Apple TV+’s spy-thriller “Tetris” delves into the incredible true story behind the creation of the iconic strategy game.
The film depicts the risk-taking and cunning actions of Dutch-born entrepreneur Henk Rogers, played by Taron Egerton, who during the Cold War era meets the creator of “Tetris,” Alexey Pajitnov, before outfoxing the KGB and turning “Tetris” into the worldwide sensation it is today.
Tetris CEO and Henk’s daughter, Maya Rogers, spoke with NextShark ahead of the global premiere to share how the film is about bridging cultures and bringing people together.
Maya says the film was a seven-year process, but the pieces started to fall into place thanks to producer Matthew Vaugh, director of the “Kingsman” spy franchise. From there, other elements came together brick by brick: a director was found in BAFTA winner Jon S. Baird and a cast was assembled.
Filming, however, took place from December 2020 to January 2021, when the world was shut down due to the pandemic.
“We weren’t even allowed to go to the filming location in Scotland. We had to go through London and quarantine for two weeks and take a train to where they were. I actually just had my second baby at the time so there was no way I was going to Scotland. There was a reshoot that needed to happen, then there was the Ukrainian Russian conflict,” Maya explained.
Those untimely roadblocks ended up giving way to perfect timing for the movie’s release, as Maya notes a lot of buzz in the gaming industry at present as “Tetris” joins a larger tapestry of game-to-film adaptations, coalescing with properties like “The Last of Us,” “Dungeons and Dragons” and the “Super Mario Bros. Movie.”
What sets “Tetris” apart, though, is its real-life subject matter. There was a possibility of a very different kind of “Tetris” movie, something fictional and sci-fi, but the true story of how “Tetris” reached the masses is the one Maya wanted to tell.
A true story meant getting the facts and figures spot on, which included casting.
They really wanted, you know, this kind of seriousness of the story to come through. From the beginning, they wanted to make sure that we had authentic Russian actors and Japanese actors to play the role. It’s important for us. We see other Asian ethnicities and nationalities playing different roles and we’re not the same. I’m happy we were able to cast for those roles the way we did.
Screenwriter Noah Pink helped capture the essence of Maya’s family.
It triggered a lot of memories. My dad wasn’t there a lot, right? He was traveling a lot. And I definitely feel super connected to the character, you know. The part that really struck me the most, is when Taryn calls me the way he does, ‘Maya,’ the way he called me, it so reminded me of how my dad would pronounce and say my name. I just felt so connected.
Henk Rogers’ global escapades in the film from Japan to Seattle, London and Russia are as cosmopolitan as his own background. Maya calls hers a diverse, international family: Henk grew up in Holland and moved to New York as a child, Maya’s mother is from Japan, and the Rogers’ extended family are all over the world.
Such coexistence helped shape Maya’s views on the world and gave Henk an innate ability to connect with people from different cultures.
I was the only non-full Japanese kid in school. Most people knew me because I had an American last name. I did get picked on. Even though I was just like everybody else, they treated me like I wasn’t. That also gave me the view of how to see things from the outside and inside and realize that at the end of the day, we’re all the same. We think the same, we have the same emotions. We’re all humans. My dad also had a similar upbringing, but he’s able to connect with people from different cultures, which comes up in the movie.
Maya applies a similar sentiment to how the game of “Tetris” constructs connection.
The nature of ‘Tetris’ is a game that requires no language. It doesn’t matter who you are, anybody can play the game. ‘Tetris’ is able to connect people from around the world. I think that is why the ‘Tetris’ game is still relevant to this day. It’s kind of like chess, but in the video game world, it’s easy to get into, but hard to master.
It also kind of goes deep into our human desire to want to create order out of chaos. That’s what the magic of ‘Tetris’ is. It brings people together. ‘Tetris’ is the perfect game.
Those themes and messages play out in the movie and are what Maya hopes can be people’s takeaway.
We’re all the same. At the core of it. It’s all about friendship. It’s about love. It’s about connecting with people. That is what made ‘Tetris’ what it is today. Henk and Alexey had this honest deal, and really, it was a handshake deal. It could have gone any number of directions. Follow your heart, follow your gut. If you’re good to people, they’re gonna be good back to you.
As for what other games the CEO of Tetris loves nowadays? She hasn’t played them in a while, but Nintendo games like “Animal Crossing,” “Mario Kart.” Role-playing games, or RPGs, were a staple of her childhood, with her father having helped introduce the genre to Japan.
Maya says she’s terrible at first-person shooter games: “I’m getting stabbed and it’s a shooting game.”
Her favorite “Tetris” shape is the long, or “I” piece.
“That’s the obvious one, right? The ‘I’ is straight up. It’s the boss. But the ‘T’ piece comes in second. It has special powers. You can do a T-spin and get a high score, and I love purple. But there’s nothing better than the feeling of clearing for lines and getting that ‘Tetris.’”
“Tetris” is available to stream on Apple TV+ starting Friday. Check out the trailer for “Tetris” below: