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The Humanity Behind the Impossible

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Taron Egerton, left, and Hugh Jackman star in Eddie the Eagle. Photo by Larry Horricks. TM and © 2016 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All Rights Reserved.

Taron Egerton (Kingsman: The Secret Service) and Hugh Jackman (X-Men, Prisoners) are soaring into theaters with their new film, Eddie the Eagle, directed by Dexter Fletcher (Wild Bill). The film is based on the inspirational true story of British ski jumper Michael “Eddie” Edwards (played by Egerton), who was determined to follow his dream of becoming an Olympian even when everyone around him deemed it impossible.

The film follows Eddie’s journey, from a young kid not terribly gifted at sports to an unwavering, headstrong adult that after being cut from Britain’s Olympic team in downhill skiing decided he would take on ski jumping with very little training and zero funding. While attempting jumps on his own, he meets American and former ski jumper Bronson Peary (Jackman), who was kicked off the U.S. ski jumping squad at the height of his career. Completely cynical and absolutely reluctant to help Eddie, the fictional character is worn down by the young Olympic hopeful’s continued persistence. This trait eventually powers Eddie to the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary where he captured the hearts of sports enthusiasts around the globe.

Academy Art U News had the opportunity to speak with the film’s stars and director during their recent visit to Oakland Tech High School, where Jackman teamed up with NFL star Marshawn Lynch and Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Johnson to run various football drills with a group of young athletes.

Following the morning’s excitement, Jackman joked that the undeniably upbeat and quirky tone of the film was “called being British,” citing that the Eddie the Eagle has a bit of a Full Monty quality about it. “If anyone ever in sports shows it’s okay to have a bit of a laugh at yourself, it’s Eddie Edwards,” said Jackman.

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(L–R) Director Dexter Fletcher, Hugh Jackman, Eddie Edwards and Taron Egerton on the set of Eddie the Eagle. Photo by Larry Horricks. TM and © 2016 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All Rights Reserved.

Maintaining a solid balance between good natured humor and the seriousness of Eddie’s Olympic dreams, Fletcher shared that he didn’t treat their approach to Eddie’s story “in a sentimental or mushy way.”

“Because if you’re going to get up on those ski jumps, you’ve got to have a certain amount of fortitude and there’s no point in going, ‘Oh, I hope I don’t hurt myself.’ It’s like he doesn’t even think about that. It’s sort of unsentimental [and this] allows it to be strong, but I think that’s what’s good about it,” the director explained. “It allows us to laugh. We know he’s a strong character with a strong story, so we can afford to laugh at him. He’s not ultrasensitive in any way, which is a good healthy approach. It got him to the Olympics and that’s what he is, he doesn’t go around going, ‘Oh woe is me,’ he’s very sort of positive and driven.”

Egerton, who got to spend a bit of time with the real Eddie Edwards, also pointed out that Eddie knows what he did, eeking his way into the Winter Olympics in an unheard of manner, is, well, funny. “Eddie’s a bright chap, he’s not an idiot. … He had been [ski jumping], you know, for a fraction of the time that his competitors had been doing it, and it was this death-defying, terrifying jumping that he just kind of threw himself into. And that’s funny and he knows that,” Egerton said. “So when he saw the movie, he was thrilled. I think because he knows that we struck the balance—because he knows that there is a very funny side to it—but obviously to him, it was a very serious thing. And I know Dexter was very conscious of that and I think we all were too of making it a balance. It has to be funny, but you have to leave the theater going, ‘He did it! Yes! He did it!’ I hope we succeeded.”

Although the ski jumper’s journey to the 1988 Winter Olympics in the film is mostly based on fact, the addition of Jackman as Eddie’s coach was a way to bring in people the real Eddie met during his preparations. This “super-character,” as coined by Fletcher, would add a vital element to the film.

“You’ve got to have a human relationship at the heart of a film like this, because that’s what people connect to and understand. So it’s very important that Eddie didn’t feel like this sort of lonely character, so we created this other character, so it kind of becomes a movie about friendship and that’s very important,” Fletcher said. “And you create someone that’s a polar opposite to Eddie; it kind of throws light on both of these two people and it makes, hopefully, something interesting for the [actors] to play and get their teeth into.”

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Bronson (Hugh Jackman) and Eddie (Taron Egerton) hope for the best, while expecting the worst, in advance of Eddie’s next practice jump. Eddie the Eagle. Photo by Larry Horricks. TM and © 2016 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All Rights Reserved.

Jackman said that he thinks roles like Bronson Peary are sent his way due to his popular X-Men franchise character Wolverine being “sort of the ultimate reluctant hero.” Regardless, the actor shared that he really loved his character’s story. “I do love, I suppose, seeing on film that idea of redemption,” he said. “I think all of us like to think that there is a second chance with people. [Bronson] is someone who lives with a lot of regret and has therefore turned quite cynical of the world. Deep down he realized he stuffed up his chance, you know, for whatever reason through lack of self-belief, ultimately. And I loved the idea that people are redeemable, I suppose.”

His director added that Jackman is not afraid of playing a character who is flawed. “It’s good to have someone who’s flawed; he’s human, he’s real and that seems to me to be something that you (Jackman) really tackle and relish as a role. … He’s interesting, you know, rather than being sort of perfect.”

Eddie the Eagle manages to pull on our heartstrings while sharing laughter and triumph with the audience, leaving us with the feeling of being capable to take on the world. When asked about the possibility of his role as Eddie serving as an inspiration to kids and young adults, Egerton said: “If that’s the case, then that’s...I can’t imagine anything more rewarding for an actor. That’s truly, truly, truly gratifying on a level more than anything. The thing that I love about Eddie, and it’s something I’ve said before, is that, you know, he was easy to kind of make a fool out of and for people to deride and mock, but actually he’s got this incredible quality that so few people have, not that he’s impermeable, far from it, 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, it’s actually, in a very quiet and 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 assets you can have. So I think that’s an amazing thing to even suggest as an idea.”

Eddie the Eagle is now playing in theaters.