Taron Egerton explains how Hollywood turned origins of Tetris into a Cold War thriller
The "Rocket Man" actor plays Henk Rogers, who risked his safety to negotiate rights to the game with Soviet Russia.
No, the new movie Tetris is not a live action-CGI adventure that Taron Egerton shot in front of a green screen as he ran around dodging imaginary falling, multi-colored bricks. It wouldn’t necessarily be a surprise if it was: In the next two weeks, we’ll see film adaptations of two of the other most popular video games of all time, Dungeons & Dragons and Super Mario Bros., while The Last of Us just played to major raves on HBO.
“I’m doing that next,” Egerton, 33, cracks in a new interview with Yahoo Entertainment. “But yeah the movie’s called Tetris, and it’s in big bold font, so I can understand why people might think it’s more of a traditional video game movie.”
Yet what’s most surprising about the Tetris film Egerton has made is how thrilling it as an origin story, following how the addictive strategy game with that unmistakable theme song became so popular in the first place.
“It’s a Cold War thriller,” posits Egerton (Rocket Man, Sing) of Tetris, which was written by Noah Pink (Genius), directed by Jon S. Baird (Filth), and produced by the actor’s Kingsman director Matthew Vaughn.
Egerton plays Henk Rogers, the Dutch-born video game designer and entrepreneur who risked his career, his livelihood, his freedom — maybe even his life — to negotiate with authorities in Soviet Russia for the rights to the world’s future block-falling obsession in the late 1980s.
“I knew the game. I had played it a bit when I was young, but didn’t know the story,” the Welsh actor says. “I couldn't believe that no one had made a movie out of it already, to be honest. And that seemed a really good reason to make the movie. Matthew sent me the script during the first lockdown and I found it to be a very compulsive read. And I really, really liked the character of Henk at the center of it. Just this kind of puppyish, charismatic, dogged person. So I signed up to go along for the ride.”
It is indeed a ride. In the film, Rogers faces off against the KGB, Russian dignitaries and rival software and media companies — there’s espionage, double and triple-crosses, blackmail and threats against his wife and children — in trying to score a lucrative deal for Nintendo and its soon-to-launch handheld Game Boy console. Rogers also strikes up a poignant relationship with Alexey Pagitnov (Nikita Yefremov), Tetris’s original creator.
Asked how much of what is depicted actually happened, Egerton doesn’t hesitate.
“Pretty much all of it, aside from a [car] chase at the end, it really did all happen,” he says. “And [with] the sense of jeopardy and danger at the time in terms of being behind the Iron Curtain just before the fall of the Berlin Wall and what was happening across the block at that time, I think it was a dangerous place to be. So all of it, really.”
Rogers is constantly on the hustle – resolute, bold, very often desperate — which Egerton related to as an actor, especially in his earliest days as a professional.
“I think all actors that I've spoken to relate to that sense of it being a real hustle when you first start out,” he says. “That time for me, when I first left drama school, I do remember that feeling like a hustle. But I was lucky. I got that Kingsman role very early on. I remember going to audition for Matthew and that meant that I had a slightly easier ride of it from there on out because it was great exposure.
“But I liked that about Henk. I like the fact that he's one of those people that no matter how many times you knock him down, he keeps getting better back up. We love people like that.”
Tetris premieres Friday, March 31 on Apple TV+.
Watch the trailer: