Eddie the Eagle movie idea started 'in a bar in Thailand in 1999'

A new movie celebrates the unlikely Olympic bid of Eddie the Eagle, the British ski jumper who became an international folk hero at the 1988 Winter Olympics.

New bio pic celebrates British ski jumper turned international folk hero of 1988 Winter Olympics

British actor Taron Egerton, left, portrays former Olympic ski jumper Eddie the Eagle Edwards in an upcoming movie. (Lionsgate/Getty Images)

The 1988 Winter Olympics left enduring legacies beyond Calgary's Canada Olympic Park and the speed skating oval.

It was an Olympics of the underdogs. The Jamaican bobsled team had its cinematic moment with the 1993 Disney comedy Cool Runnings

And now Eddie Edwards will have his moment with Eddie the Eagle.

It stars Hugh Jackman as Eddie's coach, and Eddie is played by young British actor Taron Egerton from Kingsman: The Secret Service.

The Calgary Eyeopener's Jennifer Keene spoke with Sean Macaulay, who co-wrote the screenplay.

Eddie the Eagle Edwards is pictured at an Olympic torch relay in Manitoba in 2010. (David Lipnowski/Canadian Press)

How it began

"It all starts in a bar in Thailand in 1999," explained Macaulay.

"Someone said to a film producer 'Oh, whatever happened to Eddie the Eagle? If they made a movie about Cool Runnings, they should make a movie about him,' and so this producer tracked down Eddie [and] he's got rights to make a movie about his life."

Macaulay came aboard as a screenwriter back in 2002, and it was a long saga getting the movie made.

"At some point we were joking that it actually would've been easier to train and go to the Olympics ourselves than to try and get this movie made," laughed Macaulay.

Eddie's appeal as a character

Macaulay places Eddie Edwards firmly in the British cinematic tradition of the working class underdog, alongside beloved classic movies like The Full Monty and Billy Elliot.

"He was a funny looking guy, he had sort of pink goggles, a little moustache, he came last in both events, but captured the hearts of the nation," Macaulay said.

Macaulay thinks Eddie became an international folk hero for one simple reason.

"If you're never going to be Michael Jordan or Tiger Woods, if you don't have natural talent from the age of two, what do you do?... Personal best is the key message of his success."

A new respect for Eddie and the sport

Working on the movie made Macaulay gain new respect for Eddie Edwards.

"Actually Eddie did, to be fair, become quite a good ski jumper, and set British records and things like that," Macaulay  noted.

He also remembers the moment he realized just how much courage it takes to be a ski jumper.

"I mean it seems funny, but I remember doing a location scout in Germany, and we went up the 90-metre jump and it's as high as a 30-storey building and it is absolutely terrifying, and you look down that ramp, and you think 'I'm gonna go down there, shoot up there at 55 miles an hour into the wild blue yonder.' You can't just do it as a joke."

Not filmed in Calgary

Calgarians who go to see the movie will see it was not filmed at Canada Olympic Park.

The location shoots took place in Austria and Germany, interiors were shot in the U.K., and the film's producers decided it would have been too expensive to move the whole crew to Calgary for the final competition scenes.

However, the movie does feature actual footage of the opening ceremonies.

Eddie's reaction to the movie

Macaulay said Edwards was worried over the years that he would be portrayed as a buffoon in the movie version of his Olympic quest.

For a time during the long years the script was in development, British comedic actor Steve Coogan was to play Eddie in a more comic approach to the story.

When that casting fell through Macaulay returned to the project and, as he described it, "we came back to this valentine, really, to this madcap guy's courage."

After the movie production wrapped, there was a private screening with Eddie Edwards who was moved to tears by the end of it.

"His trademark gesture was a thumbs up," said Macaulay. "So yeah, he gave me the thumbs up."


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