Let’s get this out of the way first: I absolutely loved director Matthew Vaughn‘s Kingsman: The Secret Service. Loaded with amazing action, a funny and clever script, and great performances from the entire cast, Kingsman is one of those movies you need to see in a theater on the biggest screen possible. I strongly recommend checking it out this weekend. You won’t be disappointed.
As most of you know from the trailers, the film is based on the comic book by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons and stars Colin Firth as a veteran spy at a super-secret spy organization that works to recruit and train an unrefined but promising street kid (Taron Egerton) as a global threat emerges from a warped tech genius (Samuel L. Jackson). The film also stars Michael Caine, Mark Strong, Jack Davenport, and Mark Hamill.
Last month, when Vaughn was still putting the finishing touches on the film, I landed an exclusive phone interview with the filmmaker. During our discussion he talked about his first cut, deleted scenes, if he’d like to put together an extended cut, what he learned from friends and family screenings, what it was like directing Mark Hamill, his writing process with Jane Goldman, his thoughts on film vs. digital, if there are a lot of deleted from his previous films that have never been released, how much of his initial take on X-Men: Days of Future Past made it into Bryan Singer’s version of the movie, how he came to produce Josh Trank’s Fantastic Four, and so much more. If you’re a fan of Matthew Vaughn, I promise you’ll dig this interview.
MATTHEW VAUGHN: As people in LA seem to have no concept of the time outside of their city, yes. I’ve been trained now for thirty years in the film industry of having whether its agents, lawyers, actors, or whoever calling up all night. So yes, no offense to you, but the Americans don’t seem to acknowledge there are different time zones so I’m used to it.
I say thank you for getting on the phone with me late at night. Jumping into why I get to talk to you First of all, congratulations on the movie. I had an absolute fucking blast watching it. I assume you’ve been to many screenings where people just have an awesome time watching.
VAUGHN: Yeah, we’ve only just started screening it. It’s not quite finished, so I literally just left, I was at the CG house all day tweaking the last shot. It was a very challenging movie to make, to put it mildly, and it’s bloody satisfying watching people laugh at the right places. It’s quite a relief because there were moments where I thought “I really am insane and what I find funny and crazy everyone else will find literally crazy and put me in a mental home.” But there seems to be a lot of other crazy people out there.
VAUGHN: I’d say about 40 minutes longer.
And when you say final cut – sometimes I talk to directors and when they first cut they mean the assembly cut and sometimes it’s an actual cut beyond the assembly. When you say 40 minutes longer was that an assembly or an actual cut?
VAUGHN: Um, well, I cut quite heavily as I’m filming. It’s the beauty about AVID, you can edit very quickly and give notes. We watched the first cut about two weeks after wrapping and it was quite funny because the editor and I looked at each other and said, “You know what? This is like the ultimate feast, but my god I’m feeling sick, it’s just too much. No one can eat this much food and enjoy it.” So then we’ve got to prune it and prune it, and keep the balance going between humor, action, comedy, drama, pathos – it was like a honing thing. But the first cut was a pretty good first cut. It was just too long, and as I said, too much. We cut some really really fun scenes out, which normally would stay in a film. There’s about four or five really fun sequences on the floor, which is just sadly me making a movie where your eyes are bigger than your stomach.
Do you think that you would do an extended cut on Blu-ray or that those scenes, if you were to release them, would be purely deleted scenes that you would access from a menu?
VAUGHN: Yeah, I’m thinking about that. I think more to happen is – I don’t like deleted scenes, because I think out of context they never play well, and they’re not as interesting without how the movie was designed. Give me time. I think I want to see how the film plays over the next year, then have a bit of space from it, and then I may look at it and go, “You know what? Maybe we should put some of these sequences in.” Because off the top of my head there’s about three scenes that I absolutely love and I was torn to cut them out. Really torn, because I was just like, “Oh god, these are funny, clever, original scenes,” but the pace couldn’t handle it. And there’s some really good action we shot, as well, where it just got too much at the end. Some really fun choreographed action in the tunnels that we cut down as well. We cut about two minutes of that out.
