Matthew Vaughn Interview: Kingsman, X-Men, Stardust 2, 007

From Kingsman, the moment he was set to direct Casino Royale, to the lost Stardust 2, here's our chat with director Matthew Vaughn...

It’s no secret that Matthew Vaughn was, under the original plan, going to move on to X-Men: Days Of Future Past after his success with X-Men: First Class. But instead, the director of Kick-Ass, Stardust and Layer Cake opted for Kingsman: The Secret Service instead.

In a chat ahead of the release of the new film, he tells us about why, about queuing up for effects shots, and the Stardust sequel that never was…

When I saw the film you came in and did a brief introduction. You described it then as the film you’re most proud of doing to date. But why? Given some of the films you’ve made in the past, what made this one so special to you?

Because it was a culmination of everything I’ve learned from all the films I’ve done. From Lock Stock all the way to now.

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Without sounding arrogant, it’s the first film that I felt I’d properly directed. All my other movies, it felt like I was at film school, trying to figure it out. This was the first time I’ve gone you know what, I’ve a clear vision of what this movie is now, and I’m just going to go off and shoot what’s in my head. To execute it and have fun. And it’s turned out frame for frame exactly what I wanted. I’m proud of it.

Was there a time element built in, too? You said when you came off X-Men that it had been just a year to get that done, and an insane one. Was it important to this that you gave yourself breathing room?

Yeah. It was that, and having control, and having no studio committees telling me what to do. It was just me and my mates going off and making a film.

Obviously you’ve had your Marv production umbrella for a long time, but is that your way forward? That you’ve dabbled with what a studio can do to a film – accepting how well X-Men: First Class turned out – but now it has to be more on your terms, if you’re going to sink two or three years into it?

Yeah. I think I’m lucky enough that I’ve made enough money that I don’t need money. So therefore I just want to make movies that are going to have a story or a style, whatever it is. I’ve no idea what I’m going to do next, but whatever it is it’ll be a film I want to make and I want to see.

Look, I’ve had the luckiest career anyone can have. But that’s how I feel. I just want to make great films. The judgement for me is would I sit in the cinema and think I got my money’s worth. That’s whether they’re funny, scary, dramatic, whatever it is. Kingsman is the kind of film I’d really like to watch!

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Going back to that intro you did, you also mentioned that one or two effects in the print we saw back before Christmas weren’t quite ready yet. And I wonder if this is the other side of the studio coin. It sounded like you were queued up, and the only thing that was stopping you signing the film off was that you were waiting to get space at one of the effects houses. Can you elaborate on that, as it sounds like the only bit of the movie that came close to the wire?

Yeah, it was. We didn’t have the money! We were scraping and getting deals and trying to cut corners, doing everything we could to try and get the film made! And to make it look like a proper big budget movie.

But when you’ve got Star Wars, and Avengers 2, Captain America 3 or whatever, and they’re paying $60-80m to these effects houses, and you’re going along saying ‘I’ve got a couple of million, can you help us out?’…

To their credit, everyone said we’ll help you out, but you’re at the bottom of the fucking queue! We’ll do it when we can, and that’s that. And I get it. I’ve got a business. If someone’s going to pay me $20m, and I’m going to make $4-5m profit, and then I’m paying the $2m and they’re going to make no profit…! 

Presumably that’s where coming from a producer background helps enormously?

Yeah. You just know ultimately that you’ll get there. I’ve done movies… when we started shooting Lock, Stock, we’d only raised enough money to film it. Not to do post-production. But I just went fuck it, let’s do it, and we’ll figure it out how to cut it later.

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That was the old Palace Pictures model…! They always figured they could find the rest of the money from somewhere.

Exactly. You’ve got to get on with it. People will always find a reason not to make a movie, so you’ve just got to go and make it, and people will follow. If you build it, they will come [laughs].

One of the by-products you had of the extremely fast turnaround on X-Men: First Class was that you were working with five directors of photography, four assistant directors and very little prep time. Was it important here that you also got back to your core team? Appreciating that Jane Goldman has been with you throughout your films, you’ve also got people like Jon Harris back here. It feels more of your ensemble behind the camera.

