As Deadline revealed days ago, Eddie The Eagle landed at the Sundance Film Festival tonight. Fox took the secret “townie” screening berth as an opportunity to launch the Dexter Fletcher-directed Fox film about the British ski jumping folk hero. In tow for the Library Theatre premiere were Taron Egerton, who played the foggy-goggled Brit with the jutting jaw, and Hugh Jackman, who played the coach who prayed each of The Eagle’s jumps would not be his last. Eddie Edwards not only survived as Britain’s first ski jumping representative in the 70 and 90 meter event; he managed, without funding or that much talent, to be far better remembered than the skiers who took home medals in 1988. The film opens February 26.
Eddie Edwards made his living plastering walls, and was woefully short of funds when he pursued his Olympic dreams. He was also longsighted and wore thick glasses that would fog up on the slope, so he could barely see before taking his leap. He’s a bit like some of those Sundance films that don’t sell in splashy deals. They both start off in good shape, but by the time they’re airborne, you don’t know where they’re going, and the ending is often ugly and hard to watch.
In the Calgary Olympics, Eddie the Eagle finished last in both the 70 and 90 M jump contests, but is as fondly remembered as the Jamaican bobsled team whose underdog story served as the basis for Cool Runnings. In fact, it was that bobsledders film that got this whole movie started. Matthew Vaughn, who directed Egerton as the protagonist in Kingsman: The Secret Service, produced this through his MARV Films banner and was the catalyst.
Said Vaughn: “This started a year ago, when I was watching Cool Runnings with the kids, and halfway through the movie, they turned around to say, ‘dad, you’ve got to put that fat guy in one of your movies.’ I said I would love to, but sadly, John Candy died. But the more I watched them laughing, and seeing how engrossed they were by it, it got me thinking. I’d taken them to the cinema to see some blockbuster the day before, and every time I do that, I ask what did they think? They said, ‘eh,’ and moved on. I realized they were not engaging in those films because there was a lack of storytelling and a reliance on massive visuals and not necessarily stories they could relate to and be inspired by.
So here, they said, ‘why doesn’t anyone make movies like this anymore? I thought, good idea. I should do a Cool Runnings-style film,” Vaughn said. “I remembered the script for Eddie The Eagle that I’d read 15 years ago when it was slipped to me by Gareth Wigan, who was a mentor, God rest his soul, and who said, do you and Guy Ritchie want to make this movie? Back then I read the title, Eddie The Eagle and said, ‘are you joking? Who the hell would want to see a movie about him?’ Then I read the script and thought there was something here and it could be its own version of The Full Monty.”
A rights tangle ensued and Vaughn abandoned it way back then, but after some sleuthing, he found the script and bought the rights, and found himself with a reason to take a leap, quickly.
“My whole team was finishing Kingsman, and I didn’t want to lose them so I said, let’s make Eddie The Eagle,” Vaughn said. “I loved Dexter’s film Wild Bill and rang him and said, ‘I got this movie ready to go, and Taron would be great in it. I told him all about it and he said, ‘Eddie The Eagle? Are you joking? Why would I do that?’ I asked him to read and he did and said, ‘My god, this guy’s not an idiot. He’s a hero.’ Now, I’m guilty of this too, making pretty violent chaotic movies, but here I just thought, let’s make one that makes people feel good, and realize that anyone can achieve anything if they have tenacity and heart. And I wanted to make a movie where I’m not cringing if my kids try and watch it. I spoke to studios and some said, who wants to watch ski jumping? I said, You know what? Chariots Of Fire is about fu*king running, and people enjoyed that.” Fox, where Vaughn made Kingsman, X-Men: First Class and where he’s prepping the Kingsman sequel, signed on. “We started shooting three months later,” Vaughn said.
Egerton, who wasn’t born when Eddie the Eagle soared into folklore in the 1988 Winter Games, signed on right away. He said it wasn’t as hard as the action hero paces Vaughn put him through on his breakout role in Kingsman, but close. “There was a lot of time spent in the cold, filming at the top of those ski jumps,” he said. “I’m not so good with heights and it was so high up. Plus, I’d never skied before, so I had to find a pair of skis and rise to the challenge of getting myself to look as much like Eddie as possible.”
