It's one of the most popular video games of all time, but there are no characters and no real storyline to Tetris. So how do you make a Tetris movie? Producer Matthew Vaughn and director Jon S. Baird have figured it out. The result is Tetris, a movie spanning continents that's a Cold War thriller with double-crossing villains as a battle ensues for the legal rights to the game.
FILMHOUNDS sat down with the film's star Taron Egerton who plays Henk Rogers, director Jon S. Baird as well as the real-life Henk Rogers, the entrepreneur that popularised the game and Alexey Pajitnov, the creator of the Tetris game to find out more about the new Tetris film.
Between films like Eddie the Eagle, Rocketman, and now Tetris, you've played a number of real people, how do you approach playing a character that's based on a real person as opposed to a completely fictional character?
Taron Egerton: Well, I have quite specific feelings about depicting real people and I think quite often the narrative that surrounds how actors portray real people is all about them trying to get as far away from themselves as is possible to kind of almost channel another person. And I don't really feel that's possible. I think that you can only ever play yourself really through the filter of somebody else, and you can dial up character traits and dial down character traits, but it's always a version of you, albeit with a different voice or a different way of moving or whatever.
So for me, it's normally about trying to find commonality with that person and try and engage empathetically with their story and what's on the page and I think about things like where their voice sits in their body and the register of their voice, how they move, how they relate to other people. Whether they are a more extraverted or forthright person or perhaps more reserved or shy and that obviously changes depending on the situation they're in. It's kind of all about thinking of specific scenes and the circumstances of that scene, and trying to connect imaginatively with what it would be like to be that person. I'd love to claim something more mystical and complicated than that but it's that simple really.
What was it liking filming in Scotland and having that double for the Soviet Union as they're very different places?
TE: They are different places but there's something- I mean, I really love Glasgow. I had a great time there although the world was shut down, but even just walking around the city at the time, in the dead of winter, it's got such atmosphere. But there are bits of Glasgow that are quite austere and quite grey and a little bit brutalist which kind of doubles very well for Moscow. But I had a great time shooting there. I have a real love for Scotland.
From time to time, I head up there with friends and do hill walking and camping and things. It's a great place full of great people, and coming from Wales, there's a bit of a sense of kinship between those two countries. So yeah, it was great, and I think it looks great in the movie.
When you hear there's a Tetris movie, people's minds immediately jump to video game films like Sonic the Hedgehog and the upcoming Mario film that literally turn the game into the film. How did you approach finding an interesting angle and wanting to tell this story of the Tetris rights battle and making this a different sort of video game film?
Jon S. Baird: It was one of the things that attracted me to it because it wasn't like that. My background is in politics and international relations, that was what I studied, and I know from the script and the first draft that I read of it, it was very clear that this was the backdrop and the setting to it. That was really the hook for me to come in. If I'm honest, it could have been about any computer game, it was just so thrilling when I read it. The rights and the clamour for the rights for the game, set against the Cold War era. A fast paced, high stakes thriller on steroids really, that's what it was and that's how it read. So that was really the thing that attracted me into it as opposed to anything to do with the computer gaming side of it.
Why do you think now's the right time for this movie? Why hasn't there already been a Tetris movie about this story?
JSB: You know what, I would love to know the answer to that! It's funny, my last movie was about Laurel and Hardy, a very different type of movie and I felt the same about that when I was doing it. It was a true story and I thought ‘why has this story never been done? I feel really blessed to have this opportunity'. If you speak to Noah [Pink], the writer, I think there were various versions of this tale that nearly got made by three or four different producers that had this script.
I think it had been in the works for quite a long time. It just never had the right chemistry for it to be made, and sometimes that happens. And it just so happened that Matthew Vaughn who's a producer and Len Blavatnik who's one of the financers came together and it just moved really quickly and came together really quickly. So I think I was just fortunate being there at the right time because it could have been made 10 years before.
I think now is an interesting time for this movie to be seen because of this horrendous situation in Ukraine. I think it has sharpened people's minds to what it was like back in the Cold War and how dangerous it was for somebody like Henk to risk everything and go to the other side of the world and try and get this. And I think now, when you see what east-west relations are like now, for those of us who were around then, it reminds us how dangerous it was back then. And for those who weren't around then, it sort of educates them to say ‘this is what it was like'. And maybe three or four years ago, or even two years ago, before this horrendous conflict in Ukraine, people wouldn't have appreciated how different these geopolitical structures were and how dangerous it was. So, yeah, it's interesting that the politics now has changed so much that it looks like what it did back then.
Everyone knows Tetris, everyone's played it, but not everyone knows this story of the legal battle to secure the rights and the story of what happened to you two. How does it feel to have the world about to find out more about how Tetris got onto everyone's screens around the world.
Henk Rogers: I think it's amazing, that's the great thing. Most of the games you play, you don't know their origin story. Where do games come from? How do they go from an idea to being developed to being published and all that. This is the first glimpse that people actually get at this kind of a story. There are many other games that have that kind of story but who's going to know?
Alexey Pajitnov: I think that the movie maker did a really great job to take the sharpest moment, with the peak and the most important part of the Tetris story, because that was the most important moment and they picture it perfectly.
Do you have a favourite Tetris piece?
AP: Mine is the J
HR: J? Why J?
AP: I don't know, I'm left-handed so basically I need to take care of the right side of the field so J is really helpful for that.
HR: Wow. Mine is the I piece because you know, single level Tetris, bang!
AP: Yeah, well, everybody loves this one, so basically J is more important than I. I is dedicated to be important, so mine is J.
Tetris is available in select cinemas and on Apple TV+ from March 31st.