Video game adaptations might be having a resurgence, but while The Last of Us and The Super Mario Bros. Movie are all about embracing the source material, Tetris takes a different tact. The new Taron Egerton-led drama doesn’t have an anthropomorphized square in sight, instead focusing on the story behind the addictive game – and it’s all the more wild for it.
Set in the backdrop of the late 1980s, Tetris tells the (mostly) true story of how Henk Rogers’ determination to bring the addictive game global almost cost him everything. After seeing a demonstration of the puzzle game at a Las Vegas trade show, he flies across the world to the USSR to try and buy its rights, working with everyone from Nintendo to the KGB to make it happen.
"I was compelled and delighted by how crazy it is, really," star Egerton tells GamesRadar+ via Zoom from Texas, where the movie had its world premiere at SXSW. "I just found it to be a very fully realized, compelling snapshot of time. Also, the story of this guy who despite all of the reasons not to go to [the USSR], went in pursuit of an unproven game about blocks that fall from the top of the screen to the bottom. I just thought it was zany and fun and kooky and would tap into people's hunger for the nostalgia of the '80s, and also the very broad fanbase of the game."
Tetris certainly has that, with its deceptively simple premise making it into one of the best-selling video games ever created. When GR+ asks Egerton what his connection with the game was, though, he laughingly admits that he feels like he should "sell it up" given our remit.
"I can't claim to be somebody who plays games on a regular basis," he explains. "As a kid, I was much more so but they tended to be more platform games, the big games of my youth were Spyro, Crash, Jak and Daxter, and I played lots of Star Wars games, I’ve always been a big fan of Star Wars. But obviously, the big one from my youth was Pokémon. And when I received Pokémon, I received Tetris at the same time and I have to say it did often lie, dusty and unloved, in a bedside cabinet with very intermittent use. That's my only real experience of the game…"
For a movie about a video game, the Jon S. Baird-directed Tetris has a lot more going on beyond the screen. Yes, there are fantastic animated sequences showing falling Tetriminos dotted throughout, but it’s actually the unlikely partnership between Rogers and the game’s founder Alexey Pajitnov that is the key to how Tetris became a worldwide phenomenon.
"I've done a lot of things where there's a central buddy relationship and if you're lucky, the actor depicting the other role is somebody that wants to hang out with you and you spend time together," Egerton shares of working with Russian actor Nikita Yefremov, who plays Alexey. "Nikita is a lovely, lovely bloke and I enjoy his company very much so you just sort of hang out and have a laugh together really to try to develop an informality."
He adds: "That role is really the spirit and heart of the film, that central relationship between these two guys from very different places. And he's such a good actor, a real actor’s actor. He's very laser-focused and very satisfying to do scene work with because he's a great listener."
But Egerton’s partnership with Yefremov wasn’t the only collaboration central to Tetris. The movie also marks his fifth movie with Matthew Vaughn and MARV Studios, after working together on the Kingsman films, Rocketman, and Eddie the Eagle. It’s also, according to Egerton, a dynamic that’s grown stronger over the years.
"Well, I did read in an interview the other day, and it made me very happy indeed, he said that he now thinks of me as a partner," Egerton smiles. "I presume he doesn't mean romantic, I presume he means creative. That's very flattering because this August it will be 10 years since I first met him and at the time, he was this titanic figure to me. Having made a number of films that were big movies, like his collaborations with Guy Ritchie and also at that time I think when I went to audition for him, it had only been 24 months since I'd seen Kick-Ass in the cinema. And then obviously, Layer Cake, which was a movie I had on DVD and had watched repeatedly."
"So I was a fan of his and was quite intimidated by him," he continues, before adding with a grin: "I'm not now. But it has been a big, very formative relationship in my life and I care about him enormously. We talk all the time, he's many things, Matthew, but he is family to me and I have a very strong relationship with him."
The rumor mill
Egerton’s career has also gone from strength to strength since the first Kingsman film too, with BAFTA nominations and endless critical acclaim for projects like Rocketman and Black Bird. Next up is a third collaboration with Apple on Firebug and a Netflix thriller called Carry-On. Yet, despite all of these confirmed projects, Egerton can’t seem to escape persistent fan-casting rumors, having been linked with everything from superheroes to superspies. While flattering, the actor admits constantly being asked about it can be a bit grating.
"Yes, thanks for asking that," he says when GR+ broaches how he feels about the topic. "It's actually quite frustrating, to be honest. Because, particularly with those roles – and I don't even want to mention them – particularly with those roles that are very universally adored, they're really exciting prospects. But what I find is that I'm kind of damned if I do and I'm damned if I don't. No matter what I say, it gets spun into something that I end up feeling a little bit misrepresented by, or very misrepresented by. So I'm going to try and not talk about it anymore I think."
Taking a beat, he continues: "It's really flattering that some people want me to play those roles but I think the sad fact of it is, I think the more that I get asked about it, the more the chances probably dwindle."
Tetris is available in select cinemas and on Apple TV Plus from March 31.