Talking Eddie the Eagle with Hugh Jackman, Taron Egerton and director Dexter Fletcher
You can call it luck or you can call it skill, or maybe it’s both when it comes to Matthew Vaughn’s work as a film director and producer, often getting movies made using his own money. His latest movie as a producer, Eddie the Eagle, might seem like a dramatic departure from his previous work adapting and translating graphic novels to the screen, but like Kick-Ass and Kingsman: The Secret Service, it’s a movie that will win over the audiences that see it.
It’s based on the true story of Eddie “The Eagle” Edwards, played by Vaughn’s Kingsman star Taron Egerton, who became an unlikely Olympics hero in 1988 as the first ski jumper to represent Great Britain. This was in the same year as the Jamaican bobsled team made famous in Cool Runnings.
It’s another very British film from Vaughn that may be a harder sell for American audiences, even more so than Kingsman, as few Americans have ever paid much attention to ski jumping. It’s not like there are regularly ski jumpers on the cover of Sports Illustrated and even older sports fans will likely only remember the “agony of defeat” guy who helicoptered out of control after a jump gone wrong as seen during the opening credits of “ABC’s Wide World of Sports.”
Eddie Edwards? At least actor Hugh Jackman remembered him, making it easier to get him on board to play Eddie’s coach. “I’m 47, so I knew ‘Eddie the Eagle,’” he told us during an interview at this year’s Sundance Film Festival where 20th Century Fox wisely chose to show the movie as a secret screening to the festival’s audience of film and ski enthusiasts. “I was 20 and everybody in Australia loved Eddie the Eagle, he became an honorary Australian, just this guy who was fearless, would have a go at anything and said, ‘I’m gonna go and have a bit of a laugh and go to the Olympics and jump off this 90-meter jump.’ We all watched him and loved him and I think as soon as I read the script—Matthew Vaughn had this script that really captured the heart of this guy, which is his dreams were limitless, his passion was limitless, his courage was limitless and he loved it. He just had a good time doing it.
The film’s directed by Dexter Fletcher, best known for his character actor roles in many of Matthew Vaughn’s films, including Guy Ritchie’s debut Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (which was also brought to Sundance).
“I’ve been lucky enough that (Matthew) always kind of throws me in here or there and everywhere—‘Stardust’ and ‘Layer Cake.’ He wanted me to be in ‘X-Men’ as well but I was directing my first film at that point,” Fletcher told us in a separate interview during Sundance. “He’s always been very supportive of that and I remember when we were here with ’Lock Stock’ and he said, ‘Hey, if you ever have a good script, come and bring it to me, let’s find something.’ The irony is that I had made two films and then he started working with my cinematographer on ‘Kingsman’ so there was a strong connection about how we were approaching our work.”
Fletcher continues the story of how he got involved. “(Matthew) came to me and said, ‘Hey, I got this script about Eddie and I think you should direct it.’ I take that seriously because Matt is no slouch when it comes to producing and if someone of Matt’s caliber says ‘I want to produce a film,’ it’s worth taking seriously. And then I got involved with the script and realized here was an opportunity to retell a story that people thought they knew of Eddie the Eagle and kind of turn it on its head a bit, which is Matt’s kind of thing. Matt likes to take a genre and flip it and turn it on its head.”
Eddie Edwards may seem like an odd turn for Egerton after seeing him playing a working class street thug in Kingsman and a similar criminal in the recent Legend. “Matthew Vaughn keeps telling me that there’s more of Eddie in me than Eggsy, so I’m not quite sure how to take that,” Taran laughed when we mentioned how odd it was to see him play such a nerdy character as Eddie Edwards.
“For an actor to have the chance to go and play something that’s far away from yourself, physically and also in terms of personality, character, is so much fun,” he elaborated. “It’s slightly terrifying that you won’t live up to it, but it’s just the most creatively satisfying challenge. Obviously, having researched Eddie and finding out what he looks like and what he was about and the have a chance to step into his shoes was just wonderful.”
