It perhaps wasn’t as eventful as Nicky Barmby leaving Goodison for Anfield, but when Matthew Vaughn left the director’s chair on X-Men: Days Of Future Past to helm the adaptation of Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons’ comic, The Secret Service, it caused a bit of a stir. Leaving one surefire blockbuster for a relatively unknown quantity – had the British director taken leave of his senses?
Well, no. The Secret Service was, of course, Vaughn’s idea in the first place – Millar and Gibbons went off to do the comic, while the director reteamed with Jane Goldman to write a screenplay that will follow the basic structure of the comic, but veer wildly off in different directions at key moments. And it made sense that the director would stick with his baby – as he told Empire last year, the chance to work on a potential franchise that was all his proved a lure too great to resist.
And yesterday, the first trailer for the movie – starring Colin Firth as a suave British secret agent, newcomer Taron Egerton as the raw council estate-dwelling recruit he mentors, and Samuel L. Jackson as an evil megalomaniac – hit the internet. Around the same time, Empire visited Vaughn in his Soho editing HQ, where he’s ten weeks away from finishing the movie, and got him to give us a very exclusive trailer breakdown.
As well as that, we also saw plenty of footage from the movie which indicates that it’ll be a no-holds-barred, extraordinarily violent fun spy romp – part early Bond, part Men In Black - with the unflappable Firth finding previously uncharted levels of deadpan. More on that later – for now, take it away, Mr. Vaughn...
This is the film’s lead, Taron Egerton, as Gary aka 'Eggsy', leaving his council estate home (actually shot in Swiss Cottage, London), and squaring up against some local hooligans. “He’s a young kid from a bad neighbourhood, who’s getting into trouble a lot,” says Vaughn.
Egerton hadn’t been on a film set before landing the role. But whether it’s Sienna Miller, Chloë Grace Moretz or Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Vaughn has had an astonishing eye for fresh faces. “I pride myself on recognising talent,” says the man who was also the first to take a gamble on Daniel Craig as a leading man in Layer Cake. “I’m prepared to take risks on unknown actors. If I could always make movies with unknowns, I would.”
Vaughn says that the choice for Eggsy came down to three young actors. “One was Jack O’Connell, the other was John Boyega,” he reveals. O’Connell has since bagged the lead in Joe Cornish’s period spy thriller, Section 6, while Boyega has bagged a major role – perhaps the major role – in J.J. Abrams’ Star Wars: Episode VII. “I was umming and aahing between them, and they all had unbelievable strengths,” adds Vaughn. “But I thought Taron just had a likeability about him which was so unique.”
“Eggsy can do parkour, he can pickpocket, he can drive a car backwards,” says Vaughn of Eggsy’s credentials. “He trained to be in the Royal Marines, but pulled out for various reasons. He’s got skills, just used for the wrong purpose. He needs to be focused and pointed in the right direction.” What he needs, in short, is Colin Firth.
Which is exactly what he gets. In the comics, Eggsy is taken under the wing of Jack London, a suave super-spy (who looks a lot like Jason Isaacs). In the movie, the same happens, but Jack London is now Harry Hart, and he looks a lot like Colin Firth. “Every movie character is called Jack at the moment,” says Vaughn. “How many fucking 'Jacks' can there be? And there’s the author Jack London. And I’m a fan of alliteration.”
Firth has never played Bond (and to make it clear, Kingsman: The Secret Service is not a Bond spoof; like Kick-Ass, it takes place in a world where the Bond movies exist, and are referenced throughout), but from what we’ve seen that’s looking more and more like an egregious oversight, one Vaughn is correcting with relish. Harry is more of a Bond/Steed-from-The-Avengers amalgam, right down to being absolutely lethal with an umbrella, but Firth’s clipped, upper-class tones and dry, sardonic air of detachment are just right for the role. And believe us, when the man lets loose with a firearm, you’ll forget all about The King’s Speech. Prepare for tons of first-base ‘Colin Firth as you’ve never seen him before!’ headlines.
