Earlier this week I saw the new movie Eddie the Eagle, and was lucky enough to interview three of its stars. Just another day in my life, hanging out with Hugh Jackman and Taron Egerton (I interviewed Ania Sowinski by phone).
The Real Eddie
The movie centers on the relationship between Eddie “The Eagle” Edwards, played by Taron Egerton, and Bronson Peary, his coach, played by Hugh Jackman. Eddie’s dream is to compete in the Winter Olympics in Calgary in 1988, as a ski jumper, despite not being all that athletic and having practically no support.
I have zero memory of Eddie The Eagle at the Olympics (what I remember most from that winter is the Jamaican Bobsled team), but for Hugh and Ania (who plays a publicist in the film), they absolutely remembered the real person and were thrilled to be in a movie about his remarkable feat.
“It was very much like Princess Di and Charles’ wedding. You know, everyone was around their television sort of rooting for this guy from the middle of nowhere in England” said Ania, who was eight years old at the time. In fact, Hugh (we’re totally on a first-name basis now) used to jump off of his roof in Australia, pretending it was a ski jump, thanks to Eddie.
Taron actually got to hang out with the real Eddie Edwards before filming, but other than that, Eddie didn’t really have anything to do with the making of the movie. He’s still a ski jumper, and that’s all he was really interested in, not moviemaking. He just asked Taron not to be mean in his portrayal. “‘Do a good job and I’ll see you on the other side.’ And that’s kind of what happened. We watched the movie for the first time together, which, as you could imagine, was a fairly intimidating afternoon for me. But thankfully, he loved it.”
Hugh’s character, Bronson Peary, had been kicked off of the USA’s Olympic Ski Jumping Team for bad behavior, despite being an incredible jumper (imagine Chazz Michael Michaels in Blades of Glory, not quite as gross but drunker). Hugh did not have a real person to base his portrayal on. The character of Bronson is a composite of seven or eight coaches who gave Eddie tips and help during his quest, so he took inspiration from a documentary called Beware of Mr. Baker, about a guy named Ginger Baker. “He was a drummer for Cream in the ’70s, and regarded as the best drummer of all time. But outside of drumming, [he was a] complete reprobate. And if it wasn’t for drumming, he would have been in jail when he was 15, 16. You know, he had a very tough life. Mad man. So I kind of based it off that.”
The Jumping Scenes
Taron and Hugh definitely did not do any real jumping during filming. It’s a really dangerous sport. In fact, Taron didn’t even know how to ski before getting cast. “It wasn’t something that my family have ever really done. Actually, I think it’s not something we could ever really afford to do. It was quite an expensive holiday. I had never been, so I had to go out and learn. But I didn’t get very good at it. So it looked like I’d been doing it for three days. I’ve never been particularly gifted athletically.”
The ski jumping scenes in the movie are rather incredible, though, and were not easy to film. Both Hugh and Taron gave props to cinematographer George Richmond. According to Taron, they simply couldn’t find stuntmen to do the ski jumping scenes, since it’s such a specialized thing. They had to get real ski jumpers, from German and Romanian teams, and filming those scenes was sometimes a little insane.
One of the ways they got incredible jumping shots was by having the jumper being filmed go first, and then half a second later a jumper wearing several cameras would take off behind him. The downhills for ski jumps are pure ice.
But according to Hugh, “What happened is when they took off, the ice had sort of melted or whatever, and so [the second jumper] sped up, and also he was in [the first jumper’s] slipstream. So the second guy went over him and touched him on the shoulder and went past him in midair and landed in front of him. And when they got down, we were all just in shock. And they look at each other and burst out laughing. I go, ‘They are kind of really crazy, these guys.’”
Ania added, “You go up to the top of those ski jumps. And honestly, these guys are crazy, brave, and brilliant all at the same time, because they’re insanely death-defying.”
Kids and Dreams
In the movie, Eddie makes up his mind at a very early age that he wants to go to the Olympics. And while his mother is supportive, his father is trying to be practical and has a much harder time with it. But as Hugh pointed out, “We paint [the dad] as sort of being the curmudgeon, but he’s obviously terrified for his son, right?” So I asked him what he would do if his children (he has two) wanted to do something crazy. Would he try to stop them, or support them?
He answered that it was a tough one, that if he sensed they wanted to do something for the wrong reasons he would have to say something. “But if I sensed it was a genuine dream and they’d worked really hard, go for it. Because that’s essentially what people assumed: Eddie was just making a stand, like a publicity stunt, trying to be famous. But he wasn’t. He wanted to be in the Olympics from when he was five and nothing was going to stop him. So, look what came of it, you know? I kind of get that. But I understand. It’s a horrible thing about being a parent, right?”
Hugh went on to tell us about a big decision he’d had to make when he was a young actor. He was cast in Neighbours, an incredibly popular English soap opera [actually, a reader just told me it’s an Australian soap opera – oops!], and in the same weekend was accepted into a prestigious acting program. He had until Monday to decide. And when he asked his dad for advice, his dad said “Hugh, I can’t answer that for you. That’s got to be your decision.”
So after agonizing over it he decided that going to school would be the better choice. “So I went to tell my dad what my decision was, and I’ll never forget. He goes, ‘Oh, thank goodness.’ I said, ‘Why didn’t you tell me that? I’ve just had the most horrible 24 hours.’ And he goes, ‘Because you’re an adult. You have to make that decision. Even if it’s the wrong one, you’ve got to make it.’ And I’ll never forget the relief. It was pretty good parenting from my dad, I think.”
Should Kids See It?
When Hugh first saw the movie with a bunch of friends, one of the mothers in the audience said, “‘Every parent should take their kids to see this, because it just goes to show you don’t have to win to be a winner.’ It’s like there’s so much pressure on kids these days to be LeBron James or to be at the top, you know? And it can kind of create this pressure sometimes that is not necessary for kids.”
I really enjoyed the movie. And I’d definitely see it again with my family. If you like the trailer, you’ll love the movie, because it’s exactly what it appears to be: An inspiring story of a guy who just won’t give up, despite immense odds and some stuffy Englishmen. It’s funny, the performances are great, and the skiing scenes are incredible.
Despite its PG-13 rating, I think this is a great movie for kids. The two scenes that earn the rating are pretty mild. In one, a bunch of men are naked in a steam room. But thanks to well-placed props and seating positions, no naughty bits are visible. In another scene, Hugh Jackman fakes an orgasm while talking about ski jumping, which is hilarious and I imagine would just look like a man making funny faces and sounds to a kid who doesn’t know what an orgasm is (and if the kid does know what it is, well then, he’s probably old enough to see an actor fake one in a scene that’s not about sex).
Eddie The Eagle opens nationwide tomorrow, February 26th.