Taron Egerton is saving the world.
As movies debuts go, that’s not a bad way to meet the world. In Kingsman: The Secret Service (rated R, out Feb. 13), Egerton jumps out of planes and scales walls amid a blaze of triumphant fireworks as Gary ‘Eggsy” Unwin, a street-smart teen who becomes the unlikely protege of Colin Firth’s sophisticated secret agent Harry Hart. Though the spectactular stunt work required for director Matthew Vaughn’s irreverent spy flick was intense—“I took a massive hit to the face with a machine gun,” Eegerton recalls—what really challenged the 25-year-old was the flexing of an entirely different muscle.
“The accent was terribly difficult to perfect,” admits the Welsh actor, who watched hours of English soaps as research for his character’s inner-London working-class dialect. But he was thrilled to undergo a transformation that called for more than mere weight training—though he did that, too. “I desperately want to stretch as much as possible,” he says. ” I have absolutely no interest in playing the young male lead around which a story happens.”
That’s because Egerton never imagined he’d end up an actor. Instead, he fantasized about working in animation and filled pages with sketches based on his favorite cartoons. “I found them enchanting,” he says. “I figured animation was my calling.” It wasn’t until his first play, when he appeared as a cross-dresser in a local production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, that he was convinced otherwise. “I caught the acting bug in a cocktail dres,” Egerton says. “Being 15, I was so self-conscious, but I remember stepping on stage, the audience laughing, and thinking ‘Wow, this is what it’s all about.'”
He applied to London’s prestigious Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and, after graduating in 2012, landed a string of supporting roles on stage and TV. While some might call his rise meteoric, Egerton calls it luck. “Vaugh had an idea of what he wanted for the character, and I guess I was the nearest to what he had in mind,” he says, perhaps still in disbelief. “I would have paid for the experience, but they paid me to do it.” (An unexpected bonus? A tutorial in Savile Row suits: “They make you stand up a bit straighter.”)
On set, Egerton gained a mentor in Firth. “When we’d break, I’d nip outside for a cigarette,” recalls Egerton. “And he’d always follow me, despite not smoking himself, and we’d just talk about stuff.” Including how to handle stardom, the idea of which makes Egerton a bit uneasy. But with Firth’s guidance and advice from Vaughn—”He always tells me, ‘Script and director,’ that’s all you have ot go on”—he is well equipped for future projects, which include the gangster biopic Legend and the BBC Films war drama Testament of Youth. He’s also been tapped to star in a biopic about Olympic ski jumper Eddie “The Eagle Edwards,” with Hugh Jackman taking on the role of his coach. And perhaps he’ll find a second mentor in Jackman, whose own multihyphenate status has lead to a deacdes-long career that keeps the industry guessing. “I don’t want to look back at my career and see a string of incredibly commercial projecst that don’t have much heart,” Egerton says. “I’m looking for things that have soul”