Pinning down newcomer Taron Egerton takes a few attempts because his trainer keeps pulling him into workout sessions. “I got fat,” says the 24-year-old Welsh actor with playful aplomb. “As soon as filming wrapped, the beers started to show.” The role in question is a lead in the upcoming comic-book-to-screen blockbuster Kingsman: The Secret Service, directed by Matthew Vaughn. Egerton slipped into the role of Eggsy, a thrill-seeking street kid who becomes the unlikely protégé of spymaster Harry Hart, played by Colin Firth. “I’m competing for a position in the Kingsman agency, but one of the ways they whittle down the candidates is by putting them through these life-threatening trials,” explains Egerton, who embarked on weight, weapons, and fight training for the movie’s Bond-like stunts. “I hit myself in the face with a machine gun at one point, and my foot got infected from having to film an underwater scene in a tank. I felt like a real competition winner for a while.” Egerton auditioned for the film at the director’s house while Vaughn’s wife, Claudia Schiffer, offered to make him a sandwich (“It was really surreal”), and while filming, he got to practice script lines in a pub with his acting hero Firth.
These extraordinary moments aside, Egerton says he still misses his hometown in mid Wales, where he grew up drawing and sculpting, and imagined that he’d up in animation. “I loved DreamWorks and Pixar, and I still love kids’ films—I’m going to see How to Train Your Dragon 2 tonight.” It wasn’t until friends talked him into joining a youth theater at 16 (“I was a bit of a class clown, and they thought it better to channel those talents for good”) that fate intervened and eventually saw him attend London’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, which led to a string of small TV and stage roles. Next up is a sidekick part opposite Tom Hardy in the ’60s true-crime thriller Legend, in which Egerton got to watch Hardy portray U.K.’s notorious Kray twins. Has his growing list of Hollywood mentors provided him with indispensable industry advice? “They’re kind of hesitant to give any because they want to make you feel comfortable, like you’re on an equal footing,” he says. “But it’s enough watching them in action.”