Exclusive 1:1 Interview: Matthew Vaughn talks Kingsman: The Secret Service
Say this much about Matthew Vaughn: the man has an eye for "the next big thing." He brought us Daniel Craig in LAYER CAKE, Jennifer Lawrence and Michael Fassbender in X-MEN: FIRST CLASS, Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Chloe Grace Moretz in KICK-ASS, and now Taron Egerton in KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE. It's not that these actors hadn't been in movies before Vaughn gave them the call; it's just that it seems his films are the ones to propel their names into the mainstream. And as he says in the interview below, directing is ninety-percent casting. (Okay, he's quoting John Huston, but it's a good quote nonetheless.)
True to form, the casting in KINGSMAN is uniformly terrific, from newcomers Egerton and Sophie Cookson, to vets like Colin Firth, Samuel L. Jackson, Mark Strong and Michael Caine. Let's not forget Mark Hamill, either. The crazed, comedic spy thriller (based on the comic by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons) is opening in theaters this weekend and should be met with sincere joy from popcorn-movie fans. During our conversation about the movie, Vaughn spoke about how seriously he takes casting, Sam Jackson's lisp, and staying away from "Austin Powers territory." Additionally, we chat about the FANTASTIC FOUR trailer reaction, not reading the internet (except for bad reviews of his movies), and what's in store for the future of KICK-ASS and KINGSMAN!
How involved you were back when Mark and Dave were working on the comic book?
Really involved, in the sense that the whole thing evolved in a pub. Mark and I just sat there lamenting about why spy movies have gotten so serious. Not bad, but serious. We just remembered all the great spy movies from the 60s and 70s, those movies were fun; they were serious films that didn't take themselves seriously. And I was like, let's do it, let's do our own modern version, a post-modern love letter to every spy film I grew up on.
As a director, have you always wanted to make a spy thriller?
Oh yeah, I think out of all the genres I love the most, it's spy and espionage movies. Even more than superheroes. In a weird way, the spy is the British superhero. I can't think of any other inspirational figure than James Bond when you're a young British kid. Spider-Man, Superman, Batman, they were great, but they were very American. So this movie should illustrate the love I have for spy films.
Of course, having Michael Caine from the Harry Palmer films is great casting.
Harry Palmer in IPCRISS FILE, Caine told me a great story about that. Have you seen it?
Yeah, a long time ago.
In the opening scene he's wearing his glasses and cooking, and when the American studios saw it, they said they can't cast him in anything because he wears glasses and he cooks so he must be gay. And boom, that was his career, done. But luckily Shirley MacLaine saw him and put him in GAMBIT. Thank god the times have changed.
How involved is Mark once you start pre-production on the film, what's your collaboration like?
I show him casting tapes, but that's about it.
Speaking of casting, Colin Firth seemed like a natural, but what about the young stars of the film? How long did it take to find them?
[Laughs] Tough. I'm trying to think of a polite way of saying it without swearing. Hundreds and hundreds. It was very similar to KICK-ASS; I saw so many actors for Kick-Ass and so many actors for Kingsman and I got a little worried. I literally said, guys, we're going to have to push production back six months, because there's no point in making Kick-Ass without the right kid playing Kick-Ass, likewise the right kid playing Eggsy in Kingsman. And Aaron and Taron - weird, similar names - both walked in as not only the last hope, the casting person said, "Here's this totally unknown called Aaron Johnson who has done a little of work before." Taron had never even done a movie before. I was like, f*ck it, just bring them in. And after seeing both of them, I was just on the edge of my seat going, oh my god, carry on! And at the end of both reads, I thought, thank you, we're back on. Other people said, "What, who are these guys?" I said, it doesn't matter who they are, it's what they are, and what they are is perfect.
In Taron's case, what particular qualities did he possess that made him perfect for Eggsy?
What you see on the screen is what I saw. People always ask me this about casting. "What made you cast Jennifer Lawrence and Michael Fassbender?" Or, "What made you cast Daniel Craig?" This was, you know, before they exploded. And I'm sitting there going, I dunno, they're good? What you see on the screen, I saw in the room. I'm just sitting there going, as long as I get these guys in focus, I'm going to look good. John Huston said, "Directing is ninety percent casting." And he's right, because it doesn't matter how good the script is, it doesn't matter how good the cinematography is, all that stuff - which is important - is f*cked if you have a bad actor in the role. So I take casting really seriously.
Sam Jackson is also terrific in it; I can't get over the lisp. When I interviewed him a few weeks ago, he told me that it was his idea.
Totally. When I was making Kick-Ass with Nic Cage, we were just riffing and he suddenly did the Adam West voice. And I was laughing, but I was like, we're not doing that in the movie, are we? And he said we should, and he went with it. With Sam, when he first did it, I was like, I dunno. I was worried people weren't going to take him seriously, and this whole movie is the balance of humor opposite drama, never getting silly. Never going into Austin Powers territory - we're one degree away from Austin Powers if we're not careful. Sam explained it to me, he said, "You know why I want to do this? Because I used to have a lisp."