VAUGHN: Oh no, they’re so important. Family screenings or test screenings, they’re really important, because even you get close – the thing I want to know is – is it too long or too confusing? There was this section, for example, when Eggsy starts learning how to be a gentlemen we had this long two and a half minute scene of Colin teaching Eggsy how to eat, about breakfast and how all the cutlery works. It was a really great scene, but the problem was where it was we were trying to keep the narrative trussed to the danger of Valentine. When you’ve got Valentine saying, “I’m going to destroy the world” and you cut to them having breakfast and learning about eating, it didn’t work, even as much as we loved the scene, it let the audience off the hook. It felt like you were watching Downton Abbey with a twist. So that went in that section purely for pace.
Likewise, in the first act there’s a really fun sequence of a thirty year old Michael Caine, who we’re doing digitally, robbing a bank in a way that only Michael Caine could, but again, it was too much in the first act. We had to settle in and then going off on this tangent of seeing Michael Caine robbing a bank in Russia in the ’60s – it was fun to watch, but it just took you out the movie. it was too much. So the sequences like that that were in and then you could feel the audience sort of sagging a bit, and I mean how can you sag watching young Michael Caine robbing a bank? How? But it wasn’t the right thing for the narrative. That’s what I think is wrong with too many movies in Hollywood. They don’t think about narrative, they think about the biggest spectacle, which is cool, but after a while just too much of it gets boring.
VAUGHN: It was bizarre. I don’t get star struck. I mean, the last time I was truly star struck was when I was introduced to Muhammad Ali and I didn’t know what the hell to do or say. I was just all over the place. The second time I got star struck was meeting Mark Hamill. It was funny, I became an eight year old boy, giddy, like I was sitting opposite Luke Skywalker and I had to do everything in my arsenal not to show everyone how excited I was. I was literally siting at the monitor going, “I’m directing fucking Luke Skywalker, fuck.” Sitting there going, “Yeah, Mark, that was great. Just try it again.” Thinking, “God, I’m actually a good actor.” I think Mark saw how excited I was. It was Luke Skywalker, dude. It doesn’t get bigger than that.
Did you make him read for the role or did you just offer it to him?
VAUGHN: No, just straight up.
[Laughs] I can’t even imagine your reaction when he said, “Yeah, I’ll do that movie.”
VAUGHN: Yeah, because he plays himself in the comic. He’s drawn in the comic – there’s a scene of Mark Hamill in the beginning being kidnapped, and when I decided to get rid of the celebrity subplot in the movie from the comic, we were just like, “fuck it, it would be so great to have Mark Hamill.” We emailed him and said, “I’m in.” It was a pleasure, an absolute pleasure.
That’s awesome. You’ve worked with Jane [Goldman] for a while now. Can you talk about your writing process with her? Is it one of these things where you’re in the same room or do you guys switch off drafts? How do you guys collaborate?
VAUGHN: I normally bash out a very rough blueprint of what’s in my head for the movie, send it to her, and then she turns my sort of chaotic mess into a proper screenplay, and then we take different scenes – it’s very organic now. So much so that on this film there was a scene where I read it and I rang up Jane and started giving her lots of notes, “I’m not sure about this line, maybe we should change that.” And she’s like, “What the fuck are you talking about? You wrote that scene.” I’m like, “Oh, I did? Fuck. I’ll go off and fix it then.” It just works. It’s very effortless and she’s my Yin to my Yang. I joke with her saying that we’re McCartney and Lennon, where together it just works and we have fun. It’s great. I’m starting to get nervous about Yoko Ono showing up.
From when you started with Layer Cake to now, what are some of the big lessons that if you could go back in time and tell yourself that you wish you knew then, if any? I’m sure you’ve changed as a director the way you work on set and there are things you’ve learned. I’m just curious what some of those lessons are.
I put you on the spot.
