Tetris creators call Taron Egerton Apple TV+ movie a 'thriller on steroids'

“I had never heard of the story before at all so when I read the script the first thing I thought was, is this actually true?” director Jon S. Baird said

·6 min read

Tetris can easily be categorized as one of the most popular and timeless games of all time and now a new Apple TV+ movie, starring Taron Egerton, reveals the almost unbelievable story about how the game went from one man's computer in the Soviet Union, to devices all over the world.

Before Henk Rogers and Alexey Pajitnov became co-founders of The Tetris Company, the game was just something invented by computer engineer Pajitnov, just using a set of bracket signs on a computer. The movie Tetris starts off by introducing us to Rogers, who first saw Tetris in 1988 at the Las Vegas Consumer Electronics Show, and was instantly taken by how simple but addictive the game was. He then started off on a journey to secure the rights to the game, at all costs.

Rogers borrowed US$2 million to produce the video game cartridge, putting his in-law's home up as collateral. But while Rogers believed he had the Japanese console rights to the game, that wasn't the case in the eyes of the Soviet Union-owned ELORG company. Rogers then had to make his way to the Soviet Union, on a tourist visa, in a dangerous attempt to get rights to the game.

“It's absolutely a totally new experience for me and a totally new set of feelings,” Pajitnov told Yahoo Canada. “This is really great and I'm very proud, not for myself but for my baby, for my game.”

“I just never expected by reading the script that it would be that dramatic of a thriller on steroids,” Rogers added.

One thing that comes through so strongly in the film is Rogers' determination to get what he wanted, despite the very real risks.

“I would say it's about 20 per cent naivety and 80 per cent determination,” Rogers said. “It's kind of how I am and the naivety helps me end up in places that I wouldn't get to, if I knew what I was doing.”

For Pajitnov he highlighted that meeting Rogers was a very important moment for both him personally and the game.

“All of a sudden, I saw the first human face at that table, not the bureaucrat, not the con artist [that] tried to get something really quick and ran away, but my real colleague," Pajitnov said.

Taron Egerton and Nikita Efremov in
Taron Egerton and Nikita Efremov in "Tetris," premiering March 31, 2023 on Apple TV+.

'The biggest challenge of my career to date'

For Tetris director Jon S. Baird, he wanted the audience to feel exactly how he felt reading the script, having fun but also learning so much.

“I think I'm always drawn to things based on reality, real life, real life people,” Baird said. “I had never heard of the story before at all so when I read the script the first thing I thought was, is this actually true?”

“I felt nostalgic for the 1980s, for the music scene and the politics. I'm a politics graduate so I have a real interest in that. … It really ticked all the boxes for me."

The director also categorized part of this project as one of the biggest challenges of his career, and that was balancing the friendship between Rogers and Pajitnov (played by Nikita Efremov), under bizarre circumstances, with the compelling story of Soviet Union operations at that time.

“That was the constant battle the whole time,” Baird said. “When it comes down to what you're trying to do as a director, you're making sure all your departments and all your actors are making ... one movie.”

“That, in this case, was the biggest challenge of my career to date because it could have gotten to a place where things didn't quite fit in. It's quite a good analogy for the Tetris blocks.”

While the craziness of the Tetris story really draws you in, the story can seem a bit convoluted at times, with so many twists and turns. But there is absolutely no denying Egerton's infectious energy as Rogers, assisted by the brilliantly nostalgic score and the endearing 1980s video game animations.

“He’s an actor who has had success at an early age and sometimes that can spoil you, but it's not happening to him,” Baird said about Egerton. “He's coming out for all the right reasons.”

“Some of the most fun times you have on set is when an actor asks you to justify why they should be doing things a certain way. … I think it's just his best performance, because he's shown another range of his acting ability.”

AUSTIN, TEXAS - MARCH 15: Henk Rogers, Taron Egerton, Alexey Pajitnov attend the
AUSTIN, TEXAS - MARCH 15: Henk Rogers, Taron Egerton, Alexey Pajitnov attend the "Tetris" world premiere at 2023 SXSW Conference and Festivals at The Paramount Theatre on March 15, 2023 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for SXSW)

What makes Tetris such a great game?

So what is it about Tetris that has enabled the game to really stand the test of time? For Rogers, it really comes down to its simplicity and the concept of "creating order out of chaos."

“It's super easy to understand what's going on, from the time that you touch the machine,” Rogers explained. “After your first game, you pretty much know how to play the game.”

“The second thing is that you are creating order out of chaos. So if you just let it go, it will make a big mess, and your power is to make the decisions that actually clean up the falling blocks. … If you look at the universe, the universe is chaos, and life is order. ... Tetris is kind of like that. We're creating life instead of chaos.”

“It's something really magical, those very simple squares which appear, and people immediately get attached to it because it's so familiar and so easy,” Pajitnov added. “It’s so kind of addictive and attractive to make it work.”

“It always encourages you to improve yourself and that's an important feature of the game as well.”

For Rogers, he says he doesn't find too much time to play games anymore, but he does play Wordle with his friends, and Scrabble. Pajitnov finds himself gravitating towards puzzle games, like the Bejeweled-type games.

Having created Tetris decades ago, the game has been refreshed as technology advanced beyond the 1980s, but Pajitnov still thinks Tetris is perfect the way it is.

“I would kill somebody who tried to even touch it,” Pajitnov said. “It is wonderful as it is.”