Director Matthew Vaughn on Making Kingsman: The Secret Service

There are a handful of filmmakers who have made a name for themselves by creating entertaining adaptations of graphic novels and comics and right up there with Zack Snyder is Britain’s Matthew Vaughn, who takes on his second Mark Millar collaboration this weekend with Kingsman: The Secret Service, loosely based on Millar’s comic “The Secret Service” with Dave Gibbons.

It stars Colin Firth as Harry Hart, an agent of the mysterious government agency known as Kingsman, who tries to recruit one “Eggsy” (Taron Egerton), the son of one of his dead colleagues who has become a street-level thief constantly getting into trouble. The Kingsman also have to face a new threat when cell phone mogul Richmond Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson) has decided to “save the world” but only for the rich and wealthy and the most prominent politicians.

SuperHeroHype had a chance to interview Vaughn earlier this week when we talked about his working relationship with Mark Millar and how Kingsman came about, as well as some of the changes from the comics. Having interviewed Vaughn a number of times over the years going back to Layer Cake, we knew that he can be a little cagey sometimes, especially when it comes to discussing upcoming projects, so we didn’t get too far while trying to get some dirt on the upcoming Fantastic Four movie, on which he’s a producer. 

SuperHeroHype: Obviously you did “Kick-Ass” and it was a very different set up, because that comic book was already in the works at the time. This is a little bit different, because I guess you and Mark Millar met and said “Hey, you want to do something with spies?” and then you kind of just went off on your own paths? Is that kind of how it happened?

Matthew Vaughn: Sort of. I mean, yes, simply put, we were lamenting about why the spy films have become so serious. I mean, we liked Bond and Bourne, but they weren’t how we remembered. The spy movies we fell in love with weren’t being totally represented anymore, shall we say, in the cinema. We came up with this idea and villain plots and characters and sidekicks, and he went off and wrote the comic very quickly and then sent it to me and did some things which I thought were good and some things which I didn’t think were quite right. So, we changed it. Then I said, “I’ll do the screenplay,” and he published it.

SHH: Had you and Jane already started writing a screenplay while Dave was drawing the comic?

Vaughn: No, he sent me the comic, but it’s like a comic without any drawings, so it’s like a script of the comic. I read that, and then it just started staying in my head a bit, and stayed a lot, actually, and just built and built from then on, and I rang up Mark saying, “You know what? I’m going to do a movie of this,” and wrote the screenplay before I saw the comic.

Vaughn: Exactly. I mean, I’ve said this before, that Mark is sort of, I call it the one-line pitch genius. So it’s like “Superior,” it’s big, but you imagine you become a superhero instead of getting old. Most of his comics, you can sum them up pretty damn quickly. Those ideas are very commercial and sometimes quite inspired. When they’re inspired, then they click something in my head, and then I see the movie and then I go write the script.

SHH: You talked about how serious spy movies have gotten over the years, especially since 9/11.

Vaughn: Yeah, in the last decade…

SHH: But back then, the ‘60s and ‘70s, they were still taken kind of seriously, because the Cold War was still going on and there were still a couple of wars going on.

Vaughn: No, they were serious films that didn’t take themselves seriously, is the best way to describe them in my mind. They were proper movies. They weren’t “Austin Powers,” you know? I mean, the easiest way of describing it, you’ve got “Bond” movies, with Roger Moore and Sean Connery, and then you have “Casino Royale” with David Niven, Woody Allen and God knows who else is in it, you know? That shows the difference between spoof, and you can have serious with a sense of fun or a full-on comedy. Even “Get Smart,” they were comedic. It’s Mel Brooks doing some very good, funny stuff, but there was still something about them, which felt real, in a weird sense. You can have fun without being silly I think. I wouldn’t describe “Kingsman” as silly, but I would describe it as fun.

SHH: How did you want to deal with the “Bond” references, and you have quite a few. For instance, the changing room that turns into an elevator seems like a good example of a reference to something we’ve seen in Bond and other spy movies. How did you want to play with those references?

Vaughn: Which “Bond” movie goes down?

