Kingsman star Taron Egerton: ‘I don’t think I’m the right choice for James Bond’
Taron Egerton has history with billion-dollar phenomena. As Elton John in Rocketman (2019), the Welsh actor stepped into the platform boots of the third-biggest-selling solo artist of all time; as a street delinquent turned secret agent in the Kingsman movies, he helped to establish a gloriously tongue-in-cheek British rival to Bond; and in his latest film, for Apple TV+, he takes on a viral video-game sensation that emerged from Soviet Russia and spread throughout the world, Tetris.
Egerton remembers playing the addictive puzzle game as a child – “My mum bought me a Game Boy when I was 10,” he says – yet he never got so hooked that he saw blocks falling in his dreams, as so many others did. His obsession lay elsewhere. “I was the Pokémon generation. It was my life for 18 months or so.”
He’s 33 now. On his birthday in November 2022, Egerton posted on Instagram that “the past year has been one of the most challenging of my life”. “My mother had cancer,” he tells me from his kitchen in Aberystwyth. “She’s fine now. But it felt like the end of my youth. You confront something that means you have to dispel any of the illusions and stories you tell yourself about anything fairy tale to do with life – you lose a lot of the lightness. It was just a tough experience.”
The year threw up other disasters. Last March, he took on the revival of Mike Bartlett’s play Cock, in the West End, opposite Bridgerton’s Jonathan Bailey and His Dark Materials actress Jade Anouka, but withdrew from the production after passing out on stage on the opening night – “Slightly sore neck and a bruised ego,” he said afterwards – then testing positive for Covid-19.
“It was a difficult episode,” he says now, and one he’s not keen to revisit. His decision to quit the play “for personal reasons” was informed by his mother’s cancer diagnosis. Yet he recalls now that one tabloid tried to suggest his departure was down to his split from his girlfriend. “That was actually two years ago, but I just kept it private,” he says. “[They] made it sound as if those two [events] were connected, when, in fact, they were a year apart.”
Does he think he’ll go back on stage? “I’d love to,” he says, “but I don’t know that anyone’s going to take that chance on me again.”
There were also some high points in 2022. For his performance in another Apple TV+ series, prison drama Black Bird, Egerton was nominated for both Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild awards. Based on the true story of a drug runner (Egerton) attempting to trap a rapist and murderer (Paul Walter Hauser) into confessing to the killings of other young women, to shorten his own sentence, Black Bird evolved into a disturbing psychological thriller. Afterwards, Egerton described the real-life details shared in some of the scenes as “difficult to shed”.
He is not, however, an advocate of Method acting, much in the news of late with Bafta-winner Austin Butler describing how he spoke in the voice of Elvis for three years, and Brian Cox’s comments on how his Succession co-star Jeremy Strong achieved his stunning performance – “Oh, it’s f---ing annoying. Don’t get me going on it,” Cox grumbled. Egerton has previously dismissed the Method as “indulgent nonsense”. Does he still feel that way?
He raises an eyebrow at hearing the certainty of his opinions as a younger man. “I think a creative environment and a place of work requires a degree of social conformity, so that you can all work together,” he says. “And that means being civil, it means being personable, it means being polite. I think refusing to drop character, regardless of the consequences, demonstrates disregard for your co-workers... I’ve heard horror stories... But who knows? Perhaps people are able to do it in a way where they navigate treating the people around them well. It often yields really great results, [but] I don’t know that Method acting has a monopoly on good acting.”
Without it, Egerton delivers another bravura performance in Tetris, as Henk Rogers, the American entrepreneur who went behind the Iron Curtain in the 1980s to try to poach the rights to Tetris from under the nose of the late Daily Mirror publisher Robert Maxwell. “Henk is this sort of incredibly appealing, devil-may-care cavalier,” Egerton says of the man who travelled to Cold War Moscow on a tourist visa, then rocked up at the headquarters of the state-owned Elektronorgtechnica, attracting the attention of the KGB. The game had been created by a young Soviet software engineer, Alexey Pajitnov, but the state took ownership of the intellectual property rights. Tetris has been lovingly crafted to tell how, initially, the game spread by hand, as it was copied from floppy disk to floppy disk, before eventually going on to sell more than 100 million copies worldwide.
