Matthew Vaughn talks bringing fun back to action films with 'Kingsman: The Secret Service'
Matthew Vaughn wants action movies to be fun again.
It’s an admirable goal—and one he strives to accomplish in Kingsman: The Secret Service. A love letter to spy films of yesteryear, when silly gadgets and wild action sequences shared space with genuine, heartfelt stories, Kingsman follows Eggsy (Taron Egerton) as he attempts to become a member of the clandestine Kingsman guard.
Egerton is surrounded by a tremendous cast, including Colin Firth, Michael Caine, Mark Strong, and Samuel L. Jackson—all of whom play a role in a plot that could destroy the world.
Kingsman, based on Mark Millar’s graphic novel, is filled with twists, turns, and some of the most imaginative action sequences in recent action films. And fear not: The third-act brawl does not end in yet another city’s destruction.
For more on Kingsman, see EW’s interview with Vaughn—including a pitch for why his film is your best date option this Valentine’s Day, rather than that other movie opening this week.
EW: Right from the start, Kingsman has this vibrant energy that sets it apart from a lot of recent action films. What were you hoping to accomplish with that tone?
Matthew Vaughn: This whole movie’s about having fun. It’s a tough time everyone’s having right now. It’s a tough world; [a] lot of bad stuff happening. And I wanted to give two hours of good escapism.
In a lot of ways, Kingsman seems like a statement that fun movies are back. Does it feel like the rest of the industry is on that same page with you?
It’s coming back. Guardians [of the Galaxy] is the rubicon of fun movies coming back. It really is. It did make me laugh because, two weeks before Guardians came out, all the studios were like, “Oh, that looks stupid. That’s going to tank.” And then it’s a huge hit, and you’ve got all of Hollywood going, “okay, we need fun movies. Where do we get fun movies?” And I’m saying to Fox, “We’ve got one already!”
And so suddenly, they [went from], “What is this weird, quirky thing?” to “Okay, great.” And then they started screening it, and everyone’s laughing and clapping and enjoying themselves. It’s called entertainment. That’s the business we’re in, to entertain people.
One of the most entertaining aspects is how you use your cast—everyone has at least a few fun moments, from Colin Firth to Mark Hamill.
First time I’ve ever been starstruck. First time in my life. I was looking through the camera going, “That’s Luke Skywalker. That’s Luke Skywalker. Play it cool.” [laughs] I was just sitting there going, “I want to ask him a million questions about Star Wars, but I can’t. I’m the director. I have to look professional.” And then at the end of it everyone was like, “Oh did you ask him about…” And I was like, “I couldn’t.”
Of all the film’s different factors, what do you think is most integral to making it as fun as it is?
The essential to make something fun is to have a lightness in your step, and comedy—but we weren’t trying to make the movie funny. Big difference between being fun and funny. Austin Powers takes it to the extreme left, and I loved Austin Powers, but that’s a good example of being funny and just going for it. It’s more of a pastiche. We were still trying to do a proper, serious spy film.
At the end of this movie, I think there are kids who are going to say, “I want to be a Kingsman.” I can’t imagine anyone after seeing Austin Powers saying, “I want to be Austin Powers.” Likewise, I don’t think people watch Bond or Bourne and want to recreate them. When I watched Indiana Jones, Star Wars, these characters, I wanted to be them. Indiana Jones had a sense of fun about him. Superman back then had fun. I think if they don’t take themselves too seriously, it gives you permission to think that you could actually be them and have that role play in your head.
Kingsman is also the next in a series of adaptations you’ve done. Was there anything that surprised you, regarding how it transferred from the page to the screen?
The main thing we did change—Harry Hart [Colin Firth] was the uncle [in the comic]. Like, Trading Places or My Fair Lady wouldn’t have worked if they were related. So you need that conflict of two worlds coming together. And what surprised me—I was pleasantly relieved at how great Colin was at doing the action, because that could have gone the other way around. We could have become Austin Powers if we had screwed that up.
As a spy film and as an action film, where do you hope Kingsman fits in the canon for audiences today?
I’m proud of this film. Fun is also a very subjective thing, and this is a very British movie. The shadow of spy movies comes so much from Bond, and British ’60s, ’70s spies. For some reason, if you say to kids here, In Like Flint, Man from U.N.C.L.E., Get Smart, they don’t know them. But in England, you say Bond, Avengers, they’ve got more of an echo. Hopefully kids say, “Wow, this is the most original thing I’ve ever seen,” not having any idea it’s got a lot of post-modern references. Or if they get the references, we’ve hopefully twisted them enough so they feel original and not a cliche.
Well, thank you for taking the time to speak with me.
Oh, one last thing. Genuinely I can say this. If you’re going to have a date [for Valentine’s Day] as a man, you’re going to have a far better chance of it being a successful date if you take them to see this film. If you take them to see 50 Shades of Grey, they’re going to think you’re a freak. And likewise, women will impress men by suggesting it.
Kingsman: The Secret Service