SHH: I was thinking of “Live or Let Die,” but maybe I’m confusing that with “Get Smart.”

Vaughn: “Get Smart” goes down, yeah.

SHH: I thought there was a “Bond” one, too, where the villain had a secret hideout, where he would go into a shop and then a secret room goes down or something.

Vaughn: “Live and Let Die,” yeah, there was definitely a secret room behind one of the sort of speakeasy types, but I can’t remember if he goes down or not, but anyway, if it does, it does.

SHH: But what about including those kinds of nods?

Vaughn: No, this whole movie is a post-modern love letter to spy films, so it’s taking all the stuff that I used to love about films, like gadgets, for example. In Skyfall, when Q says, “We don’t do gadgets anymore, Mr. Bond,” and Mr. Bond doesn’t even raise an eyebrow of like, “Of course, we don’t.” I’m like, why not? If you’re a spy, if you’re James Bond, oh, f*ck, if you’re James Bond, if you’re any spy right now, and if you’ve got a shoe, the blade with a high poisonous toxin at the end of it or a watch that can fire a dart or an umbrella that if you’re in real trouble means you can’t get shot and you can still shoot people back, what self-respecting modern spy would say “no” to that, you know? It’s weird. So, that’s why gadgets, are in theory, quite old-fashioned, but hey, a blade in your shoe could be bloody handy if you’re a spy.

SHH: Talk about some of the changes that you and Jane made from the comics, for instance having Gazelle being a woman where in the comic, it’s a soldier who looks a bit like Samuel L. Jackson.

Vaughn: Well, Valentine, we changed because once we cast Colin and Taron, I just thought, Valentine’s got to be older. Valentine and Colin’s character need to be reflecting on the old spy movies. It felt like a young kid doing it would sort of ruin the relationship, the vibe between Harry Hart and Eggsy. You needed that generation divide. So I thought, “You know what? If Steve Jobs was still alive, he’d be the most powerful technology guru mogul nutcase in the world.” I thought, “You know, it’s a cliché thinking all the Bill Gates, Larry Ellison,” rest in peace, Steve, but if Steve was still alive, he would be Valentine, in my mind. You know, a crazy Steve Jobs, I wouldn’t say he would do it, but he’s in a position that he could do it, is what I was meaning. I just felt Colin versus Sam was a good generation pitch, and then Taron versus Gazelle. Gazelle, we turned into a woman sort of by default, after we realized we had a lot of men in this film, and I thought we needed to balance it out a bit. I just liked the idea of making Gazelle sexy. I just thought she could be this really beautiful, elegant killer that we’ve never seen before.

SHH: The action scenes in this movie are obviously one of the big talking points, especially the church scene, and some of the fights at the end that are just complete mayhem, like at the ballpark and the beach. How do you prepare setting up some of those scenes and figuring out how to do it? I’ve seen some of the B-roll and the church scene is absolute mayhem. It’s not little pieces of fighting stitched together with CG.

Vaughn: Yeah, no, it was mayhem. We did it for real. We did it for real. Any CG stuff that’s in there is blood. It would be pretty bad to stab people for real in the movie. I think that’s why people are enjoying the action, because we choreographed it properly and did it so we could shoot it in mid-shots and wides and develop it, instead of just having lots of quick cutting, shaky cam close-ups, where you have no idea who’s doing what to whom.

SHH: But it’s pretty manic, and it looks like it’s been sped-up.

Vaughn: Nothing’s sped-up–I hate sped up stuff. That would be a ‘60s spy movie–speeding up the action. No, no, all done for real. There’s a little vibration we put on the camera, to make it feel like the machine is on, but nothing sped-up, I think we shot all of it in 24 frames like normal.

SHH: Did you have to spend days rehearsing and setting it up to get it right before you actually started shooting?

Vaughn: It was like shooting a ballet or a musical. You choreograph the whole thing. You choreograph it as a dance, and you get the actors are used as… not actors, the stunt guys, the actors, the extras, they’re all like being taught a dance routine, and then they kept doing it until it was perfect. Once they got it perfect, then we rehearsed it with video cameras, and then, bringing it all together on the day of filming.

