On a crisp and blazingly clear Chicago morning, maybe 1,500 feet above Lake Michigan, Hugh Jackman looks out the window of an EC130 single engine helicopter and gestures to Wrigley Field.
“See those houses across from the ball field?” he says to his “Eddie the Eagle” co-star Taron Egerton and the film’s director, Dexter Fletcher, who are also enjoying the view and the smooth airborne cruise along the lakefront.
“Fans go up on the roofs of those houses and they can watch the games from there,” says Jackman. “I was once asked to a Cubs game and saw a game from one of those houses. I loved it. This is such a great city.”
Jackman, Egerton and Fletcher were in Chicago to promote “Eddie the Eagle” (opening Feb. 26), the fictionalized story of Eddie “The Eagle” Edwards, the charming and irrepressible geek who in 1988 became the first Brit ever to represent his country in Olympic ski jumping. (REAL-LIFE SPOILER ALERT! Though Eddie was to finish last in the 70-meter and 90-meter events, he became an instant cult hero at the Calgary Games of ’88 — sort of the British version of “Rudy.”)
Egerton (“Kingsman: The Secret Service”), who plays Eddie, notes he was born the year after the Eagle’s triumphant splash at the Olympics.
“I had to do some serious Wikipedia research,” jokes Egerton about his research into the role. “Move over, Brando!
“Thankfully, I was able to spend some time with Eddie and find out about his extraordinary story.”
Jackman plays Eddie’s coach, Bronson Peary, who is not based on a real-life figure but has elements of various mentors to Eddie. Bronson is a hard-drinking, over-the-hill ski bum with a secret: He was once one of the top jumpers in the world. Through Eddie’s almost suicidal determination to become a legitimate jumper, and his insistence Bronson help him, Bronson finds redemption of a sort.
“It’s a nice subplot that about halfway through the movie, of these two outsiders, these two guys struggling, that kind of bring out the best in each other,” says Jackman. “But really, Taron’s performance as Eddie is miraculous. It will make you cheer, and it might even bring a tear to your eye.”
The chopper (courtesy of Chicago Helicopter Experience, 2420 S. Halsted) heads south and we pass near Soldier Field.
“How about the Bears?” asks Jackman. “How’s it looking for next year?”
I tell him hope springs eternal, and tell the group a little about the history of Soldier Field, including the renovation of the early 2000s.
“No thought to putting a dome over the field at that time?” asks Jackman. “I suppose Bears fans wouldn’t have gone for that.”
This is a man who has spent some time in Chicago.
We turn around and head back north, passing over Navy Pier, marveling at the semi-frozen glass of the lake, taking in the city’s matchless skyline.
Speaking of heights — there’s your segue back to the interview — Eddie does numerous spectacular and dangerous jumps in the film, and even crusty Bronson lets fly in a 90-meter jump. Obviously the two actors didn’t actually perform these jumps; but how much were they allowed to do?
“I’m the classic aging vain movie guy who says, ‘Yeah, I want to do the jump,’ ” says Jackman with a laugh, shaking his head no to indicate he had NO intention of really doing it. “And then I got to the top of the jump, and I sat there thinking, ‘WHAT was I thinking?’ And I said, ‘Put a wire on me, man, and then let’s go home!’ Tom Cruise would have done it, but there’s absolutely no way…”
Chimes in Egerton: “I just said from the start, ‘I’m not jumping.’ ”
Fletcher used a German jump team who were willing to deliberately crash — not from 90 meters, but from 40 meters.
“They were absolutely crazy,” he says. Yep.
“I went out with some of those guys one night,” says Egerton. “Those guys drank me under the table, and then the next morning they were up at 7 a.m. ready to jump.”
“Research,” says Jackman with a smile.
At 26 and with his career hitting that next level, Egerton has already co-starred with Colin Firth and Tom Hardy — and now Hugh Jackman.
“What’s it like to work with Hugh? Well, I held his hand and walked him through it, what can I say?” jokes Egerton.
“No, of course, before meeting him I was nervous, but then you meet him and he levels the playing field so quickly. Very, very generous and very kind. We had a really good time.”
“ ‘Don’t look at me.’ I told you that,” jokes Jackman. “Never in the eyes, it’s not allowed.”
We head toward the South Side, and U.S. Cellular Field comes into view. Jackman asks which baseball team is more popular — this Sox fan doesn’t lie — and wonders about the difference between Sox fans and Cubs fans. He also asks about Chicago’s economy, the stories he’s read and seen about violence in the city, and much more.
Other times, the director, the two actors and the interviewer lapse into quiet, just enjoying the ride.
“It’s really peaceful up here,” notes Jackman. “This is just great.”
We reach a consensus: We’ll stay airborne just a few more minutes. Like Eddie the Eagle, we’ll …
Ah, never mind the metaphor. We just wanted to ride in a helicopter a little longer.
Richard Roeper’s helicopter ride with Hugh Jackman, Taron Egerton and Dexter Fletcher will be chronicled on “Good Day Chicago,” airing from 7 to 10 a.m. Monday on Fox 32 Chicago.