Being a mother herself, Bryce had a hard time coming to terms with how any parent could treat their child with such hate and regret. Bryce Dallas Howard plays Elton John’s mother, Sheila Dwight in Rocketman. Reading the script only days before filming, Bryce decided to do her own research on the woman she was to portray. In confidentiality, Bryce spoke to many people who knew Sheila outside of the film.
There were a few lines spoken by Sheila to Elton in the film that any mother should cringe at. This also went for Bryce herself. Filming one specific scene was incredibly hard for the actress.
Glamour had the chance to sit down and talk to Bryce about how she handled portraying a mother who is the complete opposite of how she views and raises her own two children.
“I feel like sometimes in life—and certainly in movies—we look at people in a very binary way; they’re either good or they’re bad,” Howard says. “And the truth is everyone is normally a little bit of both. And in the case of Sheila, she’s someone who had a very big personality, was extremely charismatic, witty, funny—but then also was a very unhappy person. As a result, she was able to inflict a lot of damage.”
How Sheila reacts to Elton’s sexuality is, hypothetically, enough for viewers to write her off as “bad,” but Howard’s performance ensures this doesn’t happen. “It was important to not just go pure villain and yet also paint a picture of ‘Yeah, this was not a happy childhood.'”
When we meet Sheila, she’s lively and energetic but harboring a lot of frustration. She’s unsatisfied with her marriage to Elton’s father, Stanley, who ultimately leaves her to start another family. Sheila eventually remarries too, but the movie paints her as never fully recovering from Stanley’s indiscretions. That’s why I think she responds to Elton’s coming-out in the way she does: If she doesn’t have a positive outlook on her own relationships, it’d be hard to have one on Elton’s.
This dynamic illuminated something important to Howard about her actual life as a mom. (She has two children with her husband, actor Seth Gabel.) “It’s a healthy reminder, as a parent, to see what the impact can be on a child when the parent is perpetually unhappy and they’re not managing their own mental well-being,” she says. “How that can snowball into a dynamic that is very difficult to extricate yourself from. Kind words—they go far within a family.”
Kind words and an open mind. Two things Sheila didn’t have with Elton—in this fictionalized version of his life, at least—but Howard has with her kids. “My children get revealed to me over time,” she says. “Just because I’ve happened to know them since they were born doesn’t mean I know everything about them. Make space for that, as well, to be surprised—to be taken on an adventure by your child. To go places and in directions and explore things you never thought you would. But it’s because this person is in your life, and you’re connected to them forever.”
Elton, who was born Reginald Dwight, and Sheila are absolutely connected forever. Their relationship was strained up until 2016, when the “Tiny Dancer” singer confirmed he and his mother were back on speaking terms. When she passed away roughly a year later, he posted to Twitter, “I am in shock. Travel safe Mum. Thank you for everything. I will miss you so much.”
Rocketman only scratches the surface of their dynamic—which, at times, is downright devastating. But Howard thinks seeing it will help LGBTQ+ people who are facing similar situations. “Elton John is not polarizing,” she says. “That is incredible. And to celebrate an individual like that is going to make [happiness] possible for other people who are like him: little Reggie Dwights growing up in a household where they’re misunderstood by everyone who’s supposed to love them. Hopefully, this is going to mean something to someone who’s in that position.”
She also hopes the film reminds these “little Reggie Dwights” to own who they are, proudly, as Elton John does. “Elton, to me, represents somebody who truly lived in a way where he was seeking and owning his identity,” she says. “And celebrating that is absolutely the most important thing ever, because when you see somebody walking their walk, that gives you permission to do the same.”Glamour
“The handful of times I’ve been around Elton, he emanates this feeling of acceptance, of fun, of warmth and humor and being very present,” she continues. “This is somebody who is himself and is adored for it. And we need to see that.”