Eddie the Eagle: Starring Hugh Jackman

Eddie the Eagle is directed by Matthew Vaughn.

Hugh Jackman plays Bronson Peary, a hard-drinking, chain-smoking American and former ski jumper who takes Eddie, very reluctantly at first, under his wing. It was a role created for a movie star.

Hugh Jackman

“I rang Hugh up and sent him the script,” says director Matthew 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.”

Jackman says he was a huge Eddie the Eagle fan growing up–just another reminder of the impact Eddie’s exploits had on the world at large. “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!”

Jackman was also drawn in by the chance to play Peary, a fictional character, who is 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.

Taron Egerton

The casting of Eddie didn’t take very long, because director Matthew Vaughn realized he had the perfect candidate.  He had just put the finishing touches on Kingsman: The Secret Service, starring Colin Firth, Samuel L. Jackson, Michael Caine, Mark Strong, 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 Inrun 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 realize 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 meter 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.” Jackman, no stranger to doing his own stunts, was also daunted by the sheer difficulty of a 90 meter jump, which requires total focus and mastery of the human body just to take off, let alone land safely.

“I had to do a scene where I sat on top of the jump, and I had a wire on to stop me from killing myself if I fell,” recalls Jackman. “And even then I was pretty freaked out! When you think that Eddie did that in the Olympics after doing hardly any jumps in his life, he had some serious courage.”

Perhaps Vaughn sums it up best. “Whoever invented ski jumping was insane,” he remarks. “There’s no logical reason for doing it.”

To accurately depict Edwards’ training routine, and the big jumps he undertook at the Calgary Olympics, Fletcher and his director of photography George Richmond had to find a way of doing it safely, and repeatedly. “There are thirteen or more jumps in the film, and it’s always the same action – a guy goes up somewhere steep, he jumps off and then he lands,” notes Fletcher. “We had to find a lot of new ways to do that. And as soon as you get on a screen, everything becomes flat, and the height of something is reduced by 50 percent, at least.”

Other problems encountered by the production while on location in Germany and Austria, was amazingly, a lack of snow. “We were filming in spring and at the tail-end of a mild winter,” says Fletcher. “There was one shot where Taron goes to the top of the 70 meter jump and looks down, and there was no snow! We had to bring some in from higher up the mountain in a truck, and spread it out around the slope.”

There is judicious use of CG, helmet-cams to increase the feeling of speed as the skier speeds down the slope, and the construction of complex platforms in and around the 70 meter and 90 meter jumps.  The latter allowed Fletcher, Richmond and second unit director, the legendary Vic Armstrong, to devise shots where the camera would swoop and fly and be able to depict the sheer speeds of a ski jumper as they leap into the unknown. “George and I got very creative,” adds Fletcher. “We found ways of coming up with fun angles, and ways to communicate how high and dangerous this is. It’s about choosing the right people to help you bring it to the next level.”

It now seems almost impossible for someone to replicate Eddie’s achievements. As detailed in the film, the standards required to qualify for the ski jump were almost immediately increased by the International Olympic Committee. Eddie never qualified for the event again, although he was selected as a torchbearer for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.

Yet the film was devised by Fletcher and Vaughn as a testament to the unshakable 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.”

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 the winning but the taking part; the important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. 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.”