Interview: Edward Speleers
A chat with the star of Eragon.
October 11, 2006 - IGN attended a roundtable interview last week with newcomer Edward Speleers, the 18-year-old star of 20th Century Fox's forthcoming fantasy epic Eragon. The incredibly modest English actor makes his film debut as the title character in the big-screen adaptation of Christopher Paolini's beloved bestseller.
Eragon follows a poor farm boy (Speleers) who finds a polished blue stone in the wilderness. The stone becomes a dragon hatchling. With that discovery, Eragon finds himself immersed in magic, power and grave danger. Eragon and his dragon Saphira must avoid the evil King's minions as they travel the Empire, with each step of their perilous adventure taking Eragon that much closer to his amazing destiny.
The film also stars Jeremy Irons, John Malkovich, Djimon Hounsou, Robert Carlyle, Sienna Guillory and Garrett Hedlund. Eragon opens December 15.
Q: This film is the first anyone will have heard of you. Tell us a little bit about your background, how you got into acting.
SPELEERS: I never went to stage school or anything like that. It was always plays, productions at school and things like that. The thing for me with acting was it was the only thing I could fully concentrate on. I loved playing sports. I didn't really love studying. [laughs] But acting was one of those things where if I had a rehearsal for four hours, I was quite happy to be there. A lot of my friends that I was acting with after a couple of hours were like, "Can we go now?" But I was happy to be there the whole time and I was happy to pursue it.
Q: Can you tell us about how you got cast as Eragon?
SPELEERS: I think it was a bit of luck dying my hair blond two weeks before the audition, really. My drama teacher put me forward. ... I went up for an audition in Hammersmith and met Stefen Fangmeier, the director, and Wyck Godfrey, the producer. I had a warm vibe coming out of the audition and feeling good about myself but not thinking I was suddenly going to land a role like this. Just happy to get auditioned. And then they said, "Well, we'll send you a script." Great, y'know? That's fine with me. Then they send me along to a second audition. I started to think in my mind, "Well, this is exciting." Again, I didn't expect anything to happen. I had to wait and was biting my nails for about ten days. The next thing I know my dad phones me to say, "You've got the part."
Q: Have you heard that after the people at Fox saw your DVD, it took them all of a half-hour to pick you after months of looking at hundreds of other people?
SPELEERS: I've heard similar things but I'm going to be modest. No, I hadn't. [laughs]
Q: What was on that DVD you're said to have made as an audition? Had you done commercials or anything?
SPELEERS: No, not even that. I've seen the audition tape because when I got to Hungary my acting coach showed it to me to say, "This is what you do and what you don't do." My audition tape was, "This is what you don't do." And I saw a couple of other auditions and I was the only one who held his script. My script was in the audition so maybe that was the key. [laughs] I just had a couple of scenes to do from the movie in the original audition. In the second audition I had to go and actually put some effort in and learn the lines. That was it really. There was nothing [on the DVD] from school performances or anything like that. I hadn't done commercials, television or anything. This is it. This is the first professional job.
Q: So they had to train you? Like in sword-fighting, dragon riding.
SPELEERS: We couldn't track any dragons down. About three weeks before production, they had me an hour in the gym every morning, two hours sword-fighting, two hours on a horse, two hours archery then three hours of acting classes every day. ... I actually loved it because it was a new experience to me. I've ridden horses before but not to that extent. The sword work – now, in my own time, I wield a samurai sword in my garden. I'm constantly learning new tricks in preparation for [a sequel] if we get there, y'know? Thinking ahead.
Q: Did you immediately go out upon getting the job and get the novel to read?
SPELEERS: I'd read the novel already. It was going around my school so I picked it up. So when I heard about the film I was, "Okay, cool." Enjoyed the book.
Q: How close is the script to the book?
SPELEERS: Well, it's got everything that the book needs. What you feel after reading the book you'll feel after seeing the movie, I think. Obviously, like any movie of any book, if you were to film every page of that book, we'd be watching the movie for four days. So things have got to change slightly but the essence of the story is there and everything that's important in the story is there and the characters. It's all there. Christopher Paolini's seen a couple of things from it and I've spoken to him about it. He's got a good vibe going and I have a positive vibe about it. I'm somebody who is very conscious about when you read a book and you translate it onto film and about the differences. And although I haven't seen much of the movie, from what we made of it I'm a happy bunny.
Q: What was important to you to keep true about the character?
SPELEERS: Well, the whole essence. It's mainly about the whole learning curve, the coming-of-age basically. Portraying this character who is sort of caught in this stage between manhood and boyhood, sort of in that no man's land. But I had to try and convey that with the added pressure of becoming a dragon rider, which doesn't happen to many people. For me, I just have to keep it nice and natural and keep him as the earthy character that he is. Take him from that transition of being a naive, vulnerable, wide-eyed character to being somebody heroic.
