Kingsman director Matthew Vaughn answers burning questions
If you haven’t seen Kingsman: The Secret Service, you definitely shouldn’t be reading this. We limited our interview with director Matthew Vaughn almost exclusively to spoilers.
If you have see Kingsman: The Secret Service, you won’t be surprised to know that EW’s burning questions for the director had to do with anal sex, exploding heads, and a bloody church massacre.
Since the love letter to spy movies is already gaining a following and a fair amount of notoriety, we asked Vaughn about three of the film’s most buzzed-about moments.
The joke at the end of the movie — where Princess Tilde rewards Eggsy with anal sex for saving her — has caused a stir in the preview screenings. What was the origin of the gag?
If you’ve noticed, this is my Spinal Tap of trying to find 11 with every scene. What happened there was I studied all the old movies, especially the Bond ones. At the end of Moonraker, he’s floating around in space on Dr. Goodhead, and they say, “Bond is attempting reentry.” In The Spy Who Loved Me, he says he’s “keeping the British end up.” The innuendo is pretty strong and always comes from the men. I just thought it would be great to turn it on its head by having the woman say it. I actually think it’s empowering. Some bloody feminists are accusing me of being a misogynist. I’m like, “It couldn’t be further from the truth.” It’s a celebration of women and the woman being empowered in a weird way in my mind, which will cause a big argument again I’m sure. It’s meant to be tongue-in-cheek and crazy.
Was there ever any question, either on your end or from the studio, of whether to include it?
There was a lot of debate about whether to put it in or out. We watched it without the line, and it just felt a bit flat. You just went, “Well, really?” It just didn’t feel as brave as the rest of the movie is. There’s not right or wrong about movies, but I was surprised when people are saying to me, “I loved the movie. I think it’s great, but I was offended by that.” I said, “Really? That’s more offensive than exploding heads, massacres in church, swearing, people being cut in half?” I was like, come on. It’s just a joke. It’s not even graphic.
How did the scene play out in the version without the joke?
What you do is you say, “If you save the world, I’ll give you more than a kiss.” That’s it. Then he goes back for it and shuts the door. That’s it. Then you go, “Yeah, that’s okay.” For the 20 percent who were offended by it, there are 80 percept who are rolling around laughing so hard. Those 20 percent of people just need to lighten up a little bit. It’s about pushing boundaries and having a bit of fun. It’s not meant to be offensive, and it’s definitely not misogynist or any attack on women. That’s for sure.
Even before them, you pushed some boundaries by exploding an enormous amount of heads. Was the visual always going to be the colored smoke we see?
With the heads exploding, I wrote the line saying something like, “And then all of the bad guys’ heads start to explode in a Busby Berkeley firework display.” So I always imagined it to be beautiful and brief. I went to three effects houses because the first two kept going what I call “Cronenberg-Scanners style,” sort of messy with brains. I said, “Guys, that’s disgusting. I don’t want that. I keep saying I want surreal and beautiful, like the nicest fireworks.” I wanted people to forget what they’re looking at and enjoy it. Three effects houses later, it was the first thing I previz-ed and the last thing we got ready before delivery. Once we got it right, people seemed to really like it. I haven’t had one complaint about it, which is a good sign.
You also managed to blow up President Obama’s head. That’s interesting timing considering what happened with The Interview and North Korea.
First of all, it’s not Obama. I just want to be clear. This is not an attack on Obama at all. This is an attack on all politicians, but the easiest way to making the point where people knew that Valentine was in power was to have the White House. We needed someone who was reminiscent of Obama, so that people got the point. But we’re taking out all politicians, whether it’s Swedish or English. What made me laugh is that also this movie is a very good example of a thing called free speech and expression. Something tells me that if Obama does watch the movie, it will make him laugh. I know he’s a big comic book fan, so I think he’ll go with it. It’s not an attack on Obama. 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.
Turning to one of your other water-cooler moments, with the church fight, how did you nail down the technical aspects of pulling off the scene?
With a lot of prep. I have a brilliant second unit director/fight choreographer, Brad Allan, and we just sat down. I said, “Brad, I want it to be a ballet of slaughter. I don’t want quick cuts. I want the camera to float around.” We looked at lots of references, and he went off and designed the fight. He brings it back to me on video, and we then cut some stuff, changed the order of things. Eventually, it evolves until it’s all really planned. Then you go off and shoot it. The real work, the real brain sweating is coming up with the idea and figuring out how to do it.
Did you use tricky editing or special effects to string the long takes together?
It’s all for real. I didn’t want any wirework. Poor Colin was out there for six months training and training and training. That’s why I call it a ballet because in a weird way, fight sequences are just dances. We wanted to do it so that we could make it more hypnotic in the length of it. People say, “Oh, it’s too long.” I’m going, “No, it’s not too long. It’s making a point.” Normally, a scene like that you’d have one hundred cuts: left, right, and center, shaking the camera around so you have no idea what’s going on. That’s why I think people are surprised by it, because you can actually watch what’s happening and just follow it as a story.
How did you decide to use “Free Bird”?
When I wrote the scene, I did it to “November Rain,” the Guns N’ Roses track. I was laughing because I’ve always had this image of Slash, playing the guitar in front of a little white church in the middle of nowhere. That was in my mind, but A) the guitar solo is not long enough, and B) it’s actually darker than I realized. I literally went online and search “great long American guitar solos.” “Free Bird” came up, and I whacked it on. It looked like we shot the whole thing using that track. Then we did a really great remix of it, where we got all of The Stems. A friend of mine, Charles Martin, who is George Martin’s son, remixed the whole thing for me. It fit it perfectly, and it’s cool. It’s a good guitar solo, man.
Kingsman: The Secret Service