Hugh Jackman on Eddie the Eagle: ‘He was something of a folk hero in Australia, we loved him’

The actors say they became firm friends while working on the true-life story of British Olympic ski jumper Eddie the Eagle.

From left, Hugh Jackman, Eddie Edwards and Taron Egerton at the European premiere of Eddie The Eagle at Odeon Leicester Square in London. Jeff Spicer / Getty Images
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Sporting biopic Eddie the Eagle boasts a host of A-list talent. There's rising star Taron Egerton (Kingsman) as British ski jumper Eddie "The Eagle" Edwards, and X-Men's Hugh Jackman as his coach, Bronson Peary.

The supporting cast includes Hollywood veteran Christopher Walken, and British actors Keith (father of Lily and Alfie) Allen and Blackadder's Tim McInnerny.

The real-life inspiration for the film, however, is about as far from A-list glamour as you can get.

Eddie “The Eagle” Edwards was an ordinary man with an extraordinary dream – he wanted to be Britain’s first Olympic ski-jumper, and so set out to earn a spot in the nation’s team for the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary.

He was a clumsy, socially awkward, eccentric-looking everyman – but his bid to succeed against all the odds and reach the world’s greatest sporting event briefly transformed him into an inspirational international star, renowned for his indomitable spirit and relentlessly cheerful personality.

“I knew Eddie,” Jackman says. “He was something of a folk hero in Australia, we loved him. We love an underdog and he was a crazy man in this sport.

“He broke almost every bone in his body, but he seemed to be having such a good time doing it.”

Jackman might have been aware of Edwards before signing up for the movie, but he admits the sport of ski jumping was a mystery to him.

“I knew nothing – but I love all sports and I did try to learn as much as I could,” he says. “The strength of the movie is not as a sports movie, though. You don’t need to know or care about ski jumping to enjoy the movie, it’s more about an everyman chasing his dream and willing to kill himself for it. It’s an inspiring story.”

Jackman’s commitment to learning even extended to toying with the idea of trying some of the jumps himself – until director Dexter Fletcher shut him down. “I’ve been on some movies where you do some crazy stunts, safely, and I did wonder if there was maybe a way I could do the jumps with a wire or something,” he says. “I floated the idea with Dexter and he was like, ‘Er, no’ – so it didn’t happen.”

Any disappointment was short-lived, however.

“I realised as soon as I got up there that it was a silly idea,” says Jackman.

“I’m not scared of heights but being up there did make me uncomfortable. It’s frighteningly steep – and when you watch those guys come down, it’s so fast.

“The landing part is me – but when you watch me actually jumping, that’s me about seven feet in the air in a studio in front of a green screen.”

Egerton, meanwhile, was completely unaware of Edwards.

"I have to confess I'm not really a great lover of sports – and I wasn't even born in 1988," he says. "When Matthew Vaughan [producer of Eddie the Eagle and Kingsman] called me about the role, I had to cover up the phone and go, 'Mum, who's Eddie the Eagle?' I actually thought he meant Evel Knievel.

“But once I’d read the script, even before I knew Hugh was involved, I just thought the relationship between the two characters was so much fun. Although the movie has all these great sporting moments, it’s really about trudging about in the snow and exploring a friendship.”

The blundering Edwards is far removed from Egerton’s previous role as suave trainee spy Gary Unwin in Kingsman – and that was all part of his game plan.

"When we finished Kingsman Matthew said to me: 'What are you going to do next?'" says Egerton. "I was like: 'I'm not that well known, so whatever anyone gives me – but I'd love to do something completely different.'

"Kingsman was great, and it was great having someone make you look that suave every day, but I'm more interested in real people, who don't always look good.

“I wanted to do something a bit more everyman, and Matthew remembered that and thought I could do it, which was such a compliment. The fact that he believed I could do it made me believe I could do it and I relished the challenge.”

One of the first things Egerton did to prepare for his role was to meet Edwards – although the meeting did not really give him many pointers as he had hoped about how to approach the role.

“He’s such a modest, down-to-earth guy, I think he didn’t really feel he was qualified to give me advice on acting,” says Egerton. “He knows a lot about ski jumping and speaks about that with great fluency, but he’s not the sort who would give advice about something he doesn’t know.

“But the time I spent with him was useful to get a sense of who he is and what makes him tick – as much as you can with such a rare, unique guy.”

The on-screen friendship is a driving force of the movie and it is obvious that a similar bond formed between the actors, as they share jokes and trade mock insults like a pair of old pals – which, according to Egerton, is exactly what they have become.

“I’d love to work with Hugh again,” says Egerton. “He’s the person on set who elevates everybody up to another level and makes them feel like an equal.

“He’s totally self-effacing and doesn’t like to self-aggrandise. Every Friday, he gives out a lottery ticket to every single person on set so he gets the chance to say hello and get to know everybody by name. He’d never claim to be anybody’s mentor, but he’s everybody’s friend and he’s certainly my friend. I’m really gonna miss him, I really am.”

Eddie the Eagle is in cinemas now