Exactly. It’s the band. We know how to jam together, and it’s much easier. I can say ‘we’re going to go to D minor now’, and everyone, just from the look, knows that’s what we’re going to do.

One thing you also said with X-Men: First Class was that it scratched two itches for you. That it was the Cold War movie you wanted to make, and the Bond movie you wanted to make.

I’ve made the itch worse!

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Well, I was about to say!

It’s like a mosquito bite, those fuckers, where it itches too hard!

I’ve always loved Bond. There were two franchise that I would always have dropped everything to do as a director. Bond was one, Star Wars was other. And neither of them came my way, so…

Didn’t both come close, though?

No. Well… Star Wars never happened. I don’t know where that rumor started from, but I wish it was true. And Bond: I came very close to directing Casino Royale. MGM wanted me, but the Broccolis didn’t. 

I think I read in Empire that you were attached to Casino Royale for 24 hours, and that was it?

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I was attached as far as MGM was concerned, but not as far as the Broccolis were concerned. And they’re the power behind that throne!

So when you sat down to put Kingsman together, what were you aiming for then? Because there’s a clear love and reverence to Bond in it, yet it’s also clearly very much its own thing? It does stuff a 007 movie couldn’t begin to think of getting away with.

I wasn’t trying to make a Bond movie. Very much like Kick-Ass, that was a love letter to all the superhero films I love. This was the same thing. I’m going to remind people how wonderful, how fun and what escapism those spy movies had that I grew up on. But I couldn’t just remake those.

It was quite an ironic twist, that I read that Spielberg was desperate to do a Bond but they wouldn’t let him. So he said I’ll go and do Indiana Jones. Indiana Jones was him reinventing all the 30s pulp movies he grew up on and loved. I’m doing the same thing, but with spies!

You’ve made, for my money, one of the most impressive live action family movies of the past decade or so with Stardust. But was it quite liberating to do Kingsman very much not for a PG-13/12A audience?

Well, yeah. There was a moment where I thought should I do the PG-13 version of Kingsman. Because you could do it.

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There were a couple of reasons I decided not to. One, we didn’t have the budget to do massive action sequences, so I couldn’t compete. The next Bond is what, $280-300m? You can’t compete with that. We can’t have that scope. So I have to give it an identity.

And then I watched Stormbreaker, and it just didn’t work. I tried to figure out why, and I watched it with my kids, and they didn’t like it. So I was analyzing it, going why is it not working? And the moment you do a movie for kids, it becomes Spy Kids. The danger isn’t there, it’s not believable. And I thought the only way I could pull Kingsman off was to do the R-rated version. That’s the only way.

I never got the impression that you sat through X-Men thinking you were making it for a family audience to be fair, but I suspect we’re back to control here.

Exactly. I thought this isn’t a typical studio movie, so I can be multi-tonal, and I can take risks. There are four or five sequences that, if it was a studio film, would never have been in the film.

I should ask you just to clarify the certification of the film in the UK

I haven’t changed a fucking frame!

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Absolutely nothing? The BBFC posted that “certain changes were made prior to submission” to get a 15 certificate in the UK?

Nothing. You’ve seen it!

I didn’t see evidence of anything being cut out! I half expected an 18 certificate, but I don’t fully know hw the BBFC works.

They’re pretty intelligent people, the BBFC. And I think they get it right most of the time. They watched it, and I sat down with them. The violence is fun. You don’t see people grimacing. They’re laughing with it. It’s like Tom & Jerry. It’s over the top and colourful and playful.

You look at some of the stuff on television! It’s ten times more violent and horrifying to watch, and it’s on general view! The Walking Dead, Breaking Bad these things are ten times more violent! 

How do you feel the movie press, then, pigeon-holes films such as Kingsman? We called it low budget at one point, which it arguably is in context against Hollywood blockbusters, but not in its own right. Do you think the movie press – us included – misrepresents films such as Kingsman?

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I just think that ultimately it’s a weird human nature to pigeonhole things.

If you do something that’s not pigeonholed, it gets thrown into the ‘we don’t know what this is’ bin, and so let’s not talk about it so much. Even marketing it, it’s been a real challenge to get across… the BBC when they did their 2015 preview, they said “the Bond spoof.” I’m like, fuck off it’s not a spoof!

