Sometimes, rejection can be a good thing.
It was nearly a decade ago that Matthew Vaughn was poised to follow-up his eye-catching directorial debut “Layer Cake” with the James Bond re-launching, “Casino Royale,” but that never came to pass. Instead, Vaughn adapted Neil Gaiman’s fantasy novel “Stardust,” then Mark Millar‘s ultra-violent superhero satire “Kick-Ass” before going full-on action blockbuster with “X-Men: First Class.” Now, at long last, Vaughn has made his mark on the espionage genre that is his first love with “Kingsman: The Secret Service.” And he’s done it his way.
Based on Millar and Dave Gibbon‘s comic, “Kingsman: The Secret Service” follows a down-on-his-luck blue-collar bloke called Eggsy (Taron Egerton) as he enters the world of a top-secret spy organization that employs deadly umbrellas, stunning signet rings, and bulletproof business suits in their missions. Colin Firth, Samuel L. Jackson, Michael Caine and Mark Strong co-star.
We sat down with Vaughn to talk “Kingsman,” its cast, and the director’s past and possible future with Bond. We also dove deep into the topic of musicals — the genre he’s considering tackling for his next project — and his thoughts on Hollywood’s relationship with and difficulty accepting films anchored around strong female leads.
CBR News: This might be the most sartorial action movie I’ve seen in a while. You actually beat out Bond for dapper gentleman per capita.
Matthew Vaughn: Well, it sort of disappeared from Bond. So, you know, if they’re not going to do it, they left open a corridor for me to run down.
Do you consider “Kingsman” your Bond movie? I mean, you were up for “Casino Royale” at one point.
Well, I consider it my spy movie. I wouldn’t consider it my Bond. But it’s definitely scratched the itch I had, and I had a big itch. I love Bond, and I love spy films and espionage. Always have. Spies probably mean more to me than superheroes, and that’s quite a lot.
Well, yeah, coming from you!
And they didn’t want me to do a Bond film, so… [Vaughn trails off]
Yeah, what happened with that?
You have to ask them. It was probably one of the weirdest days of my life when MGM told me I was going to do [“Casino Royale”]. I was like, “Aaaaaah!” And they were like, “Don’t say anything, the Broccolis [Bond producers] need to tell you themselves.” And then they never told me. I’m told they were like, “Nah,” and changed their minds. I went, “Fuck.” That was a big deal back then. Big deal. For me to get to do a Bond movie for my second movie would have been fantastic.
Getting to do one, period. It’s such a huge franchise and such an iconic one, especially for anyone who’s British.
It would be an honor to do a Bond, but I don’t think they want me to do a Bond.
But you’d still be willing?
Never say never — I won’t say again — but never say never. I would be hesitant at the moment. But maybe in a couple of years, five, ten years time, if they said they want to redo Bond and recast Bond. Would you be interested to do the next incarnation? That would be interesting. Maybe. Yeah.
To that end, what do you think of the talk of Idris Elba for the next James Bond?
They’d have to get on with it, because he’s getting old. It’d be great. He’s a brilliant, brilliant actor. But if Daniel [Craig] does it for — I imagine he must be about the same age as Daniel — he’s the same generation. I think each time [you recast], you got to go to the next generation. So if it’s going to be Idris, they’re going to have to get on with it sooner than later.
Speaking to that, Colin Firth is a hard-core ass-kicker in this movie. I’d have thought he’d be past that point in his career.
Well, what point in his career would you think he would have been an ass-kicker?
I don’t know. My introduction to him was “Shakespeare in Love,” and not then.
Not then. Not any of it, really! Except maybe “Tumbledown,” a TV series where he played a soldier. That was the fun of this. I wanted to cast David Niven [“The Pink Panther”] in a spy movie, the modern-day David Niven. For me, he is David Niven in the sense of him being that British gentleman.
You can learn how to kick ass on a film. It’s not real. He did six months of training. You just have to learn the physicality of it. Like, he did a musical, he can sing or dance. That’s why I think Hugh Jackman is great as Wolverine, because he’s a brilliant singer and dancer as well. So he understands [finding the rhythm of a fight scene], and Aaron Taylor-Johnson is a trained dancer, so he learned action in kick-ass 9snaps his fingers] in two seconds.
And Channing Tatum.
Is Channing Tatum a dancer as well? I didn’t know that. It’s a rhythm. That’s what they’re doing. It’s not for real. It’s pretend, so you have to learn. And he did it. He did six months of hard training.