VAUGHN: That is a long answer. Yeah, it’s a long answer and I have to think about it, because – I think – I mean I learned a lot about directing by watching Guy [Ritchie] as a producer, which sort of gave me the confidence to direct after a while, because it was a very collaborative experience and Guy let me do things sometimes. I always sort of say Guy was my film school. I think what I’ve learned is that the best idea wins, doesn’t matter where it’s come from. That you have to listen to everybody, be collaborative. And I think it’s trying to work with the same crew as much as possible so you’ve all got a second language with each other. You just sort of understand each other, where you’re coming from. And definitely follow your gut. There was one movie I was forced to cast someone I didn’t want to cast, and I watch the film and it still bugs the living shit out of me. My gut said “don’t do it”, but I was told to get the money “we have to do it”, and I had an urge to watch the movie and I cringed going, “Got, it’s not the film I wanted it to be.” I think follow your gut, be collaborative, and never forget how lucky we are doing it. And the moment that it’s not exciting, retire.
[Laughs] I’m sure that’s easier said than done though. There’s always that draw.
VAUGHN: Yeah listen, I don’t know. I look forward to making a film and I really enjoy it, so I don’t – I think there may be a time when you get older and it’s too exhausting or you get jaded. You hear about directors – you know there are some fabulous directors who when they hit their late fifties their movies start to suck, and I don’t think it’s because they’re not talented anymore, I think it’s because they don’t give a shit anymore and they’re just phoning it in and taking the big paycheck. I think the day that happens, you shouldn’t be directing. I’m interested in pushing boundaries and learning. Every movie you learn that you think you know everything – every time you enter into a film you think you’re more prepared to do the next, you’re not. Chaos, or god knows what, there’s going to be some problem that you never would have thought of on every movie that’s going to come up and all that happens, I think, is that the more you’ve done, the less scary the problem is. You can solve it instead of getting scared of it.
Going back to one of the things you said. I’ve heard from people that one of the things that makes Spielberg who he is, is that he has the similar attitude that best idea always wins. And he’s one of those really open filmmakers.
VAUGHN: Yeah, well there you go. I didn’t know that, but I am like that. On the set sometimes, it just makes me laugh, because I’ll be looking at something and let’s say there’s a runner bringing me a cup of tea, I go “What do you think?” And then they go, “Ah!I don’t know.” And I go, “Just tell me what you think, there’s no wrong answer.” You’re making a movie for an audience, an audience that’s pretty damn big, so therefor anybody’s got an opinion that’s right all along. It’s my job to listen to it and figure out what the audience wants.
VAUGHN: I’m not as bothered about it – I mean, I think digital is great, because it’s quicker, you can see it, you’ve got more control over the DP, because half the time you’ve got no idea what the hell they’re doing [laughs]. I do think film has a magic, sort of a beauty that digital is about 5-10% away from being, but I think the advantages that you get with digital outweighs that 10% magic, and once you see how shitty most projectors are around the world, and how people have their settings on their television, you just go “fuck it”. That 10% of magic is destroyed on most people’s viewing experience anyway, so I don’t think I’ll ever shoot film again.
It’s interesting you say that. I have this conversation with people all the time, so many people don’t factor in the mediocre to terrible projection that exists around the planet. It’s very frustrating.
VAUGHN: Yeah, that’s exactly what I’m saying. So you go, what the fuck did I even bother grading this movie for? It’s got a lightbulb that’s dying [laughs], so it looks like a horror film. Or it’s out of focus, the sounds terrible. Yeah, that’s my problem. So we might as well just do it on digital and be done with it.
Jumping into another subject, you’ve made a number of movies, are there a lot of deleted scenes from your previous films that have never seen the light of day – Stardust, X-Men – is there anything that you’ve never shown?
VAUGHN: Yeah, loads, loads. As I said, I feel like if you deleted the scene, then you have, because the movie is the movie. There would have to be a very strong reason for me to release deleted scenes. I would only do it if I watched the movie and went “Ah, it would be with that scene in, let’s go put it in.” And so far I haven’t had the urge. Maybe in ten years time, I might, but at the moment I’m very happy with the movies I’ve made. They are sort of what I wanted them to be, and I’m lucky that way.
I know that you’re a fan of comics.
VAUGHN: I am.
For people that haven’t been going to a comic store recently, what have you been reading that you want to plug and mention like, “Hey, you should go scope that out”?
