Better than Cool Runnings? How Eddie The Eagle dodged Robbie Williams on the way to film glory

The ex-Take That star as Eddie 'The Eagle' Edwards? It almost happened.

The 1988 Winter Olympics saw Michael Edwards re-crowned Eddie The Eagle after he finished last in the 70m and 90m ski jump. The eccentric from Cheltenham won 15 minutes of fame and became instant pub quiz trivia.

Behind that story of heroic failure, though, was an underdog skier with the unwavering desire to compete at the Olympics. Even if that meant having to live in a mental hospital while training in Finland.

Perfect fodder for a movie, then. So what took Hollywood so long?

“I signed a deal 17 years ago to make this film about my life,” Edwards tells Loaded. “Originally we had people like Steve Coogan – and Robbie Williams was even in the frame. Rupert Grint and all these sort of people.”

The thought of a gurning Williams flying down the slope and probably singing the theme tune doesn’t quite sit right. Ironically, Williams’ Take That pal Gary Barlow curated the 80s-themed soundtrack for the film, as stars Taron Egerton and Hugh Jackman croon the duet Thrill Me (featuring OMD) over the closing credits.

Robbie Williams Swing Both Ways Promo
His High-ness Image Picture Island/Universal

They get away with it, because Eddie The Eagle is one of those deftly-made and sincere feelgood charmers that’ll put a smile on even the sternest face.

Kick-Ass and Kingsman producer Matthew Vaughn proved to be the initial driving force behind finally getting Eddie’s story up on the big screen.

“He got the bit between his teeth when he read the script. His kids had said to him after watching Cool Runnings ‘Why don’t you make a film like that, daddy?’” reveals director Dexter Fletcher.

The star of cult TV series Press Gang and gangster flicks from the Guy Ritchie stable, Fletcher has made an effortless move into filmmaking. His first two movies Wild Bill and Sunshine On Leith won critical acclaim and the former bagged a BAFTA nomination.

“Matthew brought it to me because I think he felt my sensibility was more in tune with what this film would be,” Fletcher, 50, says of his working relationship with Vaughn.

Eddie The Eagle cast and crew
Team Eddie Director Dexter Fletcher, Hugh Jackman, Eddie Edwards and Taron Egerton. Image Picture Lionsgate

“He’s a reverent action director, he’s brilliant at the stuff that he does. My films are a bit more about character and relationships, so it was the best of both worlds.”

Fletcher admits he wasn’t trying to mimic the classic sports movie formula; that said, a synth-tinged score (think Vangelis’ Chariots Of Fire), mentor/pupil dynamic between Egerton’s Eddie and Hugh Jackman’s fictional coach Bronson Peary (shades of The Karate Kid) and valiant failure at the final hurdle (the first Rocky) underscore the similarities.

“I didn’t approach it thinking what are the key ingredients and what does Rocky do?” Fletcher says. “I just approached it like it was a drama about a guy I thought was interesting and funny and different. He had a self belief that I admired.”

In reality, Egerton bares little resemblance to the man he’s playing, but Edwards was immediately struck by the Kingsman star’s dedication to getting the role right.

Eddie The Eagle
Spitting image The real Eddie in 1988 and Taron Egerton's movie doppelgänger. Image Picture Lionsgate

“When I saw him on set he looked just like me 28 years ago,” Edwards says. “He had the moustache, the jaw, the glasses, the hair, the mannerisms. He sounded just like me. He’s a fantastic actor, he did his research and he’s done a fantastic job.”

Nearly 30 years on from his headline-making performance in Calgary, Edwards reflects on what motivated him to go from Cheltenham plasterer to Olympic hopeful.

“I just did it because I had to and because that was what was there,” he says. “As long as I could stay out wherever I was and stay out jumping that’s what I did.

“If that meant scraping food out of bins or sleeping in a mental hospital, or sleeping in the car, or cowsheds or barns that’s what I did.

“I never in a million years dreamt that when I plummeted to infamy at Calgary they’d make a film about my life. They’ve just done an incredible job. It’s a wonderful, wonderful film. I keep crying every time I see it.”

Eddie The Eagle opens in cinemas on Friday.

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Loaded digital media manager Simon Reynolds has written about film and entertainment for various leading websites since 2008. Follow Simon at @simonreyn

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