Hugh Jackman, Taron Egerton and Dexter Fletcher Talk ‘Eddie The Eagle’
“What the hell am I doing here?” I thought. Standing next to me by the Oakland Technical High School football field was Hugh “Wolverine” Jackman, leather jacket and all; next to him, his Eddie The Eagle co-star Taron Egerton and the movie’s director, Dexter Fletcher. The Australian megastar’s dashing good looks had me flabbergasted enough, but nothing was more distracting than the fact that I was standing next to WOLVERINE, my childhood hero! Reading the comics rabidly back in the ’90s, I never expected Logan would be this tall in person…
Making the scene even more absurdly amazing was the action playing out on the field just yards away: Throwing passes and running drills with high-school kids were Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Johnson and recently-retired Seattle Seahawk Marshawn Lynch, who were there in support of Fam 1st Family Foundation. Again I thought, “What the hell am I doing here?”
What I was doing, actually, was talking to the three talented men in front of me about their new film, based on the story of Michael “Eddie” Edwards (Egerton), a British ski-jumper who captured hearts worldwide with his inspiring journey to and performance at the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary. Jackman plays his reluctant coach, a fictional character conjured to provide Eddie’s story with a bit of friction and an element of camaraderie. When asked about the creation of the character, Jackman joshed: “I did test for Eddie…” His joke was met with thunderous, perhaps slightly exaggerated laughter from me because I was starstruck and shameless and simply couldn’t resist (I’m sure my fellow journalists participating in the roundtable can sympathize). He’s a real charmer, that Wolvie.
While I still have no clue how in the world a schmuck like me ended up in the star-studded situation I did, I’m glad fortune chose to smile on my that sunny day, allowing me to bring you this interview about a movie I found to be genuinely funny and inspiring and a whole mess of fun for all ages. Sure, it was cool chatting it up with your favorite X-Man. But the truly important people that day were running up and down that football field, the kids who, hopefully, with the boost of these famous fellows’ encouragement, will fight tooth and nail to reach beyond their wildest dreams in the spirit of Eddie “The Eagle” Edwards.
You can watch Egerton and Wolv…er…Jackman in Eddie The Eagle this weekend as the movie opens nationwide.
Walk us through the decision to include Hugh Jackman’s character in the movie since he wasn’t a real character.
Dexter: [The movie’s] about Eddie and his journey but it’s also important that there’s some sort of attempt to explain who Eddie is and what he’s going through, why he’s feeling the things that he is, and also have a character that pushes back against him [so that] the audience feels they’re a part of that journey as well. Initially, that’s the heart of it. We as an audience need a character who’s going to push Eddie on why he’s doing what he does. But it develops into something more interesting than that. You’ve got to have a human relationship at the heart of a film like this because that’s what people understand. It was important that Eddie didn’t feel like this lonely character. So we created this other character and it becomes a movie about friendship. That’s really important. You create a character who’s the polar opposite of Eddie and it throws a light on both of [them] and gives [the actors] something to get their teeth into. And Hugh Jackman wanted to be in it!
Hugh: I did test for Eddie. [laughs] Just to be clear, most of this movie is based on truth. There are some deviations but the key things, the most amazing things—his jumping, the injuries, the coming back, the fact that he was sleeping in a closet—all that is true.
Dexter: There were people that did help along the way and, of course, in a film you’ve got six, seven different characters coming in and playing some part in that journey. That becomes confusing. So we reduced that into one super-character which, in fact, would be Hugh Jackman. It’s a storytelling exercise. It’s facts told in a fictional way.
Taron, what was it like playing this role that could potentially inspire children and young adults? How does that make you feel as an actor?
Taron: If that’s the case, I can’t imagine anything more rewarding for an actor. That’s truly, truly gratifying on a level more than anything. The thing I love about Eddie is that he’s someone who’s easy to make fun of, deride, mock—but actually, he’s got this incredibly unique quality so few people have. Not that he’s impermeable but he takes the negative and is able to turn it into fuel for the positive. So, when someone says something unkind to him or tells him he can’t do it, in a very quiet, dignified way, he doesn’t engage with it or retaliate—he just allows it to make him stronger and tougher. I think that’s probably one of the most valuable lessons you can learn.
One of the things that appealed to me most about the movie is that it doesn’t take itself so seriously. We can actually laugh at Eddie a little bit, in a good-natured way.
Hugh: It’s called being British! [laughs] It has got that British, Full Monty quality. If you’re too earnest and on-the-nose in England, it’s never going to work! I think Eddie enjoyed having a laugh. If anyone ever in sports has shown [they] like to have a laugh at themselves, it’s Eddie Edwards.
Taron: Eddie’s a bright chap; he’s not an idiot. He knows that what he did was funny. He had been doing it a fraction of the time his competitors had been doing it, and it was this terrifying, death-defying jump he kind of threw himself into. That’s funny, and he knows that. When he saw the movie, he was thrilled. I think it’s because he knows that we struck the balance. There was a funny side but obviously, to him, it was a very serious thing. I know Dexter was very conscious—and we were, too—of making it a balance. You have to leave the theater going, “Yes! He did it!” I hope we’ve succeeded.
Hugh: At one point, [Eddie] actually broke his jaw and tied it up with a pillow case and competed like that.
Taron: We shot that, actually, but it didn’t make it in!
Hugh: Oh, really?
Dexter: We did! But also, I don’t think we treat [the story] in a sort of sentimental, mushy way. If you’re going to get up on those ski jumps, you’ve got to have a certain amount of fortitude. He’s not like, “I hope I don’t hurt myself.” He doesn’t even think about that. Being unsentimental allows him to be strong. We know he’s a strong character with a strong story, so we can afford to laugh at him.
Hugh, when looking at your role here, Charlie Kenton in Real Steel and even Wolverine, there’s a through line of rogues with a heart of gold. What draws you to characters like this?
Hugh: It’s the opposite of me because I’m seemingly very likable and outgoing but underneath there’s just zero heart. [laughs] I’m sure sometimes these kinds of roles come to me because of Wolverine, who’s sort of the ultimate reluctant hero. I just really love this story. If there had been some other construct or character, I probably wouldn’t have been part of it. I loved working with these guys and I do love, I suppose, seeing on film that idea of redemption. [My character] is someone who lives with a lot of regret and is, therefore, kind of cynical to the world. Deep down, he realizes he stuffed up his chance for whatever reason. Lack of self-belief, obviously. I love the idea that people are redeemable, I suppose.
Dexter: I think also that you’re not afraid to play the human flaw, you know? To play someone who’s flawed is a more interesting thing altogether. He’s flawed; he’s human; he’s real. I think that needs to be something you readily tackle and relish as well.