Exactly, you used to have a lisp? He said, "Sometimes I had a lisp, sometimes I had a stutter." Still. So this character is obviously a genius, he's obviously a billionaire, he's got everything going for him, but why would he cross the rubicon into this madness, this weird solution? He said, "You'd be surprised. All your life you have everything, but you have a lisp and people still don't take you seriously when you speak. That's my character." It was the thing that made him go to that level most people wouldn't. And he explained that and I just thought, the guy's a great actor, he'll pull it off.
Was there any truth to the rumor that Leonardo DiCaprio was in the running to play the villain? I recall reading that.
No truth to it.
Just the good old internet, huh?
It's amazing what's come up. I've actually stopped reading the internet, I just don't read it anymore. I mean, that's not true, what happens is that someone tells me about something, or I tend to read my bad reviews as well. My friend will say, "Boy, you got a stinker here!" I'm genuinely interested. It's lovely when you get a good review, it's fantastic, but you don't learn anything from it. The bad reviews, there might be something of note in there for me to remember and fix next time. But people are also shocked when I tell them what movies I watch. I'll list three films, and they'll go, "You watched POMPEII? Why are you watching that?" And it's because everyone says it's terrible and I want to learn why; you learn from bad movies. You go, what did they do wrong, and why did that not work?
What I do with the bad reviews is, I try to identify: is this a political review of a real review? There's one really, really hardcore Kingsman review in London, I couldn't take it seriously, because they got everything wrong, they didn't understand it. There was one guy called me the Christmas Cracker of Filmmaking, because my movies have little explosions followed by a bad joke. And I thought, Alright, fair enough. It made me laugh.
Speaking of internet reaction, the trailer for FANTASTIC FOUR dropped recently, and you're a producer on that. Did you read the comments?
I have no idea, how has everyone reacted to it?
It's across the board, some people say it looks amazing, some people don't like it. Was just wondering if you ever read the message boards.
It's a bit of a rabbit hole if you pay too much attention to it. Also, you don't know who's writing this stuff. For all you know, the guy who is writing, "Oh, they shouldn't be doing this" is actually the creative executive at Warner Brothers. Or a DC guy, saying, "Let's just kill it now!" If it's people I know and genuinely respect, then I'll look at it. But also trailers... it's not my job to cut a good trailer, or to market the film. It's my job to make as good of a film as possible, and I just focus on that. I've always been that way. Marketing has been the bugbear of my life. People always come up to me and say - whether it's Stardust or Kick-Ass or Layer Cake - "Man, I wish I had seen that in the theater." And I say, Man, so do I! But the DVD numbers that my movies sell - the ratio to box office is a joke, I think actually Layer Cake holds the record in America. But maybe it's because my movies aren't easy to put in the box, so once you put it in the box, marketing is hard to do. But in the past, yeah, it's been some disappointing opening weekends.
How involved were you on Fantastic Four, just on a day-to-day level?
I call myself a true Hollywood producer, where I've worked on movies and the producer was never there and I've thought, that's the gig I want! At the beginning, I was around a lot, I helped work on the script when they hired Josh [Trank]. CHRONICLE blew me away, I really liked it a lot, and I liked Josh's short film as well. I wanted to see a young- because I'm getting old now, it's weird, I'm becoming part of the establishment. I liked being the guy that was shaking the tree. That's a bit strange. I've been looking at cuts of the film, giving notes. When you're a producer turned director, and then you go back to being a producer, I find my notes are about how to direct the film. It's a bit of an awkward position, because I also believe the producer's job is to back the director; you've hired the director, back him. It's a bit odd. I keep thinking to myself, I'm the producer, back off. It's like being a backseat driver, how annoying is that?
Does Josh appreciate your support though, as it's his first really big movie?
I think it's easier to take help from producers who haven't directed, because it's quite personal. I've seen on set, actors don't like hearing notes from another actor. So it's an interesting combination. For example, Bryan [Singer] on FIRST CLASS was great, because he was like, "You're directing it, good luck, if you need any help call me. And that worked out pretty well.
Before I go, are you guys planning a Kingsman sequel? Are you happy enough that you're looking to move forward with the next one?
I'd love to do a sequel, but it's really up to the public isn't it? We've got some really bold ideas. If you think about it, this is the origin story of Eggsy. Eggsy is now the true modern gentleman spy. So there's a journey we want to put him on. I love the idea of there being none of that training crap, this is the real modern day gentleman spy going off to deal with quite the... (stops himself) Again, there's some really crazy stuff we've got planned. But I can't do it if no one goes to see it.
And how about another Kick-Ass movie?
Do you know what's going to be next if I do it... we've finished plotting it. What we have to do is, we've got to do the FIRST CLASS to the KICK-ASS world. We lost a few fans on Kick-Ass 2. It wasn't as loved as one would've hoped. So we have this idea for a Hit Girl prequel. It's a really strong, really simple prequel where I think we can regain the love and the passion. If that happens, I'm pretty sure I can persuade Aaron and Chloe to come back and finish the story of Kick-Ass withKick-Ass 3.
Are you and Mark actively working on it?
Mark and I have already plotted Hit Girl. We have to get the script done next. It's so far out there, you have no idea.
Would you direct it?
No, I wouldn't direct. We spoke about it to Gareth Evans a couple of years ago. I'd get someone like that, a really bold, clever director. Most of it is set in the far east.
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