‘I’m a closet geek,’ admits Matthew Vaughn, one-time producer of Guy Ritchie movies and an accomplished director in his own right. His third feature, Kick-Ass, has been riding a wave of fanboy hype since scenes from the film debuted to mass adoration at Comic-Con last summer. ‘I’m more of a comic-book movie fan than a comic-book fan,’ he clarifies when we meet in London only two days after he put the finishing touches to his film. ‘I like big, entertaining movies. I tried to buy the script of Hancock. I loved it. The script was far darker and edgier than the movie. I think Kick-Ass took the ideas that intrigued me in that film to the next level: what would happen if people really tried to be superheroes?’
Based on a six-issue comic book by Scottish writer Mark Millar, Kick-Ass is a comic-book movie unlike most others: a violent, profane amalgam of Spider-Man and Superbad that focuses on American high-school student and comic fan Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson) who dresses up as a superhero to fight crime. Yet his methods pale next to the dynamic duo of Damon MacCready, aka Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage), and his pre-teen assassin daughter, Mindy, aka Hit-Girl (13-year-old Chloë Moretz), who take an extreme approach to crime-fighting.
Despite Hollywood’s current love of all things comic book, Vaughn was turned down by every studio he approached for financing. ‘They thought it was a “betweener”, because it’s not a kids’ movie and not really an adult film,’ explains Vaughn, who adapted the comic with his writing partner (and wife of British TV host Jonathan Ross) Jane Goldman. ‘They didn’t like Hit-Girl. They didn’t like the violence, the fact that it was an 11-year-old killing and swearing.’
Not to be defeated, Vaughn used his own money and that of a consortium of investors to raise the US$35 million (Dhs128 million) budget independently, giving Vaughn the freedom to make the film he wanted. It was in stark contrast to his experience making Neil Gaiman’s Stardust, which ‘died in America’ but performed well internationally. ‘When I did Stardust I was fighting the studio for things I believed were right. With Kick-Ass I didn’t have any of that madness to deal with. It’s 99 per cent what I wanted it to be in my head.’
Ironically, once Kick-Ass was shot and Vaughn was shopping for a distributor, many of the studios that turned it down were vying to release it. ‘The biggest irony [is] that everyone’s comment after they saw
the film was, “Are there any more Hit-Girl scenes?”’ Vaughn laughs. ‘It was satisfying.’ The most contentious sequence – torn straight from the comic – involves Hit-Girl’s use of the ‘C’-word before killing a den of drug dealers. Vaughn says Moretz’s parents were always on set and everything was agreed.
‘I said, “I’ve got kids, and I don’t want to make this child do anything she doesn’t want to do, or anything you don’t want her to do.”’ Initially, the word wasn’t in the script. ‘I’d made the decision not to put it in. We did the scene, it’s the big entrance of Hit Girl, and it wasn’t working. [Chloë’s] mother said to me, “Are we making a mistake not doing what it says in the comic?” I looked at her and laughed, and said, “I don’t know. Do you feel comfortable with it?” She said there was no harm in trying it once. She could see something didn’t feel right.’
In America, the line has caused controversy, although Vaughn is amazed that people are upset at the language and not the violence. ‘When my daughter gets to 11, I’d far rather she had a mouth like a sewer than be a mass murderer.’ In the UK, a certain notoriously right-wing newspaper has already laid into the film. ‘The Daily Mail has begun the witch hunt. They’ve gone for Jane because she’s married to Jonathan Ross. It’s wrong and it’s bad journalism.’ Vaughn says he’s up for the fight. ‘I’m ready for it. I’m happy [for the paper] to try to bury it as long as they watch the film. It annoys me when people have views on things they haven’t seen.’
Interview by Mark Salisbury. Kick-Ass is in UAE cinemas now.