Q: When did you first see footage of yourself with the dragon? Was it at all during filming so you could make adjustments or was it only after filming?
SPELEERS: Finished pictures of the dragon? Only after. I've seen a few things. I haven't seen much. But with developing the dragon, I tried to – you have to remember, I was performing against an orange tennis ball most of the time, which is fine. To start with it is tricky but once I found a way of picturing Saphira – I've actually since spoken to Christopher about this again and explained how I imagined Saphira myself to act with. He said, "That's exactly how you should imagine it."
Q: Your actual relationship with Jeremy Irons mirrors your characters' relationship in this film. He took you under his wing and mentored you a bit?
SPELEERS: I don't know if that's him being a Method actor. [laughs] No, he's one of the most amazing people I've ever met, seriously. He was my mentor onscreen and off-screen. He made me a better person, I think. He made me a better actor, I hope. He tried to develop certain skills for me. He had lots of great advice and great things to say to me. He was just there for me the whole time. He's that sort of guy.
Q: What was the best advice he gave you about acting?
SPELEERS: He said always be yourself and basically don't let anybody push you around. But he also made it clear to me: keep training. He gave me things to do next. Look at certain types of movies, what to look for in a script and also training. He mentioned a lot about training, which I've taken serious consideration in and that's my next plan.
Q: You mentioned having conversations with the author. How many did you have and how in-depth were they?
SPELEERS: Well, they've only been post-production. We've only just been able to make contact with each other. The first conversation we held [was] about two months ago after I got back from Vancouver. It was only supposed to be a five-minute hello and we were on the phone for about an hour and a half. Waffling away about nothing really. That was the first meeting kind of thing. Then we've been e-mailing each other since then. Then we had the opportunity to actually meet in New York just before the Toronto Film Festival. So just a couple of weeks ago. Met him there and had a photo shoot. He started giving advice about how to prepare yourself, how to address the fans. All this kind of stuff. I spoke about the movie and he asked me certain questions. For example, about Saphira and I told him I tried to imagine the dragon as a sort of mixture between my best friend and my mum. And he said that's exactly what it is. To hear him say that made me feel, obviously, naturally good.
Q: What did your mom say about that?
SPELEERS: Well, she's not going to find out until you guys actually print that. [laughs]
Q: Are you prepared for the eventual celebrity that's going to be thrust upon you when this movie opens?
SPELEERS: If it's thrust upon me then I don't know how you can prepare yourself for that. ... The thing about all this celebrity fame nonsense to me is, at the end of day, I want to be an actor and I want to pursue my acting career. If fame comes along with that, that's great. But my job isn't about pursuing fame and then becoming an actor. It's about becoming an actor and if fame follows suit that's fine.
Q: What was the biggest shock for you in making your first feature film?
SPELEERS: How bloody slow it was. Tell you what, I'm used to being on the stage. An hour and a half. Bang-bang-bang. Ten hours into the shoot you've got two lines done. But at the same time it's something I've learned to appreciate. That's fine. It was bizarre to start with but then I had a great cast and crew around to make sure I didn't get too stressed out about it. I kept fresh and still had energy throughout the day.
Q: What were the toughest and easiest parts of making this film?
SPELEERS: Well, there were no easy bits, I don't think. A lot of it was enjoyable. Some of the toughest stuff was some of the most rewarding stuff. Some of the scenes with the dragon were obviously tricky, and there's a few brief scenes near the end of the movie – I don't know how they're going to come across – but they were some of the most difficult to film because they were hugely emotional scenes. And hugely emotional with nothing is sometimes tricky but at the same time they were, in my mind, rewarding. We'll see what happens in December with that.
Q: How long was the shoot?
SPELEERS: Well, on and off [for] about a year. We spent four months in Hungary and Slovakia last summer and then we had a little break. Then we went to Pinewood Studios to do the dragon riding sequences and that took about eight weeks. Then we had a tiny break and then went to Vancouver for a month.
Q: Are you signed up for sequels?
SPELEERS: I am signed up but I can obviously be kicked off. [laughs]
Q: So you're signed for two films?
SPELEERS: For the next two, yeah. Then we have to make Christopher write some more.
Q: Have they mapped out when they would like to start filming the sequels?
SPELEERS: No, but I'm kind of always the last to find out. We'll see what happens December 15th through the 19th. I guess if we have a good weekend, we might have a few more answers [then]. I'd love to keep doing this trilogy and I love playing the character so hopefully we'll be doing it sometime soon