When you do things different… it’s like Guardians Of The Galaxy. When people were writing about it, the general consensus before they saw it was that it looked a bit silly and stupid. And then everyone saw it, and said that actually, the tree and the raccoon were brilliant, and it’s great. I think we’ve got that same thing. If you do something that’s different and quirky and original, it takes time for people to figure it out. It’s more like you have to see it to believe it, and have your own opinion.

One thing you’ve said in the past is being terrified in the past about doing a movie with one lead character, rather than an ensemble piece. Was part of the appeal of Kingsman that it takes you a part step towards that? To do a lead character based film?

I think I am leaning towards that soon! I think I’m getting ready for it. I think when you have one lead character, you have nowhere to hide. I can change the channel every five seconds on Kingsman, or any of my movies, and then come back to this plot. I’ve got lots of ways to distract and dazzle the audience. When you have one character, you’re on that ride, and it’d better be good.

Do you see it as distracting and dazzling?

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Yeah. Keeping people entertained. It’s hard. But it just gives me options. There are a lot of scenes here that didn’t make the cut – which is great – because I thought the pacing wasn’t right. But I had that choice. We’ll spent time training now, then this plot… there were three plots, we cut another out. It gave me freedom.

Is this a one-off then? You’ve been slightly sequel-averse to date. X-Men, even, I never really thought of as a sequel.

No, not really.

Is there are a temptation to go back to this or any of your other characters?

There are two movies I always wanted to do a sequel on.

Stardust is one. I had a really crazy fun idea for a Stardust 2. The opening scene was Charlie Cox’s character, being the king and throwing out the necklace. This time the necklace goes over the wall and bounces off Big Ben, and you’re suddenly in London in the early 1960s, with these mad kings and princes and princesses running around London. All on the quest for the stone.

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That was my idea for the sequel, but sadly the film didn’t make enough money for anyone to want to make it. That was a shame.

And I’ve got a big idea for a sequel to Kingsman, but I don’t even want to talk about it! Because I was so gung-ho about doing a sequel to Stardust, and it didn’t happen. I need people to go and buy tickets for Kingsman if I’m going to make the sequel. Audiences are the bosses when it comes to that! 

I never got the sense that you were tempted to go back to something like X-Men though? That that was an itch that again had been scratched?

I was tempted to and I nearly did, and then Kingsman came into my head.

When you’re a filmmaker, for me at least, I suddenly had the film in my head and I wanted to go off and do it. I was terrified with Kingsman. My gut was telling me that I couldn’t have been the only person watching all these spy movies and thinking fucking hell, they’re serious. I wanted to be the first person to do it. Now if you look at it, there’s Spy coming out, with Melissa McCarthy. Grimsby, with Sacha Baron Cohen. Man From UNCLE. The fun spy movies are definitely happening now, and I wanted to be the first, not the last!

Do you take any joy in the fact that your US release date for Kingsman sees it up against Fifty Shades Of Grey?! That’s glorious counter-programming…

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Fuck knows! The problem is that I’m good friends with Sam Taylor-Johnson [Fifty Shades director], so I’d rather she hadn’t directed it, then I could try and trounce the movie. But I’m hoping we both survive and get our core audiences. Which I can’t imagine being too crossed. I can’t imagine there are too many young men going to see Fifty Shades, but who knows! There’s a big mountain to be shared, so plenty for both of us!

Have you worked out where you’re heading next?

No idea, no idea. For me, I’m not Spielberg. I can’t edit while filming another film. I’ve only just finished, I need to go on a long holiday and see what happens. Something will go in my mind, and I’ll go that’s it, that’s what I’m going to do next!

So you’re not one of these people who spins six or seven projects, and one bubbles to the top? It’s a clean break between each?

Clean break between each, and then I’ll see something and go, that’s the film I want to do next.

Finally, our traditional Den Of Geek question, but I suspect I know the answer: what’s your favourite Jason Statham film?

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Lock Stock And Two Smoking Barrels!

I had a funny feeling you may say that! Matthew Vaughn, thank you very much.