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Interview: Robin Hood’s Taron Egerton on the pressure to diet for Kingsman and those Bond rumours

Written by Tiffany on November 18 2018

Telegraph.co.uk-Douglas Fairbanks, Errol Flynn, Kevin Costner, Russell Crowe, Taron Egerton. All superb Robin Hoods, in very different ways. Egerton, who is about to join their roll call with his gritty new Robin, in a film produced by Leonardo DiCaprio, does not wear Lincoln green, or go riding through the glen. ‘He doesn’t slap thighs,’ grins Egerton.

His Robin is more like an anti-capitalist protester, a hoodie-wearing corruption fighter with a multicultural team of Merry Men. And a kick-ass Maid Marian, of course, in Eve Hewson – who just happens to be Bono’s daughter.

‘It’s high octane and it’s fast and edgy,’ says Egerton, whose fingers are still calloused from all the arrow action. He learnt how to perform next-level archery. ‘I’d be holding up to five arrows in one hand,’ he says, adding that he’d be firing them while leaping through the air. Pretty impressive stuff.

Directed by Otto Bathurst, of Peaky Blinders fame, and filmed in Dubrovnik, this all-new Robin Hood transforms Sherwood into what Egerton describes as a ‘hotchpotch world where there are different skin colours and different voices’.

Relatable, likeable, funny, oh, and hot – Egerton, 29, carries the movie with ease. Despite having graduated from Rada on a seeming fast-track to fame, he is still finding his way out of the chrysalis, still blinking at his new-found success, surprised that designers such as Giorgio Armani want to dress him for events.

Still reeling, in fact, from meeting Mr Armani for the first time. ‘He grabbed me by the face and looked at me in the eyes for about 12 seconds,’ says Egerton. ‘Which doesn’t sound long but it was a long time. Then he just nodded. If I believed in spiritual experiences, that would be one.’

During our interview, Egerton is impeccable – polite, charming, astute. Small (5ft 7in) and purposeful, he power-walks into the café on the dot of our agreed time, anonymous in a baseball cap, shorts and jumper. He gives me a hug and thanks me for speaking to him. He then orders a beer (‘I’m going to have a Friday-night drink, do you mind?’), before thoughtfully positioning himself with his back to the room so we aren’t interrupted by anyone asking him if he’s the guy from the Kingsman movies.

He already has a whole franchise to his name, the daft, massively commercially successful Kingsman films by English indie impresario Matthew Vaughn, in which he stars as heroic everyman trainee spy, Gary ‘Eggsy’ Unwin. ‘I was already into the comics by Mark Miller before the film, I swear!’ says Egerton.

He appears in almost every scene of both Kingsman films, which have all the joie de vivre of Roger Moore-era Bond, and none of the pretentious baggage the franchise later acquired. ‘Moore is my favourite Bond,’ says Egerton. ‘I think we borrowed more from him than any other.’

Egerton is almost too obvious a choice for the next Bond. And he ain’t that bothered anyway. ‘Because I made my name in a spy-thriller franchise, it holds less appeal,’ he admits. ‘Of course if Barbara Broccoli or whoever might be replacing her called, I would be honoured, but…’

When I offer him a choice of dream jobs, Hamlet at the National or Bond, he goes for Hamlet without missing a beat. ‘Without a doubt,’ he says. ‘I’d be thrilled and scared and wobbly to do Shakespeare again, and that’s when you do your best work.’

As we’ve been chatting Egerton has been fidgeting; all excess energy, effortfully contained. Then I realise there is a problem with his baseball cap. Under it, he has an itchy secret. For a second, he lifts the cap, revealing the stubbly regrowth and – what, blue hair dye? – around his hairline, and shoots me a wide-eyed look that is pure, unadulterated Elton John. ‘I’m not meant to talk about this,’ he says, ‘but I am playing Elton in Rocketman, the film of his life.’

This is the authorised version of Elton’s early years, with producers including David Furnish and John himself. It’s a to-die-for part, scripted by Lee Hall, directed by Dexter Fletcher, and co-starring Jamie Bell as Bernie Taupin. Egerton, who won the Stephen Sondheim Society Student Performer prize while at Rada, and voiced a soulful gorilla in the animated film Sing, is doing all the vocals himself. ‘I love to sing and I’ve loved  his music since I was a kid,’ he says.

He shows me the phone screensaver of him and his girlfriend, Emily Thomas, beside a fish tank in Dubai. ‘That photo was taken by Nicholas Hoult. Hideous namedrop there.’

Thomas has just got back from shooting Wonder Woman 1984 in Spain. ‘She is third assistant director already, at only 25, on a $125 to $130-million movie,’ he says, proudly. Does she want to be a director? ‘Don’t know. She’d like to get into producing. She’s quite enigmatic, my girlfriend, which is probably why I like her.’ They met in 2014 on the set of Kingsman: The Secret Service. ‘I fancied her rotten,’ admits Egerton. ‘Obviously.’

Does Elton come on set? ‘He comes in and out. David [Furnish] is in more. Emily and I spent a few nights at his house.’ The words are tumbling out – Egerton is so excited he can’t stop. ‘I sat by his lake and read his diaries from the 1970s. He gave me his first-ever diamond earrings, which I’m wearing in the film.’ He takes a breath. ‘It’s the happiest, professionally, that I’ve ever been.’

Egerton’s long-term collaborator Vaughn is also a producer on Rocketman. They are rarely parted: as well as the Kingsman films, they made Eddie the Eagle together too, another huge break for Egerton, who played the underdog 1980s British ski-jumper to perfection. ‘Matthew, he does my f—ing head in!’ he blurts out. ‘Yes, I will reluctantly say I love him with every fibre of me. He and I have spent the best part of the last five years together and I will never escape the feeling that I owe him everything, because I do.’

