Inspired by true events, Eddie the Eagle is a feel-good story about Michael “Eddie” Edwards, an unlikely British hero who took on the establishment and won the hearts of sports fans around the world by making an improbable and historic appearance as a ski-jumper at the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics.
Eddie the Eagle is produced by Matthew Vaughn, directed by Dexter Fletcher and stars Taron Egerton as Eddie, alongside Hugh Jackman, Christopher Walken, Jim Broadbent, Jo Hartley, Tim McInnerny and Keith Allen, and is set to be one of the most heartwarming films of the year.
The film has been devised by Fletcher and Vaughn as a testament to the unshakeable faith that Edwards possessed. “He’s a hero,” says Vaughn. “Eddie literally risked his life with every jump. He was being bloody brave. The word ‘no’ is not in my vocabulary, and it wasn’t in his, either. That’s for sure. I admired Eddie.”
Eddie was never athletically gifted but, from an early age, he dedicated his life to achieving one goal: to become an Olympian. Eddie tried his hand at various sports and disciplines, before settling on downhill skiing. Having narrowly failed to make the British team at the Winter Olympics in 1984, he recalibrated and switched to ski jumping. There were several problems here: Britain had never had a ski jumping representative at a Winter Olympics. And Eddie had never even attempted a ski jump before. He was heavier than most ski jumpers, all of whom started at a very early age, he had no funding, very little training and his terrible eyesight meant that he had to attempt jumps while wearing glasses that would dangerously mist up mid-jump.
Yet his indefatigable spirit prevailed. Begging and borrowing equipment, Eddie was the sole British entrant at the 1987 World Championships, where placing 55th was enough to see him through to the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, Canada. Calgary was where Eddie really took off, literally and figuratively. Although he placed last in both his events - the 70-metre jump and 90-metre jump - he became a media darling (he was quickly dubbed “The Eagle” by the tabloids) and something of a folk hero, famous for his unorthodox style, appearance and will to compete.
One night, towards the end of 2014, Matthew Vaughn - director of Kingsman: The Secret Service, X-Men: First Class and Layer Cake - sat down to watch a film with his children. The film was Cool Runnings, the comedy about a Jamaican bobsleigh team that defied all the odds to compete in the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary. “My kids were loving the film,” says Vaughn, “and I started thinking, ‘Why does nobody make movies like this anymore?’ I wanted to make a movie that you could watch and just come out feeling inspired. And I wanted to do a film I could show my kids!”
Perhaps spurred on by the remarkable coincidence that the Jamaican bobsleigh team and Eddie Edwards competed at the same Olympics, Vaughn turned his thoughts towards The Eagle. Fifteen years or so earlier, Vaughn and his then directing partner, Guy Ritchie, had been sent an Eddie the Eagle screenplay with a view to turning it into a movie. That deal hadn’t worked out, but something about it resonated with him. “I thought it was charming, and worth making. Loads of people had bought it since, but nothing had happened,” Vaughn explains. “I tracked down the script, said I wanted to buy it, and three months later we were filming.”
Vaughn decided straight away that he didn’t want to direct (“This is a whole new experience for me, making a family-friendly feel-good film!”), so he turned to his old friend, Dexter Fletcher. Fletcher had starred in the first movie produced by Vaughn, Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels, and the two had remained in touch ever since, during which both had become directors. Fletcher’s directorial debut, Wild Bill, in particular, caught Vaughn’s eye. “I loved Wild Bill,” says Vaughn. “Dexter’s good at heart, and he’s good at looking after people.”
“It was a great opportunity to work with Matthew as a producer, but there’s something really interesting about this story. It’s not just what we think we know,” explains Fletcher. “And then Matthew started talking to me like I was doing it! The train had left the station. I just happened to be on it!”
Edwards’ exploits were solitary. Largely shunned by the ski-jumping community, he would either train himself or go through a string of short-lived coaches. For the film however, Vaughn and Fletcher wanted to create a character to join Eddie through every step of his journey. Bronson Peary, a hard-drinking, chain-smoking American and former ski jumper who takes Eddie, very reluctantly at first, under his wing was created for a movie star. And one of the benefits of being as successful as Matthew Vaughn is that you have movie stars on speed dial; Hugh Jackman, for one. “I rang Hugh up and sent him the script,” says Vaughn. “He remembered Eddie the Eagle. He told me he used to jump off the roof of his house in Australia and pretend it was a ski jump! Hugh loved the idea of doing this. He’s never done anything like this before.”
