INTERVIEW: Hugh Jackman

here’s something about Hugh Jackman that recalls an earlier age of Hollywood, when stars would sing, dance, fight, shoot, save the girl and always have a broad grin and a “thank you, ma’am” in the process. You almost imagine him plucking a nickel from behind the ear of a star-struck, freckled kid in a restaurant or shinning up an old lady’s tree to rescue a cat. In a week when we see the darker sides of Batman and Superman, you sense that, had Jackman been born 30 years earlier, we might never had heard of Christopher Reeve.

He’s done action roles aplenty of course, notably Wolverine, and delved into his darker side with considerable success in Prisoners, but you feel his sweet-spot is in movies with a heart. Indeed, the posters for his latest film, Brit-comedy Eddie the Eagle, already carry the adjective “feel-good”, as if we needed to be convinced to watch a movie about a really, really bad sportsman from rural England.

The “eagle” in question is Eddie Edwards, one of (real) life’s plucky losers, who takes on anything and everything despite minimal hopes for success. In the 1980s, he set his sights on competing at the 1988 Winter Olympics in the ski jump – a sport he’d never tried before. Taron Egerton plays Eddie, who is aided by Jackman’s (fictional) American coach, Bronson Peary. Despite the doubts, the guffaws and the vitriol, he of course manages to secure a place on the Olympic team.

ShortList caught up with the Aussie on the set at London’s Pinewood Studios.

What did you know about the story of Eddie Edwards?

Oh, I knew all about Eddie! He is kind of a legend in Australia, where he embodies the whole have-a-go attitude we like. Australians, in a way, would prefer someone who has a go and doesn’t win than someone who’s safe and boring who does. We don’t really like that kind of person. When I read the script, I found it really heart-warming. It reminded me a bit of Billy Elliott and a bit of Cool Runnings, both movies I love. I’m a big sports nut, so the sports angle really intrigued me, too.

So Eddie’s story made the news in Australia in 1988?

Yeah, it was huge. The Winter Olympics aren’t as big in Australia. I think we have one gold medallist, and it’s one of the best gold medal victories in Olympic history. Steven Bradbury won the speed-skating gold because the four people in front of him crashed on the last lap! He was miles behind! That’s our only gold medal! It’s one of the greatest moments ever. So, somehow the Eddie the Eagle story captured the whole country and we loved it. Aussies love a laugh, and they absolutely love anybody who is prepared to have a go.

You get the feeling we don’t have these stories anymore…

The script really captures that turning point when sport was becoming more professional. The Olympics had become more about, “We need to attract more sponsors; we need pin-ups for the marketing people, we don’t need Eddie the Eagle.” But Eddie was the one who was on Johnny Carson at the time. He was brilliant on the show and had everyone laughing and had Johnny Carson in tears.

How does Taron capture Eddie’s spirit and personality?

I was really blown away by Taron. It’s a really difficult thing to play somebody real, and he’s not going for a straight-out imitation. It’s certainly got the essence of Eddie in every way. It’s got the optimism and it’s got the humour, and he’s really captured the vulnerability. He was an outsider, Eddie. He was an outsider in the Olympic movement, and growing up he was an outsider. I find what Taron is doing is very funny and completely charming, but it’s also very touching.

Incredibly, Christopher Walken did a little cameo…

I’ve never seen so many people turn up to rehearsal! He’s iconic – everything about him is iconic. He’s truly like no one else. His delivery, that famous voice, his presence… I was with director Dexter Fletcher and we were pinching ourselves with how lucky we were to be there. On just one take, he’s absolutely perfect. He’s got this presence that’s perfect for Warren Sharpe, who’s this incredible patriarch – like a don of the sport – and he’s got that sense about him.

Tell us about Bronson, who in many ways is the polar opposite to Eddie – he’s talented, jaded and doesn’t want to work.

It’s kind of a redemptive tale, particularly for Bronson Peary. He had bundles of talent, and was something of a prodigy when he began, and was expected to do big things. But he had none of the discipline and none of the humility. He was elitist, he was rebellious and he hated being told what to do. You catch up with a man in this story, 20 years on from being kicked out of the sport and regretting every second of it. He’s living with a lot of pain and a huge amount of regret. With Eddie, he sees the outsider in him; he relates to him but he can see him making some of the mistakes he made. They’re both rash and impulsive and prone to making bad choices. He doesn’t want Eddie to do that.

Were you tempted to try one of the jumps yourself when you were out at the real venue?

I was itching to do it, but it was tough to get away with it! No, I didn’t do the jumps, but actually I had to do a little skiing because my character does jump. We just wanted to get the shot of him coming in. I went up the thing, and looking at it I thought, “Oh, I’ll go halfway up the hill.” I was about an eighth up the hill and already I was thinking, “Okay, that’s pretty high…” I eventually got higher and higher, but that was just the outrun. That wasn’t even the jump. So no, I didn’t give it a go. I was a good boy.

Maybe one day?

We did talk about it! I think I would do the 15 metres. I’d give that a go. But it’s one thing to fall down the ski slope, because it’s snow, but this is ice. It’s like cement. The idea of doing the 70m or the 90m is impossible to think of.

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