VAUGHN: I haven’t been reading anything. I’m sort of a little bit weird when I make a movie, I won’t really watch other films or read anything, because what happens is it normally freaks the living fuck out of you when you’re in the middle of a film and you see another film that’s done something brilliantly and you’re thinking, “Oh my god, I shouldn’t have done that. Oh no.” Or you read a comic and – I find I switch off. I put blinkers on when I make a movie. So it is odd when people ask me, “What do you think of this film or that film?” I haven’t seen it. But then – it’s just started – the last three weeks I’ve watched so many films you wouldn’t believe, catching up, hundreds of movies where I sit there. So I haven’t read a comic or book or watched a movie really for the last two years, so I can’t say, because I’ve been in hibernation.
I actually understand where you’re coming from on that and it makes a lot of sense, because you’ve created your idea, you’ve created your script and what you’re going to do and you don’t want to see something great out there and then all the sudden have to make as wholesale change or get inspired when you’ve already committed to something.
VAUGHN: Yeah, it can be very distracting…depressing. I remember the last time I did do this, on X-Men I prevised a whole scene, a sort of psychic warrior scene between Professor X and Emma Frost where they get inside each other’s head and physics and everything goes out the window and they’re spinning around. Then as I’d just finished pre-vising it I went and watched Inception and went “Oh my god, they’ve done shot for shot what I was going to do.” The heist scene inside the – wherever it was – the spinning room. That stopped me. [Laughs] That’s why I’m never doing it again. Once you commit, you commit, and you’ve got to get on with it. And I’m having the time of my life now watching two movies a day. I’m quite enjoying it.
I love those times. That’s why I love film festivals, just going overboard.
Adam, who writes for the site, he wanted me to ask you. How much of your initial take on Days of Future Past made it into the movie? Have you seen it?
Ooh, that’s a big number.
VAUGHN: Yeah, yeah – no, no, no. I mean, we worked on the script, [Simon] Kinberg and I. It was a really tough decision for me, because I pulled out just because I’d finished the Kingsman: The Secret Service script at the same time and I was like “My god if I don’t make a fun spy movie right now, somebody else’s going to do it.” And I think there’s five coming out next year now. So we’re going to be the first of it not the last. Bryan [Singer] did a few things, which I thought were genius that weren’t in my script. I had Juggernaut breaking into the Pentagon, he changed it to Quicksilver and did that fucking brilliantly, I have to add. My idea was the sentinels at the end, I wanted them to look like Mystique. I thought there should be thousands of Mystiques attacking them in the future, but they thought differently. He changed a few more of the mutants, but it was pretty close. Yeah, it was pretty close.
I have to say though, and I really mean this, I fucking love First Class and I also love Brian’s take on Days of Future Past. I think between the two of you you’ve done just such a phenomenal job at re-energizing X-Men.
VAUGHN: Well, it’s because we both love it.
Yeah, I’m just throwing that out there as a fan. There was no question there, that was just me saying thank you as a fan. You’re producing Fantastic Four. How involved are you in that?
VAUGHN: [Fox executive] Emma Watts called me up and asked me if I would get involved. So we discussed and we’ve both got the same attitude on filmmaking, we know how lucky we are. Like, hell yeah, I love the Fantastic Four and I thought it could be fun. I said, “What’s the angle?” And they said Josh Trank’s directing it, and I thought Chronicle was an absolute piece of genius filmmaking, so I was like, “Yeah, I’d love to do it.” I have been knee-deep in the Kingsman world, but just the stuff I’ve seen looks pretty cool.
Fox obviously has many Marvel characters, I’m very curious if there’s other things in what Fox has that you’re interested in working on? Has Fox come to you like, “Hey, are you thinking about any other characters you might want to do?”
VAUGHN: Unless I’m wrong – do you mean in the X-Men world and the Fantastic Four world? Or do they have other stuff that I don’t know about?
Well they’ve got all the sub-characters that exist with those two universes.
VAUGHN: Yeah, exactly. So they’ve got the Gambits and the Deadpools.
Exactly, which they are making Deadpool and they are making Gambit.
VAUGHN: Exactly. Weirdly – it’s funny because I was discussing this – Mark Millar and I we sort of geek out with each other about what to do next and stuff. I’m a believer that – the film I’m most grateful for, which I’ve just seen recently by the way, is Guardians of the Galaxy.
