Kingsman: The Secret Service, the stylish new spy thriller from Matthew Vaughn (Kick-Ass), is chockfull of big names. There’s Colin Firth, Samuel L. Jackson, Sir Michael Caine, Mark Strong; even Mark Hamill shows up in a small role. But the real star of the show is Taron Egerton, the 25-year-old Welsh actor making his movie debut in the first installment of what could very well be a franchise. Egerton is drawing raves for bringing a quiet charisma and steely edge to the role of Eggsy, a London street rat recruited into the debonair ranks of England’s covert intelligence ops by Firth’s veteran agent.
Regardless of how many Kingsman movies he’s enlisted for, however, one thing’s for sure: We’re going to be seeing a lot of Taron Egerton in the years to come. Here are 12 tidbits we learned about the rising star over a recent lunch:
He was born in northern England but raised Welsh. Egerton’s parents, who are both British, moved from Chesire, England to Wales when he was a baby. “All my friends are Welsh, I speak Welsh, and I feel very Welsh,” he said. His mother works in social services and his father, up until recently, ran a bed-and-breakfast out of his home. Both have creative flair, too: his dad makes ’80s-influenced synth music, and his mom used to design clothing. Taron’s the first actor in the family, though.
His name came from a spelling mistake. Taran is Welsh for thunder, but as Egerton explained, “My mom is not a Welsh speaker, so she misspelled it and she put an ‘o’ instead of the second ‘a’ so now it’s Taron. But I like it, it’s quirky.”
The first movie he saw at the theater was Bambi. “We already had it on VHS, so I knew the songs,” he said. “And while I don’t remember it, I’m reliably informed that there was a platform in front of the screen, and I got on there and sang ‘Drip Drip Drop Like April Showers’ during the movie. Much to the amusement of some and the annoyance of others, I would imagine.”
He’s theatrically trained. Egerton fell in love with acting as a teen after performing in his first production, A Midsummer’s Night Dream, in which he played Flute, the cross-dressing Mechanical. At 19, Egerton was accepted into the prestigious Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, where he studied for three years. (Notable RADA alumni include Anthony Hopkins, Peter O’Toole, and Michael Sheen, among many others.) During that tenure he was able to perform onstage at London’s National Theatre (his first paid acting gig was The Last of the Haussmans with Julie Walters) and World Court Theatre.
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Auditioning for Kingsman was “a long, drawn-out process.” Egerton had to meet with the filmmakers a half-dozen times over the course of five weeks, including a script reading at Matthew Vaughn’s home. He also had to do a stunt audition, where they “make sure you look comfortable with guns and that you can run around and look like you could play the part… do a few dive roles and things like that.” He celebrated getting the role with pizza and beer, but shortly thereafter, he had to endure three months of physical training before production began.
He’s become good buddies with his onscreen mentor Colin Firth. “That’s one of the real joys of Kingsman for me,” he said. “Obviously, you always hope you’re going to get on with people you work with. But when it’s someone you so admire, it’s a bonus if you become friends. And Colin and I got on really well quite quickly. Perhaps we have a similar sense of humor, maybe… I think there was something about being a new type of movie for him and obviously it was my first movie, so maybe that leveled the playing field a little bit. We were both equally unused to all that stunt stuff.”
He tested for the voice of Paddington. After Firth had a “conscious uncoupling” from the lead voice role in the family film that survived early negative buzz and has since become a critics darling, Egerton was called in to read for the part. “But there is never going to be an instance in the world that you’re competing against Ben Whishaw and Ben Whishaw is not going to get it,” he said of his friend who ultimately landed the role.
He loved getting cursed at by Samuel L. Jackson. It’s not a real Samuel L. Jackson movie without a good “mother f—ker” or 50 hurled about. There’s one in Kingsman, and it’s directed at Egerton. “That was the moment for me,” he said. “Like, ‘Oh my god, I’ve joined the Sam Jackson mother f—ker club!’”
He’s got an array of acting inspirations. Egerton named Daniel Day-Lewis, Michael Sheen, and Sean Penn as idols who “have this wonderful kind of charisma and energy that carries from one role to another.” He cites Gary Oldman, the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Brendon Gleeson as actors he’s admired because “they have a real darkness to them,” and Will Poulter (We’re the Millers) and Jack O’Connell (Unbroken) as his favorite actors of his generation.
Music is a big part of his life. “I love funk and soul and Motown,” he said. “I’m a big Otis Redding fan, Al Green, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye. My hero is David Bowie. But I like the Beatles, the Stones…The Strokes are one of my favorite bands… And there’s this band called Future Islands that I love” (no word on whether he does the Future Islands’ “Seasons” dance).
His next lead will be in a biopic opposite Hugh Jackman. Egerton has already wrapped Legend, a thriller featuring Tom Hardy as infamous London gangsters the Krays twins, and will soon begin production on Eddie the Eagle in Austria. He’ll star as Michael Edwards, Britain’s Olympic underdog ski jumper from the ’80s, with Jackman playing his coach. “He was quite an unusual looking bloke [who] doesn’t look much like me,” he said. “I think what really drew me to that was the idea of playing someone who’s not very much like me.”
He feels the strain that comes with being at the center of a potential franchise. “It’s daunting,” Egerton said about being the main character in a movie clearly intended to be a series, and in which (spoiler alert) all the big names involved do not survive until the end credits. “I do feel like I’m left flying the Kingsman flag. And there is an enormous amount of pressure that comes with that.”
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