trucker style, admits he’s not particularly “fashion-forward.” He does, however, have a lot of clothes—because he’s a bit of a hoarder: “I’ve got most things I’ve been given since I was a child,” he tells me. I suggest he familiarize himself with Marie Kondo and her theory that possessions must either “spark joy” or be trashed. Egerton thinks about it. Then he tells me a story. Last year, he broke up with his girlfriend, Emily Thomas, an assistant director. The two share a deep commitment to their work, which can mean long stretches away from each other: “Unless you’re really vigilant, you can start to occupy separate worlds,” he says. They recently got back together, which he tells me makes him “really proud.” During the separation, he found an old card from Thomas in his bedside table in Aberystwyth that was so poignant it made him cry. “What if something makes you sad?” he challenges. “There’s validity in that.” Egerton understands something fundamental, it seems: that it’s better to let good things be good, and ugly things ugly—and to feel both enormously.