SPOILER ALERT: The following interview contains spoilers about the “Kick-Ass” movie and comic.
Attached in some degree to high-profile superhero movies like “X-Men: The Last Stand” and “Thor” over the years, Matthew Vaughn has channeled neither mutant nor myth for his breakout superhero project. Instead, the British director, who adapted Neil Gaiman’s novel “Stardust” into a feature film to critical acclaim, is making Mark Millar and John Romita, Jr.’s “Kick-Ass” into his very own.
In 2008, on an October night in Toronto that measured well below zero in centigrade, CBR visited the set of the “Kick-Ass” on the film’s final night of shooting in Canada. The next day, the cast and crew headed overseas to finish the production in London, England.
That evening, Vaughn shared clips of 11-year old ChloÃ« Moretz kicking ass as Hit-Girl and Christopher Mintz-Plasse (a.k.a. McLovin’) decked out as Red Mist.
Vaughn also sat down with the assembled media, in the donut shop that can be seen in the movie’s trailer, to share his thoughts on the movie, what a “Sandman” adaptation might look like, selling the completed film to a distributor (at the time of the interview, Lionsgate had not yet purchased the rights to the movie) and why Aaron Johnson is kick-ass.
Is it tricky filming in London, picking up moving everything here and then turning around and heading back?
Matthew Vaughn: It’s weird going from London to here, doing night shoots here, and then going back to London. Monday is going to be a scary time, because I’m now going to bed at 9:00 in the morning London time, and I haven’t had a day off in 21 days. But anyways, it’s good. It’s worth it. It shouldn’t be easy.
Can you talk about the genesis of this project and how you came to be involved?
It basically started at the U.K. premier of “Stardust.” Mark Millar came up to me, and Neil [Gaiman] was there, and he had heard how much I respected Neil and his work and how collaborative I was him and he said, “I have an idea for a new comic I’m toying with.” He hadn’t even written it. And he said, “Do you want to sit down and have a drink about it?” And I was like, “Yeah, I’d love to.” So we had a few drinks and got on extremely well and he pitched it to me, and I said, “Fuck. That’s sounds so cool.”
And ever since my flirting with doing “X-Men,” and I was trying to make that more realistic, and I just felt comic book movies weren’t reflecting what comic books were doing anymore. They were stuck in this rut. I think “Iron Man,” when they cast Robert Downey Jr., was the first time they started being credible again and something that you could watch, even if you weren’t into comic books, and relate to it. And I thought “Kick-Ass” took that to the next level. I tried to buy “Hancock,” when it was called “Tonight, He Comes,” about four years ago, because I thought it was the first post-modern superhero film out there, and I was desperate to do that. And I then I thought “Kick-Ass” took it to the highest level of what I was looking for – doing a superhero movie that respects all the superhero rules but breaks every single one of them at the same time.
Speaking of Mark, how was it working with him on this project? How hands-on is he?
He’s pretty hands-on, in the sense that I want him to be hands-on. I ring him up every time I want to make a big decision. We finished the script before he finished the comic, so he’s like, “Oh, that’s a good idea,” which is probably unheard of, and when it came to casting, I showed him all the casting tapes, and when we were designing costumes…it was his idea. So filmmakers that ignore the guy who created it are idiots. You’ve got to keep it real to what it is.
That’s an interesting point because this is a real superhero movie. There are no mutants in “Kick-Ass,” there are no superpowers, there are no laser beams – is it fun making a superhero where guys are…
Getting the shit kicked out of them [laughs]? Yeah, it’s great. But that’s what I wanted to do with “X-Men.” These guys have got superpowers or are genetically mutated, but at the same time, they’re real people and they feel pain. I’ve always felt, whether it’s Superman, who was basically a refugee who didn’t fit, superheroes are always flawed characters that we can relate to and who you want to be and take you on a journey that gets you out of the mundane life that we all have. So all of those rules are applying, and I just thought, “Can we pull it off making a superhero film with no superpowers?” I think Mark did that in the comic already, and I’m having so much fun with it, it’s definitely working.