A member of The Kingsmen, an impeccably-dressed underground spy organization dedicated to preserving world peace, Harry knew Eggsy’s dad, a fellow agent who perished during a training mission. “Harry gave Eggsy’s mum a medal with a number on the back, saying, ‘If you ever need help, dial it’,” explains Vaughn. “So Eggsy’s dialed the number and he’s used up his one favour to get him out of prison.”
But when Harry is impressed by Eggsy’s skills (see the opening voiceover), he offers him a way out.
Previously known as The Secret Service, the movie has had a fairly late-in-the-day name change, with the addition of 'Kingsman' to the title. Here’s why. Harry invites Eggsy to come see him at a tailor’s shop with a very interesting name... Kingsman. A name that also describes any agent who works for the organisation. “They’re totally independent,” says Vaughn. “The idea is based on a group of aristocrats who lose their kids in World War I. They all had their suit made at the same tailor’s, so by default there was this weird club and they said, ‘Fuck it, we’ll put all our money here, and our power, and try to make sure that World War I never happens again’. They’re described as the ‘new Knights’ in the trailer. “They’re protecting the world,” adds Vaughn. “They don’t work for the government. Government spy agencies are corrupt. Politics is muddy and murky and slow and crap, and they’re above it. This is our own playing field.”
In this scene, Harry – who, as Eggsy points out, is not a tailor - takes his young charge to an anteroom at Kingman to get kitted out. Empire has been lucky enough to see the full version of this scene, and it’s bags of fun – a stylish tip of the hat to Q, as Firth shows off everything from electric signet rings to stabby shoes, but somehow with an even more stylish air than 007. “They’ve got all the gentlemen’s attire,” laughs Vaughn. “And they’ve all got gadgets in them. And this isn’t their main room. This is a little room off the tailor’s where they go to wash up and grab a new briefcase and pen. They have a main base, but this is more like a petrol station.”
Harry’s glasses may seem like a nod to Harry Palmer (“Michael Caine saw them and said, ‘I used to wear these all the time in the '60s!'”, laughs Vaughn), but their origin lies closer to home. “They’re based on mine! I’ve got a pair of glasses I’ve always liked, so I said, ‘Can we adjust them and make them the Kingsmen’s glasses?” The idea is that most Kingsmen wear them in the field, and not just because they got a bulk deal down at Vision Express. “They’re gadgets – they can see things and communication through them.”
Here, just about visible in one shot, is Mark Hamill. To fans of the comic, this may not come as a surprise, as Hamill appears as himself in the action sequence that opens the first issue. But Vaughn has made some key changes for the movie. Hamill still appears as a captive in the opening action sequence, but it doesn’t end in the same way… and he’s no longer playing himself. “He’s playing Professor James Arnold, who’s an environmentally aware scientist who gets kidnapped,” says Vaughn. “For me, it was an honour to work with him – lovely guy, great actor and part of my formation of being a filmmaker is above your head.” At this, Vaughn points to a Star Wars poster on the wall above Empire’s chair. “It takes a lot to get me starstruck these days, but every now and again I’d go, ‘Fuck me, it’s Luke Skywalker!’”
Vaughn made the character change because “having celebrities in there gets weird. It could become gimmicky”.
Note, also, the hand in this shot. It belongs to Lancelot, a Kingsman operative who’s been sent to rescue Professor Arnold, but it’s not Harry (codename: Galahad). About that we’ll say no more...
Here’s the legendary Sir Michael Caine as Arthur, the head of the Kingsmen. “He’s an old spy who’s clawed his way to the top,” says Vaughn. “He’s no-nonsense and a bit of a snob. I asked him to channel his Zulu character – ‘Can you be your Zulu character 50 years on?’ He loved it!”
