Musician biopics, and biopics in general, remain a red-hot subgenre of cinema. Just recently, a Snoop Dogg film was greenlit, for example — and the list goes on. Enter Taurus, a new fictional biopic that debuted at film festivals earlier this year. The intense drama stars Colson Baker, known as Machine Gun Kelly, in a role he simply nails. He plays Cole (which sounds a lot like Kelly’s real first name), a rising but troubled musician who searches for the inspiration to record his next song, pushing himself deep into the void. A work of fiction that explores fame, addiction, the artistic process, and the music industry.
Writer-director Tim Sutton (Dark Night, Funny Face) captures Cole’s descent with different perspectives, making the overall film a visual treat that heightens the nonstop emotional intensity. We recently caught up with Sutton to learn more about his experiences working with a real-life rockstar.
Shooting A Biopic With A Real-Life Rockstar
MW: Going back to square one, how did this project come together, and what inspired you to write and direct a movie like this?
Tim Sutton: Well, I have a fascination with music and musicians, especially the damaged ones. These artists, like a John Coltrane or a Thelonious Monk or a Kurt Cobain, Amy Winehouse, these musicians who are just so deep and so talented, it goes beyond kind of regular humaneness. And yet at the same time, they struggle to fit into the reality of the world that we live in. And so I made a movie a number of years ago called Memphis, which was about a musician who’s having spiritual difficulties. And I always wanted to kind of see what that would look like in the rock’n’roll space. I was 24 when Kurt Cobain died, and it left a big void, as it did in my entire generation. So I’ve always been in that kind of dream world. And then when I met Colson on set of another movie we were shooting, it struck me, very obviously, that here was someone who was that person. I mean, he was on that precipice when we met. He was either going to be the biggest rock star in the world or the next casualty, you know? And luckily, and because of his abilities and his talents, and soul, he was able to go in the other direction and become this giant rock star but use this film as a way to explore the other side — what the left turn would have been.
And you know, we were making a Western, and he was a Billy the Kid-type character, but yet he played it so richly and so vulnerably and played it like a lost boy. And so I knew right then in there that he was he was not just a musician, he was an actor. And he understood performance and understood doing what we both really do on our own kind of scale, which is to go all the way. And that’s what this movie had to be, and we both knew it. So right from the get-go, he fulfilled this kind of dream that I had. And at the same time, I think I was able to step in and help him kind of traverse some terrain that he couldn’t have done alone, either.
MW: I’m a big fan of his music, I’ve seen him perform multiple times. I also met him in person, and he was super nice.
Tim Sutton: I gotta be honest — very differently from Cole the character, Colson himself is so dedicated to his fans and so honest about it. Like, he knows that his fans have pushed him to where he needed to go. He didn’t do it on his own, and I think he knows that and is very public about that. It’s not fake with him. He gets a bad rap, I think because of the celebrity press but, I think, truly an artist and truly like a good dude, you know?
MW: Everything felt very natural in the movie, especially the characters interacting with each other. Was there any ad libbing when shooting some scenes?
Tim Sutton: Well, there are scenes that are in the script that are exactly how they came out in the movie. One of those scenes was the argument, the fight scene he has with Maddie Hasson. That’s scripted. That’s 100% just great performance on their part. The scenes in the music studio with Little TJ, creating music that’s all close, that’s us coming up with an authentic vision. And that stemmed from Coulson. He wanted to record a certain way. He didn’t want to meet Little TJ before. They met on camera. It was all very much making music together, the joy of making music together. So the best thing I could do in that situation is throw away the script, kind of get out of the way and let them be who they are. And so the movie is kind of a mix of that.
The scenes with Megan [Fox], when they’re in the sound studio, and you can’t hear, that’s exactly how it was scripted. I never wanted to hear them. I wanted to give them their privacy. And then the scene with Naomi Wild in the beginning, when they’re at the piano, that’s all scripted. So there’s this real mix, where the script is delivered in ways that people think it’s improvised. And the improvised, that just adds to that. So it has a natural flavor, and some of that is due to ad lib. And some of that is due to just fantastic performances by the actors.
Inspiration And Future Projects
MW: When you were writing and directing, did any past music biopic, or just films in general, inspire how you wanted the movie to look or feel?
Tim Sutton: Well, I can tell you I didn’t want it to be like a straight biopic, in the way that the more kind of traditional, bigger-budget versions. Movies like Ray and Walk the Line, I’m not a fan of those movies. I think the actors are fantastic, and I commend the productions and everything. But those are paint by numbers. You could just insert anything, and the plot is exactly the same. So I knew what I didn’t want it to feel like. And what I wanted it to feel like was very stream of consciousness. Like, he just goes from one scene to the next, kind of like rolling down a hill, you know? And where he lands is where he lands, and I wanted that feeling.
So you know, I am a fan of Last Days, the Kurt Cobain movie. However, I think that’s very much kind of a zombie sleepwalk, and this is a little bit more jagged edge. But you know, the movie that I think about the most is, or at least the idea that I took from a movie the most, is from Amadeus… Mozart was the biggest rock star of his time, right? He was touched by God, his talent was touched by God, but everything got in the way of that talent. His drinking, his opium, his father’s pressure, the pressure of being in the family, the pressure of the courts, the pressure of the audience. All those things took him away from the thing he simply wanted to do, which was making music. So you update that, now you have the character of Cole, and you have the social media, you have drugs, and you have family. You have all these pressures that take you away from the one thing you want, which is just finding your muse and making music. So that’s the movie, at least the concept of that movie, sticks with me.
MW: How’d you come up with the film’s title?
Tim Sutton: Well, it wasn’t its original title. But I feel like the character in the movie is celestial and earthly, you know? [Cole] has the earthly pressures, but with his head in the stars. And so when I asked Colson what his sign was, and he said Taurus… I said, “That’s the movie.” And he said, “Absolutely.” We both felt like it was enough of a connection to him — and also abstract enough to let people know that this isn’t just going to be Ray, you know? It’s not going to be a typical story.
MW: Would you like to share about any other projects you’re currently working on?
Tim Sutton: I have three projects in development, all different shapes and sizes. I will say one of them is with Colson again. So you know, I just want to make movies with actors who want to make movies with me, you know what I mean? I don’t like shopping around and being shopped around. Once you find someone who you really like and kind of jive with, it’s interesting to kind of grow into new worlds with them. And then I have another project that’s a little bit more commercial but should have a lot of soul.
Taurus comes to us from RLJE Films and will release in theaters, on demand, and digital on November 18, 2022.