Before sheer determination made him a hero, Eddie ‘The Eagle’ Edwards was the butt of many jokes - and there were plenty of japes while making the new movie based on his remarkable tale. Keeley Bolger meets stars Hugh Jackman and Taron Egerton for a taste of what’s in store.
One is a good 20 years into his career, while the other is just starting out, but Hugh Jackman and Taron Egerton both admit they’ve felt like the odds have been stacked against them throughout their working lives.
They star together in the new Eddie The Eagle film - and just as the film’s inspiration, Michael ‘Eddie’ Edwards, battled worldwide cynicism as a ski jumping newcomer determined to take part in the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics, with no funding, little training, limited athletic ability and terrible eyesight, both actors have had to overcome feelings of self-doubt.
“I’ve always felt like an underdog,” says 47-year-old Jackman, who plays Eddie’s hard-drinking fictitious coach, Bronson Peary.
“Ultimately for me, the antidote has been trying to get my head out of it and focusing on what I’m trying to say, what story we’re trying to tell and to pay attention to the people you’re with.
“In acting, it’s all about focusing on the person you’re with, rather than worrying about what you’re doing, and enjoying it. At the end of the day, fear can be good - fear can mean you care and that it really matters to you.”
Likewise, 26-year-old Egerton, who plays Eddie - and who scored his breakthrough role as Eggsy in last year’s Kingsman: The Secret Service and also appeared alongside Oscar-winner Alicia Vikander in 2014’s Testament Of Youth - has had his battles.
“I think there’s a misconception when you’re involved in films like this, that you stop auditioning,” says the Welsh actor, who won the Empire Best Male Newcomer award last year and was up for the EE Rising Star gong at this year’s Baftas.
“I audition for roles all the time and always feel like an underdog - particularly when I’m up against you!” he quips, looking at Jackman.
“Fair enough,” retorts the the Wolverine star.
“Sorry you didn’t get Eggsy in Kingsman by the way,” Egerton adds, patting his older co-star on the arm. “That must have been tough.”
Clearly an intense period of working and touring together means Jackman and Egerton’s friendship is forging beyond polite pleasantries, to full-on matey mickey-taking.
A scroll through Egerton’s Twitter feed shows snaps of him sneaking Jackman’s snacks when his back is turned, and posing in the Aussie’s sunglasses, while today, they’re ribbing each other about who asked Gordon Brown to the premiere. “I didn’t invite him,” says the younger star with a laugh.
Directed by Dexter Fletcher, the film follows Eddie - who eventually became known as a hero - as he begs and borrows equipment and is put through his paces to earn his place in the Games.
“Eddie was a legend who embodies that pure spirit of having a go,” says Jackman. “And he had a go at the most crazy, almost suicidal event in sport, the ski jump. I mean, I wanted to be in the Olympics as a kid, I just wasn’t going to go that far.”
Although neither has put themselves through the challenges Cheltenham-born Eddie went through to achieve his dream of becoming an Olympian, both can relate to the scale of his ambition.
For Egerton, besides joking that he’s in the industry for “money and fame”, his driving force comes from wanting to make his nearest and dearest proud.
“When we had our premiere, I had 45 guests come and about 95% of them were from my home town in Aberystwyth,” says Egerton, who is currently working on a Kingsman sequel with Colin Firth.
“Them being there, and for us, all being on the red carpet in [London’s] Leicester Square was mind-blowing. I think that was probably the biggest drive for me... sharing it with the people I care about.”
And those people might have more to celebrate if the rumours prove true, and Egerton is cast as the young Han Solo in a planned Star Wars spin-off.
“I really hope there’s some truth to it, because playing a part like that would be a dream come true,” he quips, chuckling, when asked about it.
“Obviously, trying to fill the shoes of someone like Harrison Ford would be daunting, but it would be such a cool part to play, so I really hope there’s some truth to it. I’d love to have a go.”
Now in “good” health, having recently finished treatment for skin cancer on his nose, Jackman implores his fans to “wear sunscreen and get a check-up” to protect against the disease, but as for his tongue, well, it’s clearly lodged firmly in his cheek.
Recalling the early days of his career, he recounts how he and wife, fellow actor Deborra-Lee Furness, used to entertain friends, who were also trying to make it in the industry.
“We’d have dinner parties and they’d say, ‘I have a call back for this thing’, and I’d see Debs’ eyes glaze over, and finally she’d say, ‘OK, can you just call me when you got the job? No one’s interested in ‘I’ve got a call back’, or, ‘I’m down for a last read’... Just call me when you’ve got the job.
“So,” Jackman adds, turning to Egerton with a grin, “Will you stop talking about it [Star Wars] non-stop?”
It’s all in jest, of course, and he hopes the jollities they shared making the film comes through for audiences.
“In a film like this, if you’re having fun, the audience will sense that and they’ll have fun too,” says Jackman. “And that’s what’s this film’s about.”
Eddie The Eagle is released on Friday, April 1