Another factor must be that, while the X-Men have a long-standing fanbase, “Kick-Ass” is literally unrolling while the movie is filming.
Yeah, it’s virgin territory right now, and so I have no idea whether what we’re doing is a good idea or a bad idea [laughs]. But I’m having a lot of fun. And having no film studio involved, we’re getting such cool stuff that we’d never get if we were working with a studio. When you see what Hit-Girl does in this film, it’s mind-blowing. People may want to lock me up after the watch the film. She’s cool.
And what about Aaron [Johnson]?
He’s something else. I nearly pulled the movie because I’d seen about 500 actors for the role, and it was mid-day on a Friday and I said, “I’ve had enough of this shit.” There were too many young boys who all wanted to be famous and had no craft, no technique and didn’t know how to act. And I was like, “OK. If we can’t find the right guy to play Dave, because it doesn’t matter who is playing all the other roles, we’re screwed. It’s all about Dave and we’ll live or die by that casting.” And Aaron literally walked in as the second to last guy I met for the role. I remember that I was paranoid that it was desperation that brought him in, but he was brilliant. We needed the weekend to think about it. And then I met him again, and he was just brilliant.
You’ll see him do some stuff now, in this scene – I re-wrote the scene this morning, because I wasn’t happy with, it so I re-wrote it with the dialogue we’re doing now, and just gave it to him and, five seconds later, he can just do it. He learns the fights in about a minute. And he’s a nice guy, as well, which helps.
Do you read comic books at all?
Never [laughs]. It’s funny, my taste in comics, I was talking to Mark about it, I sort of go in and out about what I like and don’t like. At the moment, I can’t read “Spider-Man.” Maybe I’ve just gotten too old for it. I don’t know what it is. I like “War Heroes.”I just read, well, it’s hardly a comic, someone sent it to me and it was the one about the Holocaust, have you seen it? It’s all set in a Nazi camp. It’s just a comic of that. It was really weird, and I wouldn’t want to read it again. But maybe it’s because, at the moment, I’m into the more realistic side of comics.
Speaking of the realism of comics and, especially, Mark’s stuff with all the movies coming out for “Wanted,” “Kick-Ass” and “War Heroes,” is “Kick-Ass” part of an initiative to make a Mark Millar-verse of movies?
That would be Mark’s dream [laughs]. I think between Mark and Neil Gaiman, I’ve captured working with two comic book writers who have huge voices right now. And I think Mark has very commercial ideas and he deserves to have more stuff made. I think Neil deserves to have more stuff made. I think it’s weird that hardly any Neil Gaiman stuff has been made. The idea that no one has made “Sandman” yet is weird.
Is that a project you’d like to do?
You know what, I would love to do “Sandman,” but I think it’s stuck in development hell. But that could be like a “Lord of the Rings” – just a huge movie.
Can you talk about how you’re approaching the action, because having seen “Wanted,” it’s very slick, and it’s very violent but it’s also got that “Matrix” feel.
I loved “The Matrix.” Brilliant, brilliant movie, but it’s a moment of nineties cinema. And my problem with “Wanted” is the whole thing of seeing “bullet-time.” I was like, “No, no, no.” And handheld, with everybody trying to copy Paul Greengrass. We’ve framed everything a lot like “Spider-Man,” just so you start with the comic book movie vibe that everybody knows, and then we slowly suck you in and beat the crap out of you.
As you can see, I think with long lenses. We’re trying to make it is as epic and beautiful as we can, but without it being gimmicky at all.
So you’re not worried about selling it to the big studios?
My job right now is about making a good film, not what the studios want. And what the studios want is not the film that people would want. Let’s be frank.
“Kick-Ass” is scheduled to be released by Lionsgate on April 16, 2010.