Egerton’s ebullient, likeable Henk is another example of the actor’s range – already demonstrated in roles that have included Eddie “the Eagle” Edwards, in an endearing 2016 biopic of the British ski-jumper, and an all-action Robin of Loxley in an energetic if misfiring remake of Robin Hood, two years later. Yet it is his remarkable performance in Rocketman that truly established his credentials as an actor and singer. The film turned heads with its willingness to take on aspects of Elton John’s life that other biopics wouldn’t dare touch – drug addiction and gay sex. “I just haven’t led a PG-13 rated life,” the flamboyant rock star wrote at the time. While it was a critical and commercial success, it wasn’t a cash cow
on the same mind-boggling scale as Bohemian Rhapsody, which only flirted with the sex life of queer icon Freddie Mercury. “I don’t know if the fact that we did elect to explore those places more was the reason that it didn’t make the same money,” Egerton says, “[but] I wouldn’t change the movie.” He’s stayed in contact with the singer, and caught him on his farewell tour. “It was great, and quite emotional, actually.”
His role as a gay man in Cock showed his continued willingness to take on queer roles. Does he think that he has been accepted as an honorary gay man? “Certainly by Elton,” he laughs. “I grew up in a very liberal town, and a couple of my close friends are gay. I feel an affinity with that community. I don’t particularly feel that there should be a blanket rule about whether straight actors should play gay roles. That’s very easy for me to say as a straight man, but I think that’s possibly a precedent not worth setting.”
For a large part of his childhood, home was “just me and my mum” – first on Anglesey, after his mother moved there from Liverpool when she split from Egerton’s father, then – throughout his teenage years – in Aberystwyth. “My father was in my life,” he says, “[but] not day-to-day in the home environment. So I guess I’m probably more what you would describe as feminine masculine than masculine masculine. But I like that about myself. I like that I’m hopefully quite empathetic and in touch with my feelings – probably a bit too in touch with them. But I had a great mum, she worked really bloody hard for me. And now we look after each other.”
He doesn’t want to overplay the hardship of those early years because, he says, “this country’s full of people who are really struggling just to lead a basic, comfortable day-to-day existence… we just didn’t have much money, but I was happy. I was very loved. We’re very close, there’s something about ‘single parent/only child’, I think, that really forges a special kind of bond.”
Egerton got into Rada at the second time of trying, when he was just 19, and was given funding by a trust that helps underprivileged students – without which, he says, “I couldn’t afford to be there” – yet his neutral accent means that he has “never had a working-class identity imposed on [him]”; while there, his singing talent helped him win the Stephen Sondheim Society Student Performer of the Year.
Tom Hardy, with whom Egerton appeared in the film Legend, about the Kray twins, was attached to Rocketman when it was first announced back in 2013. Has Hardy forgiven him for taking the role of Elton? “I haven’t spoken to him for a while. I think it was just such a long time [in development], he just got too old, you know, I pick it up when Elton is 17. I’m just more age-appropriate, that’s all.”
Both men have at times been mentioned in the conversation about the next James Bond. Could Egerton see himself moving from Kingsman to 007?
“I don’t think I’m the right choice for it,” he says. “You have to be consistently statuesque to be that guy. And that’s something that I am still striving for. I’ve always struggled with my weight.” When offered a role, he finds himself considering how much gym time is likely to be involved, and the physical commitment needed to attain the required physique. Playing Bond, he notes, “is a bit like being a brand ambassador as well as being an actor. And that could be really fun in microcosm, but I’m sure I read that Barbara Broccoli said that it’s a 15-year commitment.” He pauses. “It’s sort of irrelevant how I feel about it, anyway, because I can tell you there have been zero phone calls.”
Besides, he’s still likely to return as Eggsy in another instalment of the Kingsman franchise. It has already spawned two huge box-office hits in Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014) and Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017), as well as a slightly less successful prequel The King’s Man, released in 2021, when cinema audiences were still recovering from Covid. Egerton says that he and producer Matthew Vaughn each hold “very strong opinions” about the next chapter and “what it should look like. We complement each other well, Matthew and I, but we are very different. I think the most interesting question is: if Eggsy was the recruit at 22, who is he at 35? What have those 13 years done to him? If you had to live in that Kingsman world, what would it do to you?”
What indeed? Egerton’s world continues to expand. What are the chances of him buying a Welsh football club, like Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney? He laughs. He’s still thinking about being in another musical, he says, although, “I’d like to open a bar/eatery one day. Not yet. Who knows what the future holds?”
Tetris is in select cinemas and on Apple TV+ from March 31