The Kingsman franchise has not shied away from controversial material about U.S. presidents in the past — but director Matthew Vaughn felt specific jokes about President Donald Trump were a bridge too far for Kingsman: The Golden Circle.
We’ll explain. But for context, rewind to March 2016. While still a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, Trump was the butt of a graphic joke at the end of Sacha Baron Cohen’s comedy The Brothers Grimsby. Baron Cohen told EW that audiences in Europe were standing up and applauding at the scene, but the movie flopped in its U.S. release.
Around that same time, director Matthew Vaughn was commencing production on his sequel to 2015’s popular action-spy pastiche Kingsman: The Secret Service. The script for the follow-up, written by Vaughn and Jane Goldman, featured at least two references to Trump, one in the dialogue of the film’s villain (Julianne Moore) and one in the production design.
“In the edit, we toned down some stuff,” Vaughn told EW prior to the film’s release.
Poppy, the nefarious CEO played by Moore, had expressed her desire to host NBC’s The Apprentice — Trump’s flagship reality show for more than a decade. “We actually took out the Apprentice line,” the director says, “because we felt it was too close to the bone. I think America’s going through a pretty interesting and rough ride at the moment and I wanted this movie to be escapism. And that means not suddenly have half the audience going, ‘That’s not cool, that’s not funny!’ as the other half is cheering.”
That same impulse control also led to one of the film’s pivotal sets being redesigned. “We were building a White House Oval Office in the style of Trump Tower. We were making it in all gold and blinging it up. This was in May of 2016 and then I had an inkling. I remember saying to my American production designer, ‘Trump might win, you know? Would this be as funny if Trump won?’ And he was like, ‘Trump will never win.’ And I said, ‘You know what, I have a weird feeling he might. So let’s build a normal Oval Office and scrap the Trump version.’ I think my instinct was right. If you go too far — if movies get political when they’re meant to be fun — then it weighs everything down a bit too much.”
Though Vaughn says that he did receive a phone call from his production designer last November, on the day after the election. “Trust me, he rang me up, virtually crying, and going, ‘I shouldn’t have laughed at you. This is my karma for laughing.'”
Vaughn is no stranger to controversy, of course. In the original Kingsman, the director depicted the death of numerous world leaders, including the U.S. president — a man shown from behind who bore a striking resemblance to Barack Obama.
“This is not an attack on Obama at all,” Vaughn told EW at the time, stressing the character was not meant to be the president himself. “This is an attack on all politicians, but the easiest way to making the point where people knew that [Samuel L. Jackson’s villain] was in power was to have the White House. We needed someone who was reminiscent of Obama, so that people got the point.” Vaughn added, “I think Obama is a good man. This whole movie is meant to be fun. We’re all having a tough time in the world right now, and it’s meant to be two hours of letting you forget about everything.”
Despite the lack of Trump material, Kingsman: The Golden Circle didn’t suffer at the box office. The film’s first place, $39 million take was more than the original film, which finished in the second spot on opening weekend. And a particular scene in the movie involving a tracking device implanted during a sexual act has gotten people talking.
“This bloody movie doesn’t lack potency,” Vaughn adds.