“Eddie was a legend who embodies that pure spirit of having a go. 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 this far!” says Jackman. The star was also drawn in by the chance to play Peary, a damaged, cynical soul who was kicked out of the U.S. Winter Olympics team at the peak of his powers. His friendship with Eddie enables a long-overdue healing process for Peary. “Eddie’s dogged determination intrigues Bronson,” adds Jackman. “He likes this kid. He thinks he’s flat-out crazy, but he relates to him. They’re both outsiders, they’ve both been shunned by the world, and it’s a redemption tale for both of them. Through that growing friendship, Bronson starts to believe in himself again.”
A key part of Peary’s arc is his relationship with his former coach, Warren Sharp, who kicked Bronson out of the U.S. team all those years ago. Sharp remains a huge presence in Peary’s life, particularly in a climactic scene where the two meet for the first time in decades. But the character presented Vaughn and Fletcher with a casting challenge.
“It had to be someone on a par with Hugh Jackman,” says Fletcher. “That’s Christopher Walken. When he came on set, it was just brilliant. What he does is so ‘Walken,’ but it’s powerful and moving, and means that Hugh’s character is more three-dimensional as well.”
Jackman loved working with the legendary actor. “Honestly, no acting required!” he laughs. “For one scene, the script says, ‘the godfather of the sport walks into the room and everyone goes still.’ That’s pretty much what happened. It’s Christopher Walken! And he’s the coolest, most relaxed guy from take one until the end of the shoot. It’s all gold.”
Vaughn and Fletcher had their Bronson Peary. And they had their Warren Sharp. Now they just needed the biggest piece of the puzzle: the Eagle himself.
As it happens, the hunt for Eddie didn’t take very long, because Vaughn realised he had the perfect candidate right under his nose. He had just put the finishing touches on Kingsman: The Secret Service, and as the film’s hero Eggsy, Taron Egerton, a young Welsh newcomer in his first film role. “I knew Eggsy was a performance,” says Vaughn. “Eggsy is so not Taron. I said to him, ‘It’s important you do a character now which surprises people.’ I didn’t have a doubt that Taron was going to pull Eddie off.”
Egerton wasn’t even born when Edwards was soaring through the Calgary air, but the young actor quickly jumped at the chance. A test with Jackman in New York swiftly followed, before Egerton was officially offered the role just before Christmas 2014. But he took it on one proviso. “I have absolutely no interest in sending Eddie up,” says Egerton. “He can be funny, he can have mishaps, but he needs heart and soul and to be real and believable.” His initial fears were misplaced.
“I wanted to dial up the emotion,” says Vaughn. “That’s what I’m most excited with this movie.
Audiences will no longer think of Eddie the clown, but as Eddie the hero.” To prepare for the role, Egerton did meet with the real-life Eddie, which helped inform his performance. “Eddie is a very reasonable and pleasant, affable chap,” he says. “He has optimism, and he’s focused. There are things about Eddie that are heroic.” Egerton transformed himself for the role with the addition of a subtle wig, the trademark thick glasses, a little extra weight, a Cheltenham accent and, towards the movie’s end, Eddie’s iconic moustache. “But I also need to be really innocent,” he says. “Hugh’s bringing all the movie star pecs, and he’s given me the room to be a bit eccentric.” The young actor also learned how to ski for the role, in order to replicate the positions required for ski jumping, from the in-run position (the first position a ski jumper adopts as they come down the slope) to the take-off move and the “Telemark,” which allows the jumper to land with one foot in front of the other. “Well, I did about fifteen hours!” he laughs. “I was quite nervous doing it. It’s hardcore. You realise how dangerous it is when you’re doing it.” Be under no illusions - ski jumping is an incredibly dangerous sport. “I won’t be doing the 90-metre jump,” laughs Egerton. “You have to do it every day from the age of four just for it to be safe. It’s why Eddie kept hurting himself.”
The film ends with a famous quote from Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern Olympics. ‘The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not winning but taking part; the essential thing in life is not conquering, but fighting well’. It sums up why Vaughn and Fletcher wanted to tell this story, and why they wanted to celebrate the fighting spirit of an unlikely hero. Eddie the Eagle Edwards may not have won an Olympic medal, but his example is an inspirational one. Says Vaughn: “This film shows that no matter how big a problem you may have, you can solve it. Having heart and determination and tenacity does work.”
With all these ingredients, Eddie the Eagle has the potential to be the feel-good film of the year - we look forward to soaring with Eddie!
Eddie the Eagle is at Showcase Cinemas from March 28. Catch Insider members only Advance Screenings on March 24 and March 27.