Taron Egerton doesn't seem to know that he's a celebrity. Even when Egerton tells a story about meeting Leonardo DiCaprio while drunk at the BAFTAs, he tells it as if he was just a fan who got lucky. "It’s really embarrassing... I did gush over him quite a lot. I think I got him on FaceTime to my best friend as well," he says to me over the phone between taped media engagements on a Monday morning. "He was very decent about it, because he’s a very lovely guy, but he would have been well within his right to tell me to get lost."
At only 27-years-old, Egerton has had a career that's allowed him to star in films alongside the likes of Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, Hugh Jackman, Alicia Vikander, Halle Berry, and Reese Witherspoon — and yet there are still more people who will go "who?" and "oh, the guy from Kingsman?" than who actually know his name. The reason for that seems to be fairly simple: whatever you think of when you think of "Young Hollywood," Egerton ain't it. What's more, he is actively trying not to be.
"I’m not someone who courts celebrity. I’m just not hanging out at those cool, scene places where you get papped and things, I suppose," he says, seemingly unaware of how that directly contrasts with our other conversations about receiving Christmas gifts from Colin Firth, gazing longingly at Pedro Pascal on a press tour, and losing out on the Rising Star BAFTA to "the brilliant John Boyega."
From anyone else, this complete lack of self-awareness would be calculated, grating, or even downright ludicrous. But from Egerton, whose career is only four years old and who still considers himself "lucky" to have been as busy as he has been these last few years, the contrast between the incredible life he lives and his seemingly nonchalant reaction to it all is fascinating, even charming.
Despite his assessments, luck only seems to have gotten him so far, with talent making up the rest. After graduating in 2012 from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art — which also produced graduates like Anthony Hopkins, Tom Hiddleston, and Alan Rickman, Egerton's first TV role was as Liam Jay in two 2013 episodes of the British detective drama Inspector Lewis. He was a relative, and perhaps lucky (there's that word again), newcomer when he was cast in Kingsman: The Secret Service by Matthew Vaughn, alongside heavy hitters like Colin Firth, Mark Strong, Michael Caine, and Samuel L. Jackson.
But even the most critical reviews praised Egerton's performance in the movie as one of its highest points, with New York Times writer Manohla Dargis calling him "charming," Boston Globe writer Tom Russo praising his "eye-opening charisma," and the Chicago Tribune's Michael Phillips noting that Egerton was "engaging" in a review that ultimately gave the film one and a half stars. From Kingsman, Egerton would go on to star in Legend alongside Tom Hardy, Eddie the Eagle alongside Hugh Jackman, and Sing alongside an ensemble cast of voice actors from Reese Witherspoon to Matthew McConaughey, before returning for the Kingsman sequel, which just hit theaters. Soon, you'll see him leading Robin Hood and starring in Billionaire Boys Club alongside Ansel Elgort and Kevin Spacey.
His resume of films and co-stars is any actor's dream, and his private life is free of any of the kinds of scandals or party lifestyle traps that have befallen many of his peers. But Egerton hasn't discovered "the secret" to keeping a cool head in Hollywood. He doesn't seem to notice that he's doing anything special at all.
"It’s a very nice thing of you to say," he says when I point out how well he's doing on that front. "I don’t know... I try and let my work speak for myself and try and be selective about things." But, if he had to pick something that helps him keep his focus, then, for him, "the key is trying to pick projects that feel like they have creative integrity and they’re good for you and not for someone else."
The Welsh actor was born in Cheshire, England, but moved to the infamous Welsh village of Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch (no, that's not a typo; the famously difficult to pronounce village name is often shortened to Llanfairpwllgwyngyll, Llanfair Pwllgwyngyll, or Llanfair PG and holds the record for the U.K.'s longest place name) on the island of Anglesey for primary school. He considers himself to be Welsh and damn proud of it, speaking the language and devoting time to charity work around his beloved neighborhood of Aberystwyth when he can. Specifically, Egerton is an ambassador for the Motor Neurone Disease Association (and, in fact, lost his grandmother to the illness) and does events for them whenever he can fit it into his schedule. He personally held a screening of Kingsman in the Aberystwyth Arts Centre in February 2015, with all proceeds going to the MND Association, and did the same with Eddie The Eagle in April 2016. In between promoting his films, his tweets elevate and support the MDM Association's programs.
But, again, when asked about it, Egerton deflects. "I wouldn’t claim to be someone who does [charity work] to an enormous extent. There are some actors who very nobly use their platform and commit a lot of their time to charity work... but it’s only something that I do annually," he says. "I normally do local events at home for it, because it’s a way of sharing what I do with the local community that I’m from, and, at the same time, raise money for local sufferers of the disease... [But] I’d like to do more in the future."
And therein lies the paradox of Taron Egerton. The actor is correct in saying that he doesn't particularly go searching for fame; when he's not on press tours, Egerton is usually a ghost. Aside from Twitter, he has no other social media. He has a girlfriend he was reportedly photographed with in January 2017 — but not again since. His mother and sister feature heavily in the quick Snapchat videos that he posts to his Twitter, usually of himself singing in the car with them, but the names of his siblings aren't easily Google-able. Sure, some of this could be a byproduct of a relatively low-key, fairly new career, but it's clear from talking to him that Egerton may never be the kind of actor whose every move is tracked in tabloid headlines and fan pages.
"Falling into the party lifestyle... [is] not something that I have done and it’s not something that massively appeals to me, so I guess I’m lucky in that sense," he says of young actors' tendency to be associated, fairly or otherwise, with wild parties and even wilder scandals. "And in terms of press and making the right decisions and things, that’s pretty instinctual. I feel like I’ve got an instinct for that kind of thing. And I’m just not living that lifestyle.... That’s not what I do."
Coming from the same man who told the Guardian in 2015 that he had been to Los Angeles twice but had never been to Hollywood, without, as writer Jessica Barrett noted, seeming to notice that "they're sort of the same thing," this paradox is understandable. Acceptable. Bewildering, certainly, but unsurprising.
This becomes even more true when Egerton reveals exactly why he's such a big fan of Leonardo DiCaprio that he would embarrass himself in front of the man at that BAFTAs after party. "I think he is somebody who takes incredible work, works with great people, conducts himself with real dignity, and is a very kind person," Egerton gushes. "Obviously, I’m not him and I’m enjoying being me. But I think if you’re going to aspire to be really great at what you do, which is what I’d like to be, he’s a great role model."
The fact that Egerton has already achieved all four of those feats — doing incredible work, with great people, while conducting himself with great dignity, and being, by all accounts, a kind person — is, of course, lost on him. But he's transformed his lack of self-awareness into his greatest strength as an actor and as a person, and that's exactly what makes it fascinating to see what he'll do next.