Here we see the other prospective Kingsmen recruits who are about to be put through their paces. Vaughn says the movie is essentially two movies in one – one half a training movie, the other half a balls-out spy thriller. But this shot also contains, in essence, the spark that saw him create the movie/comic in the first place. ‘The recruits are all a bunch of typical English Oxbridge ex-officer, snobby, public school guys. They think they know it all, they’re entitled,” says Vaughn. “They’re a side of England that’s still holding England back, to be honest. When I watched the riots in Tottenham, I was watching all these people being interviewed about it and nobody was asking, ‘Why are they rioting?’ It summed up England – that snobbery. And I come from a world where I’d be more to the left of that shot than to the right, but I just wanted to make a movie where we showed that everyone deserves a chance.”
X-Men: First Class had a Mark Strong lookalike, but not the real deal (rumour has it he was offered the role of Sebastian Shaw, but didn’t take it), so it’s good to see Strong – a long-term Vaughn lucky charm – back in the fold, sporting a Scottish accent as the mysterious Merlin. “He’s the man of all seasons,” explains Vaughn. “He trains them, he fixes the gadgets and runs everyone’s lives. He’s the nuts and bolts of the Kingsmen.” He’s also the guy who puts the recruits through their paces...
In this shot, we see Eggsy tied to train tracks as a train bears down on him. It’s all part of a test. “The tests are a matter of life and death,” says Vaughn. “People do get killed. They’re not multiple choice shit, it’s really throwing them in at the deep end.”
The train test was actually instrumental in Vaughn’s decision to cast Egerton. “I was worried that if I got the balance wrong [in the casting], the audience would be wanting the train to run him over! I thought Taron had that lightness of touch, where you’d still like him.”
In this test, the recruits are given a rude awakening when their dorm room is suddenly flooded with water – with, seemingly, no way out…
And, in another sequence Empire clapped peepers on, six of them dive out of a plane… only to discover that only five have parachutes. “The Kingsmen say, ‘Figure it out,” adds Vaughn. “They may look like a bunch of old toffs, but they’re hardcore underneath it.”
In this brief shot, we meet the film’s femme fatale and uber-henchman, Gazelle. Played by Sofia Boutella (“She used to be Madonna’s backing dancer!”), she’s a domineering presence, as adept with a handgun as she is at slicing people in two with her deadly feet – two razor-sharp artificial feet that take the concept of blade running to a new high. Here, you can just about make out the feet. “People will be talking about her,” vows Vaughn. “She’s the next Halloween costume.” So, Rosa Klebb times ten, then? “Much more so,” he laughs. “And much better looking!”
In this scene – just a glimpse of an incredibly fun pub sequence where Harry takes out a gang of ruffians – we see Firth brandish his souped-up brolly. They do say it’s bad luck to open those inside, after all… “Manners makyth man,” he says. Too bloody right.
“I have a little trouble understanding you people sometimes,” says Samuel L. Jackson, who plays the film’s big bad wolf, Valentine. “You all… talk so funny.” Of course, he says it with a pronounced lisp, an embellishment the actor came up with on the day. Valentine’s plan is virtually identical to that of the bad guy from the comic book, but we won’t spoil it here, save to say that it involves a large amount of slaughter. “He’s insanely sane,” says Vaughn of the character. “By the end of the movie you reluctantly think that maybe his plan is quite good... but at the same time unfair.”
It’s Colin Firth as you’ve never seen him before! We’re not going to say too much about this sequence, in which Harry visits a rather raucous church, but it could well make the end of Peter Jackson’s Braindead look like the scrap between Firth and Hugh Grant in Bridget Jones’s Diary.
In this brief scene, we see “Princess Tilda”, another kidnap victim. And that besuited, bespectacled man opening the door to potentially rescue her? That’s not Firth’s Harry, but Eggsy in full-on Kingsman garb. “We don’t see full-on Eggsy in this trailer,” admits Vaughn. “But we get glimpses.” Like...
This shot, where Eggsy uses his parkour skills to put the hurt on some unfortunate henchmen. “That’s Taron,” confirms Vaughn, with a smile. “Colin couldn’t fucking do that!”