SHH: Is that the same with the beach scene in the ballpark and all that stuff, because that’s taking that into an even bigger scale.

Vaughn: Yeah, but we weren’t making it up on the days, let’s put it that way. There are movies that make up action on the day, and I don’t know how you do that. I don’t think it’s a good idea.

SHH: Are there certain stunt coordinators you’ve worked with for all your movies so far?

Vaughn: No, I mean, Brad Allan’s the best I’ve worked with, and Brad, you can tell, we did Kick-Ass and Kingsman together, and he’s brilliant. He’s a genius. I mean, I couldn’t do all this stuff without him.

SHH: I think if you’re talking about a Matthew Vaughn movie there are certain things that are expected and one of them is Jason Flemyng, who seemed to be missing although I thougth I might have seen him in the church scene. Is that possible?

Vaughn: He’s not in the church scene. I mean, knowing Jason, he might’ve snuck in unnoticed. No, there wasn’t a role. I mean, I don’t want to take advantage of my friendship with him. He’s a great guy, but there wasn’t a role that he was right for. He’s too good an actor to keep putting in… like in Kick-Ass, where he played the doorman–it was just a joke. He was just around and he had nothing to do. I said, “Oh, it’ll be funny,” you know? But he’s a proper actor, you know? He’s not the guy you ring up for a day part, which I’d done that once. Even on “X-Men,” I wasn’t sure about him doing it, because mostly being painted red and not really having any dialogue was just sort of pushing my boundaries of friendship with him a bit too far, and he wasn’t sure about doing it. So if I put him in a movie, it’s because he’s a great actor and deserves a great role.

SHH: I thought he could’ve played the step-dad or even that mysterious bad guy.

Vaughn: No, he couldn’t. He’s got about as much bad-ass … he’s the nicest man on earth. He couldn’t play—

SHH: But he’s an actor.

Vaughn: No, Taron would’ve slapped him back. No, he’s not tough enough for that. You want a brute in that role.

SHH: One of the things I found interesting was the fact that there was the “King Arthur” reference in the movie, which wasn’t in the comics, but then also your old pal Guy Ritchie’s doing a “King Arthur” movie and he’s also doing a ‘60s spy movie, so have you been in communication? Is there something in the ether between what you guys are doing or is it just a coincidence that the two of you have these similar projects?

Vaughn: We’re in communication. Yeah, I had breakfast with him last week. The “King Arthur” thing and him doing “King Arthur” and me doing a spy film, it’s pure fluke, but at the same time, we obviously started making movies together and had the same taste and aspirations and so the “King Arthur” thing, it did make me laugh when he announced he was doing “King Arthur,” and who knows? I mean, let’s just say the truth is stranger than fiction. 

SHH: So do you have any idea what you want to do next? Do you have another project ready to? I know you’ve been talking about doing some of Mark’s other books like “Supreme” over the years.

Vaughn: I have no idea. No idea. You know what? I’m exhausted. I can’t wait for this film to be out in the cinema and then go on a vacation. 

SHH: I thought you finished it a while ago.

Vaughn: There’s one thing of making movies, and then there’s something called promoting it, and promoting is ten times harder than making it.

SHH: How involved with you been as a producer on “Fantastic Four”?

Vaughn: How involved am I with “Fan Four?” I was involved at the beginning quite a lot, and I thought Josh Trank really did a great job on Chronicle. When Fox pitched him to me, I was like, “Yeah, okay, he’s a great director, so back him.” Now, they’re backing him, so my job is as I’ve said, to back him and give him what he needs and they’re doing that at the moment.

SHH: Are you going to still be involved in that world, as far as the Fox stuff?

Vaughn: You’d have to ask Fox. It’s not up to me. It’s up to them, you know?

SHH: Well, I think it’ll be up to you if you want to keep doing stuff like that.

Vaughn: I might. Never say never, but you know, Fox are the guardians of the Marvel Universe of “X-Men” and “Fan Four,” and we’re just humble employees, doing what we’re told.

Kingsman: The Secret Service opens on Friday, February 13 with previews on Thursday night. Check out our interviews with the cast here.