Hollywood's most successful anarchist on reinventing the spy genre
Matthew Vaughn is Hollywood’s most successful anarchist. And this week he is back, with his very own (unofficial) take on Bond. Time Out Dubai was on set.
Mr Darcy is manhandling a machine gun. ‘It’s a good look for him, isn’t it?’ says director Matthew Vaughn of his leading man, Colin Firth, who, as much as he tries to not be, will still, for some, be eternally remembered as Jane Austen’s eternal knee-trembler from that movie version of Pride & Prejudice. And, do you know what? It is indeed. ‘Why thank you,’ says Firth, with a smile. ‘I’ve done a lot of movies and no-one before has asked me to come in and shoot people’s heads off. And I do have to say, I’m conflicted about some of it, but I’m also really rather enjoying it.’
Early spring 2014 and we are on the set of Kingsman: The Secret Service, Vaughn’s follow-up to X-Men: First Class, which is a notable movie endeavour for a number of reasons. Just like he did when he jumped ship on directing the second Thor and, earlier and controversially, bailed – with reason, given there still wasn’t a script – two months before X-Men 3 started to shoot in 2005, Vaughn has once again turned down a certain pay cheque in favour of a second, self-funded and distinctly uncertain curveball.
The first was Kick-Ass, his deliciously subversive take on and tribute to superhero movies. On that one, which will go down as one of the most brilliant films of the past ten years, Vaughn remortgaged his house, when the studios wouldn’t put their own money on the line. Here, with Kingsman, in which he is paying a similarly anarchic tribute to spy movies with an original property he cooked up with writer Mark Millar, the house isn’t on the line but his reputation is.
‘I turned down a lot of stuff to do this,’ says Vaughn, who actually came close to directing Casino Royale in 2005. ‘But the truth is that Kingsman was just in my head. I had to do it. There are two franchises that I would do. Star Wars? I’m in. And the only other franchise, which I would have done before this, is Bond. I would have loved to have done Bond.”
With Kingsman, he pretty much has ‘done Bond’, but with a lot in the way of added exploding heads. A gloriously affectionate pastiche of 007, the movie sees Firth’s super-suave spy, Harry Hart, take a rough around the edges street urchin, Eggsy (played by newcomer Taron Egerton), and train him up to take on Samuel L. Jackson’s evil megalomaniac out for, of course, global domination. This being a Matthew Vaughn movie, that evil villain being an internet nerd with a lisp, who can’t stand the sight of blood. ‘I said to Sam, “I want Sam Jackson, but I don’t want the same old Sam Jackson,”’ says Vaughn with a laugh. ‘It’s fair to say that he wasn’t too happy with that, but he absolutely came up with something new.’
The result is, frankly, a big old barrel of fun that lets Firth show off the action credentials that have long been denied him (‘I met one of the [Bond] directors a long time ago, around the time it ended up with Dalton, but I never felt there was serious interest,’ Firth has said) and that confirms Vaughn as one of the most interesting and punchy big budget independent directors – like his inspiration, George Lucas – on the planet. At the very least it should forever eliminate the constant comparisons between him and Guy Ritchie, which have been around ever since their early days in the business, in which Vaughn produced Ritchie’s famous hits Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch. Even if both are now delivering their own takes on the spy genre, Vaughn with Kingsman and Ritchie, this summer, with his reboot of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.
‘It’s funny,’ laughs Vaughn. ‘People are always trying to build up a competitive edge between us. But the truth is that it’s a bit like playing tennis. You always want to play against someone good, because that makes your game better too. And that’s what it is with Guy.’ He pauses, raising an eyebrow. ‘Of course, you’ve always got to be better than the other guy… And I fancy my chances.’ Kingsman: The Secret Service is out now in cinemas across Dubai.