VAUGHN: I absolutely loved it and I sat there with a grin on my face. I was so nervous about Kingsman, I can’t tell you, because when you do things different and fresh and fun and crazy, you don’t know how people are going to react. The fact that people loved it, I’ve seen it now four times and I’m meant to be catching up with my other movies and what happens? I just keep putting it on going “Oh, this is fucking great.” That’s the sort of movie I want to make at the moment, really fun, funny, feel good movies. The only thing about superheroes is I think the world’s about to get a little bit sick of superhero movies. There are so many being made in the next five years. That’s something that might stop me doing one, because you do feel – is there room for another superhero film right now?
You know, I hear people saying that, and I’m not going to disagree with you , the amount of superhero movies that are being produced between Warner Brothers, Marvel, Fox, and Sony, between all the studios, it’s crazy. But then you look at the box office of this year and all the big superhero movies that were put out all made insane money. I keep thinking that the shoe’s going to drop, but I just don’t know when or if it’s going to drop.
VAUGHN: Once upon a time there were a lot of westerns being made.
[Laughs] Good analogy.
Between now and 2020 there’s a ridiculous number of films being made, or at least scheduled, because you know how it is. Just because you announce something doesn’t mean it’s being made.
VAUGHN: Yeah, but in theory there’s so many being made that they’re not all going to be good, and all that will start happening is the genre – it takes two, three, four really bad superhero movies, and then the genre starts having a taint to it and then people want something fresh and new.
No, that’s very true. I will give credit to Marvel, though. The ones that they’ve been producing have really been exceptional, especially the last few.
VAUGHN: Oh, they’ve been fantastic. I agree. But it’s all the other ones that Marvel aren’t making that will probably start [laughs] giving a taint to it. I think Marvel’s been great. And Marvel hasn’t done that many. What are they averaging? Two a year?
I think they’re going to get to three a year in the upcoming future.
Yes, that’s why the Russo brothers did so well with it. In my opinion, Captain America is one of the best films of this year, because it’s not what you think it’s going to be. It’s a ’70s spy thriller that’s also a superhero movie.
VAUGHN: Yes, I agree. I loved it, absolutely loved it.
I definitely want to ask you, switching off the superhero genre, how much do you pay attention when your name is dropped on my site or other sites? Like, recently I saw your name linked to Ready Player One. I see your name linked to certain things. Are you always paying attention to that? Is there a lot of truth when your name is being dropped or not at all?
VAUGHN: [Laughs] Sometimes you wish there was. For example, me directing a Star Wars. I was like, “God, I wish that was true.” Then I actually got excited. “Do these fuckers know something I don’t? Am I going to get a call?” And then the phone never rang.
I want to interject on that one. Sometimes peoples names are being discussed at very high places and then it’s ultimately a question of what actually happens.
VAUGHN: Yeah. I don’t know. I tend not to read stuff too much. I have friends who are directors or actors and they read everything about themselves. I don’t. I find it a little bit odd, so I don’t know what’s being written, but all I can say is that was the only – I can not tell you how every single friend of mine rang me up like, “You’re doing Star Wars.” And I was like, “No, I’m not.” And they’re like, “Go on, you can tell us.” “I’m not.” And they were so bummed out when it was announced that I wasn’t. It’s funny because they thought I was lying to them. “We know you signed an NDA.” I was like, “No I haven’t. I’m telling you, I’m just not doing it.” So the answer is, I don’t really know what’s written. That was the only time I did know about that. But I have been sent Ready Player One, so there must be some truth to these tips sometimes.
Yeah, I know that’s a priority project for the studio. I have not read the book, but everyone I know that’s read it says that it’s a blast and it falls into what you were saying, which is a “fun” movie.
VAUGHN: Yes, that’s what I’ve been told. I haven’t had a chance to read it yet.
Yeah, that’s what everyone keeps on telling me. I’m curious, are you one of these people that have these unproduced written screenplays that are sitting in the desk? Do write it and then it gets picked up? Do you have a lot of unproduced scripts or not at all?
VAUGHN: No, I’m lucky enough that I’ve shot everything I’ve written.
That is insane.
