The film Eddie the Eagle is a feel-good story about the British ski jumper Eddie Edwards, who was a crowd favorite at the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics just for his enthusiasm and doggedness in showing up. Britain hadn’t had a ski jumper since 1929, and the snobbish English team discouraged Eddie from competing because, the film suggests, he came from the wrong class.
Eddie came in last place at Calgary, but it didn’t dampen the crowd’s adoration for the nearsighted and awkward Olympian who became a symbol of how far perseverance and hard work can take the common man. He got the nickname Eddie the Eagle by the way he flapped his arms in excitement after he landed. Because of his awkwardness, one sports moderator said it would be more accurate to call him Eddie the Pigeon.
Played by Taron Egerton in coke bottle glasses, Eddie Edwards is both ennobled and goofy, but you can’t help rooting for this likeable underdog. Directed by Dexter Fletcher, the film co-stars Hugh Jackman as a once great ski jumper, now an alcoholic, who becomes Eddie’s coach after Eddie hounds him incessantly.
Elements of “Eddie the Eagle” are Fictionalized
Fletcher and the “real” Eddie Edwards turned up at the Crosby Hotel in SoHo last week to talk to journalists about the film, where both pointed out that elements of the story are fictionalized. Eddie demonstrated he is still as likeable as ever, although the trademark glasses are gone and so is the hair.
Eddie said that 17 years ago filmmakers approached him, and he told them funny stories about his life, but nothing happened. “I got on with the rest of my life.”
He was surprised when two years ago he learned his story was finally going to come to the big screen in “Eddie the Eagle.” In January of this year he saw the film for the first time. “It’s very surreal watching a film about me and my life,” said Eddie. “Taron does me beautifully. I sat down with him for a few hours, and from that he got my accent and my mannerism.” He laughed, “And he looked just he way I looked as well 28 years ago.”
“I was very keen that we made a film that held up some responsibility to the man who is still here,” said the director. “He has to sit with his family and watch this film. It was never in our interest to do anything that maligned him or undermined what he achieved.”
Eddie Edwards – ‘I Didn’t Want To Be a Laughing Stock’ in Eddie the Eagle
Eddie added, “I didn’t want to be made into a superhero, but at the same time, I didn’t want to be made into a laughing stock or joke.” He said he hoped audiences would be entertained, but also inspired.
“I also want them to realize just what it took for me to get to those Olympic games. I came from a country with no snow, no ski jumps, no mountains, and there I was competing at the ski jump — Little David against these Goliaths of jumping.”
I asked Eddie if Hugh Jackman’s character was based on any one of his coaches. “He was kind of an amalgamation of all my coaches because I was a one-man band, and a poor one-man band. I couldn’t afford to have a regular coach, but being on my own meant that I could just join whatever team was around jumping on the hill at the same time,” he said. “One minute my coach could have been a 12-year-old boy who was a half decent jumper, and the next day it could have been an 81-year-old guy who used to be a good jumper.”
Eddie recalled that one day a Swiss coach came up to him and said there was only one thing wrong with his ski jumping. “I thought, gosh, what is it?’” The coach told him, “You land too close to the take off.”
I asked Fletcher how Hugh Jackman came onboard for such a small film. The director said Jackman was a huge sportsman and remembered Eddie “from back in the day.” The director flew into New York in 2014 to talk to the “Wolverine” star while he was performing on Broadway in “The River.”
“When someone of that magnitude gets involved, it makes it very real because suddenly everyone goes, ‘Oh, it’s a Hugh Jackman story,'” said Fletcher.
“None of my trainers were as good looking as Hugh,” Eddie cracked.
Eddie noted what he hoped audiences, especially children, came away with from the film: “It’s not about winning a gold medal. It’s about the journey, and for me, getting to those winter games was my gold medal. I knew I was going to be 58th when I got to Calgary.”
Eddie said his competitors started ski jumping when they were four years old and lived next to ski jumps where they could practice all the time. “I never got that opportunity, but I still wanted to compete for my country, and that was the greatest thing.”
Eddie Edwards Still Works in Father’s Building Trade
Eddie’s accomplishments and exposure opened up doors. In England, where he is still a mini-celebrity, he also still works in his father’s contracting business.
“I traveled the world for a few years, opening shopping centers and golf courses and things like that, but I still kept my building site because I worked with my father in the building trade, and I’ve always done that as well. Even now – I mean last week – I was plastering somebody’s ceiling.”