Beer number two – a Schiehallion – is ordered, along with one for me. ‘Try one! You will NOT regret it, these are delicious,’ urges Egerton. ‘It’s Scots and it’s made on the mountain.’ He is Celtic too, in part. His granny was Welsh, his parents from Liverpool. ‘My mum and dad separated when I was three,’ he says.

He tries to make light of it, putting on a self-mocking professorial voice as he adds: ‘That, of course, is for any child unpleasant but I don’t believe acutely detrimental to a child’s upbringing.’ Was it a happy childhood? He snaps back to his usual blokey sincerity, ‘the best’.

Egerton grew up on the isle of Anglesey, where his mother Christine studied for a first-class honours degree in psychology while raising him single-handedly. She worked as a social worker. He was an only child, and they were devoted to one another. ‘She’s a really amazing person,’ he says.

‘When you spend so many years, just a mother and son alone going through funny times and difficulty paying the rent, you become very, very close. I’d be lost without her. I have a good relationship with my dad, too.’

When he was 19 his mother ‘started again’ with his stepdad and he now has two half-sisters, aged five and eight. ‘We never had any money when I was growing up, but I never wanted for anything,’ he says. ‘It was very normal. I had a PlayStation 2 when I was 11, we’re not talking poverty here.’

When he was 12 they moved to Aberystwyth to be with his maternal granny, who had motor neurone disease and was dying. He now does his bit as an ambassador of the MND Association. ‘I had my share of pre-teen anxieties, I didn’t know anyone and I had a few years of feeling quite isolated,’ he says. ‘But then around 15 I made a group of school friends and you could not wish for better friends. They’re my boys, they give me a compass.

‘We meet up about every six weeks, go to gigs. Emily loves it. We travel back a lot in a camper van. When I drive along the M4 my shoulders just relax, I have a sense of peace and home.’

At his comprehensive school he sang in choir and musicals and when he decided to audition for drama schools in London, the whole family chipped in. ‘They cost 50 quid each, and my dad paid for one, and my mum paid for one and my auntie paid for one. I stayed with my stepdad at a youth hostel in Piccadilly and my mum got us tickets for Spamalot.’ His years at Rada were supported by the Academy’s network of private benefactors.

‘Our joint income in my family was less than £30K, which makes you very eligible for all sorts of things,’ says Egerton. ‘I could never have afforded Rada if it weren’t for the thousands and thousands they gave me in grant money.’ In response to the often bandied about idea that only the privileged (Etonian Eddie Redmayne and Harrovian Benedict Cumberbatch) are now rising to the top of the acting profession, he retorts: ‘I don’t see it. I see a lot of exciting working-class actors doing really great work and doing really well.’

This brings us back to Robin Hood (spoiler: he robs from the rich to give to the poor). Is he himself politicised? ‘I have political leanings but I try to keep them out, particularly of a Robin Hood movie.’ He plays down its radical angle. ‘I think we live in a world of widening wealth gaps, look around us’ – we are at his favourite café, Bluebird, in the newly regenerated White City area – ‘it is becoming so hard for people who aren’t earning above average to stay here. And that’s happening across the world and our story taps into that.’

As Robin, he looks sharp in an anachronistic leather coat; as Elton, he rocks out-there 1970s psychedelia costumes, from golden boots to firebird wings. ‘I’ll happily wear hotpants and nothing else when it’s a character. I’m not ashamed of my body, I’ll happily be naked. It’s just when I’m me I don’t feel comfortable in high fashion. I’m a bit of a country bumpkin, I like shorts, jumper, nice pair of flip-flops.’

Like any actor with a franchise to carry, he has to work on his body. He refers to the dieting for Kingsman as ‘hell’. ‘The bit I find horrific is not being able to eat. The training I love, always have, always will. Cardio just makes me feel great afterwards. I’ve already been today.

‘But it’s hell when I’m doing Kingsman because I love food for comfort, and beer for socialising and I can’t do that at all. Those guys like Hugh Jackman and Chris Evans, who do it professionally year-round, they don’t eat. They have days when they’re just on chicken and veg.’ It is, he insists, not worth it to him. He says he put months into honing his body for a topless scene in Robin Hood, ‘which was reshot later after I’d put on 10 kilos! Gutted.’

It seems to me as our interview draws to a close that there is far more going on in Egerton’s head than carbs, so I bring up the subject of the Billionaire Boys Club, a crime drama set in LA, which tanked this year, buried by an opening box office taking of $126. Filmed just before the allegations of Kevin Spacey’s sexual predation on young men, it has the dubious distinction of being Spacey’s ‘last film’.

‘Oh God, yup. I’ll happily talk to you about that,’ says Egerton, before pausing  to collect his thoughts. ‘In some respects the movie didn’t turn out as strong as it could have done. That’s me being totally candid. There was a lot of jargon about investments and figures. An audience doesn’t go to the cinema for that, they go for character arc.

‘It didn’t quite come together in the way it should have. Which is really disappointing and horrible for all the talented people who worked on that film.

‘And then there was Kevin Spacey’s involvement,’ he continues. ‘He was never inappropriate with me. There’s a fine line, though, isn’t there, between someone being an audacious flirt and being predatory? I thought he was the former. But it’s sad that his professional demise threw such a shadow over our film.’

Does he know anyone affected by Spacey’s alleged predation? ‘No. On the surface level, he’s flirty. He is not my first experience of a flirty older bloke. Even from the age of 17 or 18, I’ve experienced that and I’ve never felt threatened by that, although he [Spacey] obviously has made some people feel threatened, and that’s unacceptable.’

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