What’s interesting is that in this movie, especially, the music works so in tune with the action.
Important part of the whole film; music is half the movie.
It makes me wonder, have you considered doing a musical?
I’m thinking of doing one next. I’d love to do a musical. It’s just a matter of finding the right one.
Would you like to do one that’s established already or an original piece?
I don’t know. I want to do a musical with no what I call “tits and teeth.” [Throws up jazz hands and puts on a manic smile to illustrate his point] That whole thing that they do anytime you go to Broadway and stuff. You just go, “Who trained these people to adopt this facial expression!” It’s just weird.
I’d probably like to do a musical that felt modern and where the music — the thing in my head hasn’t been done. I just want it to feel accessible and modern, and not, “Oh, God — I’m watching a musical,” which I can feel very quickly watching most musicals.
I feel like a lot of your films are baroque, in that they feel like a commentary on what’s come before while ardently aiming to break new ground.
I’d like to do that with a musical. I’m trying to think of an example. Like as a kid, I loved “Grease” as a musical, but it didn’t feel like a musical. For some reason [John] Travolta seemed just as cool when he was singing and when he wasn’t singing. And Olivia Newton-John — it just worked. I still watch it with my kids, and they just love it. You’re not feeling like, “Am I really watching a musical?” Then there are other musicals — I won’t say what — but you just go, “Oh, what? Really?”
I would really love you to say which, because there have been some recently that I have issue with.
Same with me. The only musical that I’ve seen in the last ten years onscreen that nearly nailed for me — but I think they went too camp and over the top — was “Moulin Rouge.” But I did go on a journey, and some of the music was so powerfully choreographed. It was very wacky. I’d like to do — I talked to Fox about “Guys and Dolls,” but then I’m like how do you replace Brando and Sinatra?
To your credit, you’re pretty great at getting not just major talent to a film, but also uncovering exciting new talent, like you have with Taron Edgerton. How did he come into this project?
He walked into, did a blind audition and blew me away. It’s funny because people ask every time I do a movie, “What made you cast Daniel Craig?”
Or Michael Fassbender? Or Aaron Taylor-Johnson?
Or Jennifer Lawrence! All that stuff. And I’m like, what you guys see onscreen, I see in the audition room. I’m not blind. I’ve got my ears. I use my ears and my eyes and think, “God, all I got to do is get them in focus, and it’s going to be good.” John Huston said, “Directing is 90% casting,” and he’s so right. You can have the best script in the world, best cinematography, best music. Everything. But if the actor isn’t right for that role, there’s nothing you can do about it.
You picked a great leading man. He’s a lot of fun to watch.
He’s a brilliant young actor.
Back to his action scenes, can we talk — well obviously some parts are CGI —
Like which ones?
Well, Gazelle’s legs for one.
Well, that, yeah.
But can we talk about the backwards car chase?
Backwards car chase: we did 85% of it for real.
And Taron can’t drive. He had to learn how to drive, so there’s a few moments we had to [fake].
Is someone actually driving backwards?
Yeah, a stunt guy was driving backwards. Yeah. Did it for real, inspired by “Hooper” — Burt Reynolds’ great film from the ’70s.
Another action standout is Gazelle, who you’ve gender-swapped from Millar’s comics.
Yeah, that came about because I genuinely felt we got way too many males. This film was getting man, man, man, man, man, and we thought it’d be great. I thought she could look sexy and cool. I liked the idea that [in Bond movies], Jaws and Oddjob are these big guys. What about having this amazing looking, graceful woman? And the name, Gazelle — it makes you think lithe and bouncy and elegant. I just thought, let’s have a strong, female character.
On that note, you brought Hit-Girl to theaters before Marvel brought Black Widow out in “Iron Man 2.” What are your thoughts about the trend to try to get more female-led action movies out there?
If they’re good: Do it. I’d love to see “Wonder Woman.” I really don’t know why they haven’t [made that yet]. I think it’d be great. I think Wonder Woman is a really fun character. I tend not to think [about the gender first]. It’s about whether the character is great or not. If it’s a great female character, it should be — I know to some, a lead female character is scary. But if they’re good, it’s not scary at all.
I think Jennifer Lawrence has proved that a couple of times over now.
Exactly. Sandra Bullock has. If they write a good role — it’s just most people don’t bother to write good female roles. And that’s a shame.
“Kingsman: The Secret Service” opens Friday, February 13.