VAUGHN: Yeah. Yes. Well, I don’t believe in development. I believe in pre-pre-production, so when I sit down with an idea for a movie I’m thinking I’m going to make this film. I don’t think about anything else.
I’m very curious, what have you seen technology-wise, via the use of CGI or just technology in general, that you think is about to be prevalent in movies? Have you seen any cool tech that you’re like, “Wow, I can’t wait for this to be more practical for people to use”? Have you scoped out Oculus Rift or VR stuff? What are your thoughts on that?
VAUGHN: My theory is that there’s a knee-jerk reaction against technology in movie making [laughs]. So I feel that the audience, kids, whatever, they look at CG in the same way that – I remember watching color, a color television program, at my grandparents, and my grandparents were going on, “Oh my god, look at the color, that’s amazing,” And I’m going, “What are you talking about? It’s color. What’s the big deal?” I think modern day kids feel the same way about CG and I think there’s going to be actually a knee-jerk reaction to it and the big new thing will be doing things for real.
Well, everyone always knows the advantage of practical effects.
Do you find that at the studio level – have you ever tried pitching practical and they just say “Let’s just do it with computers, practical’s not realistic”?
VAUGHN: Yeah, I think each studio’s unique in their own way that they make movies, but again, it’s about cost. If you can prove that practically doing it on a practical level it costs too much more than doing it on CG – and by the way, most of the time, you’re given a quote for a CG shot and they go “Oh, that’s cheaper than doing it for real” – cut to huge amounts of overages, because it doesn’t look real, it looks fake, and you ended up spending more money than if you had done it for real. So that’s how I feel, the more practical stuff – my next film I’d like to do as much as I can practically.
I have to ask as a fan of your work. I know you’re in the decompression of Kingsman, are you antsy already thinking about other things you want to do? Or are you the type that needs six months to decompress and just think, and then you’ll come to something?
VAUGHN: I’m definitely of the latter. What happens is I decompress and start thinking and noodling around and then suddenly a bell or a light goes on and there’s a film I want to make. That hasn’t happened yet. But normally, I’ll either read a book, a script, a comic, or have an idea and then I’m off to the races. But it’s finding it. I just want to try each movie to entertain people and try to do a few things that they haven’t seen before, and it’s pretty damn tough having that mandate [laughs].
What did you learn playing “Yuppie in Car” in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels that affected you so you would not act again?
VAUGHN: I’ll tell you, [laughs] I learned don’t be an actor. The guy, Frank Harper, literally, there was no acting, he just grabs hold of me and threw me across the street and I wasn’t mean to be a yuppie. He decided to call me, “You fucking yuppie” as he threw me across the road and then the whole crew was laughing their heads off because I was literally like a ragdoll, this guy was so strong. If you look at that take, my face, I’m not acting. I am truly terrified.
[Laughs] So you never thought about doing a Hitchcock thing, putting yourself as a cameo in the movies?
VAUGHN: Oh no, I can’t act for shit. I’m not an actor. I’m really bad in front of a camera. It wouldn’t work. I only did that because we couldn’t afford to have an extra or a stunt guy. I think the guy relished getting ahold of the producer, who was a young, cocky idiot, and throw him around.
TV right now, in my opinion, has never been better. There’s just so much television that I watch. Is there anything that you like, any shows that really stand out to you that you could plug or mention? And is doing anything in the world of television something that interests you? Or not at all?
VAUGHN: It’s a really boring answer, but I was obsessed with Breaking Bad, absolutely obsessed with it. I loved it, loved it, loved it. It was truly, I thought, genius TV. Yeah, I’m toying – I’ve got an idea for a TV show, which I’m toying with at the moment. I don’t really know much about television. I’m trying to get my head – sort of talking to people who do know about it, they’re explaining the TV business to me, because I’ve got a lot to learn.
The only advice I could say to you is one of the advantages of the UK system, HBO, AMC, is that they do six, eight, twelve episodes and that’s why the shows are generally strong, because you don’t have to water down the story.
When you start doing network and it’s twenty episodes, unless you’re a procedural, it’s very hard to maintain quality and interest with a high-concept show for that long – that many shows in one season.
VAUGHN: That’s very interesting. I’ve got a few ideas, so we’ll see. I need to find a great showrunner to team up with.