When the first trailer for Apple TV+ film Tetris was released, someone in the Supanova office said, “Not at all what I was expecting when I heard someone was making a ‘Tetris movie’…”
The unbelievable story of the game’s origin – how it was discovered by Henk Rogers (portrayed by Taron Egerton in the film) in 1988, who literally risked his life travelling to the Soviet Union, where he joined forces with inventor Alexey Pajitnov (Nikita Efremov) to bring the game to the masses – has been turned into a “Cold War–era thriller on steroids” by director Jon S. Baird.
“When I put [the script] down, I was like, ‘Is that really true? Wow… that is crazy,’” Baird tells Supanova ahead of the film’s release. It’s surprising that the intense story behind one of the world’s most popular video games hasn’t been told in such a way yet; even the Scottish filmmaker is at a loss for words as to why he gets to bring this story to the world.
“I just kind of feel as though I’ve lucked out, really, because there were variations of this film that people tried to make over the past 10 years,” he says. “I was just lucky that I was working with Matthew [Vaughn], who’s our producer on something else, and this script landed on his desk.
“He’s a big fan of the ‘80s, I’m a big fan of the ‘80s and its politics, and it was like a perfect storm that came around. I think this story was always going to be told, but it had just slipped through the cracks for various different reasons, and I was just the fortunate one to be there at the right time. I feel very lucky.”
Tetris isn’t just about a game. In fact, there are times in the film when the game itself fades into the background. It’s the friendship between Rogers and Pajitnov that anchors the film, so it’s understandable they had some reservations when Hollywood came knocking. Pajitnov was worried the film would subvert the reality of their story in favour of action fabricated for the screen.
Rogers adds: “My concern always was that the adventure – the first 10 days in Moscow – was an amazingly exciting, impossible mission, and I didn’t want that to be lost in the Hollywood-ness of the movie.
“And it didn’t – it was actually captured very well. That was what worried me the most. ‘It’s a great story; I hope somebody doesn’t screw it up.’ And they totally didn’t, so I’m thrilled.”
During the Tetris press junket around its world premiere at SXSW, the duo, who founded The Tetris Company in the ‘90s, bounce off each other and chuckle when talking about the film, the game and their friendship, which is seemingly stronger than ever.
“Friendship transcends political systems,” Rogers enthuses. “It transcends everything; the whole Soviet Union, the whole US, the Cold War and all that, that can all go take a hike, because we’re friends.”
And that’s exactly what star Taron Egerton finds most appealing about Tetris. The Kingsman actor seems more comfortable dissecting what he finds most intriguing about Rogers and Pajitnov, rather than the politics around the game – or even the game itself.
Egerton tells Supanova he didn’t actually meet them in person until last year during reshoots for the film. Given Tetris was shot at the end of 2020, “when it was still very much COVID land”, his only interactions early on were a couple of Zoom chats with Rogers.
“I suppose the thing that’s most interesting about them is they are… I don’t know if polar-opposite is right, but they’re from very different worlds with very different ideologies,” Egerton muses.
“There’s something very charming about how they connected and formed a very strong friendship over something that’s inherently quite child-like, and they both become quite child-like around one another.
“Any doubts about the validity of that friendship are assuaged by the fact that they still are very, very close and still work and spend time together. And being the hopeless, sentimental romantic that I am, I find that appealing and charming, and I really like that central relationship in the film.”
Tetris premieres globally on Friday, 31 March 2023, exclusively on Apple TV+
Lead image: Taron Egerton as Henk Rogers, Sofia Lebedeva as Sasha and Nikita Efremov as Alexey Pajitnov in ‘Tetris’