Since his 2019 cartooning of Elton John in Rocketman, which landed him plenty of critical acclaim and some awards recognition along the way, Taron Egerton has had a quiet couple of years out of the Hollywood spotlight. It turns out that was all in waiting for another project that would match the experience of the biographical musical.
“I felt that when I did Rocketman I was offered a really grown-up, complex role, and I think I’d been craving something like that — something that was meaty and that I could really get stuck in. And then when it was done, I wanted the same thing,” Egerton told The Hollywood Reporter. “It’s difficult when you’ve done something like that because not everything you get offered is as good or as interesting or as complex or as challenging for an actor, and it took a year.”
At that time, he was offered the role of Jimmy Keene in his new Apple TV+ series Black Birdthe true story of a convicted drug dealer who is offered his freedom in exchange for coaxing a confession out of suspected serial killer Larry Hall (played by Paul Walter Hauser).
“It was a year after Rocketman came out that I was presented with this, and it was the thing I’d been waiting for,” Egerton added at the show’s red carpet premiere in Los Angeles on Wednesday night. “It’s a cast of great roles and I had the feeling it was going to be something special, and I do believe it is actually if I do say so myself.”
Co-star Hauser compared to Egerton’s talents to Jesse Plemons or Adam Driver, saying, “he’s one of these exciting new actors who every time out hits a home run.” Showrunner Dennis Lehane also explained why the star was right for the role, seemingly a 180-degree turn from playing Elton John.
“He was in that perfect sweet spot. He’s got movie-star magnetism and he’s exactly at that moment in his career when he wants to keep pivoting,” said Lehane. “He’d done Elton John, he’d done the cool spy movies with The Kingsmanhe’d done Eddie the Eagleand this was a part where he was super hungry to do it and we were like, ‘He’s perfect.’”
Lehane zeroed in on Hauser after bringing actor him in to test and giving the “the three hardest Larry scenes and he blew us out of the water.” Of getting in the mindset to play a killer, Hauser said he dropped 40 pounds and “let myself be weird and improvise and try things that would creep out the cast and crew. It wasn’t about shocking everyone, it was about letting yourself go to that place without judgment.”
The show also marks Ray Liotta’s final TV role, following his death in May, as the cast and crew remembered him at the premiere — Hauser wore a T-shirt under his suit with an image of Liotta’s character from Field of Dreams. Liotta’s fiancée and daughter were also in attendance.
Liotta plays the father of Egerton’s character, and the two developed a close relationship during filming. “He was really special to me and it was quite a profound experience for me working with him for reasons that are actually quite difficult to quantify,” Egerton told THR. “He was amazing.”
Lehane said he wrote the role with Liotta in mind despite having never even spoken to him, but the actor leaped at the chance when offered the part.
“I was a huge fan and I felt Ray Liotta hadn’t, with very few exceptions, been allowed to really show what he can really do. He did in Narche did in Goodfellashe did in Something Wildhe did in Blow, but there’s a lot of films where he wasn’t allowed to,” Lehane said. “I said, ‘I want to give him a role that goes against the Ray Liotta type.’ [In the show] He’s kind of a screw-up, but he loves his son to death and he’s going to do anything he can for him. That’s the story I wanted to tell through him and he gives such a beautiful performance.”
Hauser also remembered his moments with Liotta on set and in the table read, despite not sharing any scenes.
“The couple hours I spent with him I’ll never forget. It was really fun and bending his ear and asking him about Goodfellas and Field of Dreams, and he was nothing but kind to me,” Hauser recalled. “He really made me feel like part of the team and complimented my work and gave me his phone number and said ‘Let’s grab dinner sometime — me, you and my girl.’ And he doesn’t have to do that, he could just pat me on the back and say, ‘Hey kid, congrats.’ His warmth was really nice, I wish I could have spent more time with him.”
Black Bird starts streaming on Apple TV+ July 8.