Egerton’s co-star had high praise for the younger actor. “I don’t think there’s any other actor I can think of who can go from ‘Kingsman’ to Eddie, and play both so successfully,” Jackman said, completely unprompted. “It’s such a wildly different genre, different styles and it’s a really difficult thing to pull off something like Eddie, to make it so heartwarming and likeable, funny and yet not over the top too goofy. He does a brilliant job.”
Taran had a few chances to meet the actual Eddie Edwards, both before and during filming, and they even had a chance to watch the movie together. “He was thankfully a big fan of it and is very proud of it. The journey that we’re on with it is really fantastic. It’s been the most wholly positive. I’ve enjoyed all of my projects so far, especially ‘Kingsman,’ but this all just felt very easeful and enjoyable and very positive.”
By comparison, Jackman’s character Bronson Peary is a fictional one, made up for the story. “There are elements of the story that are fictionalized,” he explained. “A lot of it’s for real but at the end of the day, as Dexter said, ‘Let’s not let the truth get in the way of a good story.’ My character has a go on his own in the whole movie, it’s going to get pretty boring, so they came up with an idea or a construction of him having a coach. I don’t think he had a coach at all officially.”
“I think he crossed paths with people,” Eggerton chimed in.
“He probably picked up some info here and there, so the movie is not just a sports movie,” Jackman continued. “It’s primarily a story about his exploits but it also becomes about his friendship. The movie itself has this great theme of ‘You don’t have to win to be a winner in life’ so in every way I wanted to do it.”
Fletcher says that as much as it’s hard to make a movie that inspires viewers, they didn’t want to shy away from the inspirational aspects of Eddie’s story. “What we’ve tried to achieve is not be cynical about that or schmaltzy about that,” he told us. “It has its moments of that, but essentially, it’s very British in that regard that it’s like ‘This guy did this thing and we’re telling that story. It’s not sentimental or schmaltzy, it’s just down-the-line honest.’”
Eggerton had a chance to see the movie at the annual Butt-Numb-A-Thon this past December and was blown away by what a receptive audience the geek movielovers were to Eddie the Eagle, it not being their normal fare. “That was the most incredible audience I’ve been around. They were wonderful. There was about ten spontaneous rounds of applause throughout the whole movie, it was interesting. They were so supportive and so clearly enjoyed it and loved it and they all tweeted saying how much they enjoyed it. I’d go again in a heartbeat. I didn’t go for ‘Kingsmen’ but I’m intending to go back with ‘Kingsmen 2.’”
Next up for Eggerton is Billionaires Boys’ Club with Ansel Elgort and Kevin Spacey. It will be Egerton’s first American role—he “borrowed” Hugh’s dialect coach Jeff Platt for the part—and he admitted to having read some of Bret Easton Ellis’ “Less Than Zero” in preparation for being part of that L.A. partying scene.
“It’s been a wonderful, straight out of the gate entry into the industry and the world of Hollywood,” Egerton says about life following the success of Kingsman. “It’s been brilliant for me getting exposure, showing the world what I do, and it’s a really exciting time and I owe a lot of that to Matthew Vaughn.”
Jackman hasn’t started shooting his role as P.T. Barnum in The Greatest Showman on Earth yet but that’s been delayed so that he can play Wolverine for the last time in his third solo movie slated for March 2017. “We’re near the end of development on it,” is all he would say about that.
Egerton on the other hand was a bit more forthcoming about what to expect from Kingsman: The Secret Service 2, which is scheduled for release a few months after Wolverine 3. “There’s a script but Matthew’s a perfectionist, so it’s a great script but he doesn’t settle for anything less than the best so he’s making sure it’s perfect, and there’s lots of surprises in store—some great new characters, some great locations and it’s going to be really fun.”
Eddie the Eagle opens nationwide on Friday, February 26.