Jackman also signed on quickly to play his coach, Bronson Peary, even though the X-Men star also got queasy so high up, filming those jumps. “I remember Eddie so well, he was almost an honorary Australian because he embodied our ‘just have a go’ attitude toward things,” Jackman said. “This was a kid who couldn’t walk and who said, not only am I going to walk, I’m going to the Olympics. Not only did he do it, he did it in the craziest, wildest and most ridiculous sport on the planet, where people die all the time. He was the every man who proved you don’t always have to win, to be a winner. Taron and I play these two losers who bring out the best in each other. Eddie’s front was the class clown, and there he was at the top of the 90 meter jump, facing life and death and it turned out he had never really jumped from that high, before.”
Considering Vaughn helmed Kingsman, X-Men: First Class and the Daniel Craig-starrer Layer Cake, his characterization of Eddie The Eagle seems surprising. “He’s the true superhero, the epitome of what a hero should be in the world right now,” Vaughn said. “He was honorable and stuck to his guns. You look at the IOC and FIFA and these governing bodies and they’re steeped in scandals and it’s all about bribes and money. It’s like the Olympic spirit has been forgotten. Eddie reminds people it isn’t just about winning, it’s about partaking. I think that’s important because these days, kids are too intimidated to try things, when they should be encouraged to go out there and have a go.’
Not everybody had such fond memories of Eddie the Eagle. “First, I thought I could do this with the stunt team and they could do the jumps but they looked at me and said, ‘No fu*king way we’re doing anything like that,” Vaughn said. “These are guys who’ll drive cars into pillars and all kinds of crazy stuff.’ Vaughn then turned to real jumpers to capture what he called the essence of the sport. “The wipeouts are spectacular and when people watch racing of these kinds of things, they secretly hope for a crash now and then. It’s why boxing movies work; at the end of the day, it’s two guys in the ring and one is going to get knocked out. Ski jumping is very similar. They start from the top and either they land, or they’re going to break every bone in their body.”
Turns out that group hated The Eagle. “I got these ski jumpers, and the head coach said, ‘I haven’t had a crash in 11 years.’” That streak had to end, because The Eagle had his share of crashes. “It was interesting that none of those guys liked Eddie,” Vaughn said. “The ski jumping community felt he got famous for crashing and they said they were in it for the sport and for excellence. I said, ‘no, this guy was brave, he didn’t really have any training and they were finally turned around by the reality of who Eddie really was.”
Now that The Eagle has landed for the last time, Vaughn said his nest mission is to get Egerton to lose the goggle-like glasses and get back in Kingsman mode.
Jackman, who, in his final turn as Wolverine is still so obsessed with being in hero shape that he writes down everything he eats which is the only way he stays so ripped, thought Egerton’s transformation came with a high degree of difficulty. “I was blown away, that if you look at Eddie and then look at Taron in the trailer, it’s hard to know who is who and I don’t know many actors who could follow Kingsman with Eddie The Eagle, that charming, goofy, endearing character,” Jackman said. “The idea he could do that turn right after being the action hero, I don’t know another actor who could pull that off.”
Going back to his suave former self will be easier with the help of Vaughn: “I have to beat Eddie The Eagle out of Taron, who I love dearly and who is close to Eddie in that he’s at heart nice and sweet. But I told him, you are back to being cool, suave and edgy.’” Egerton said that he was happy to obey that order and especially to lose the skis, but acknowledges that it’s taking time to completely shake off The Eagle.
“For the past couple of months, my mother has been telling me, stop jutting your jaw out,” Egerton said. “I think that when you play someone there’s always a little bit of them that stays with you awhile. I think Eddie’s mostly gone but he might resurface during the Sundance Festival a little bit. But they should keep the skis away from me, if they want me to survive long enough to make the next movie.”