Matthew Vaughn: Battling With The King’s Man

January 6, 2022
British director Matthew Vaughn (Kick-Ass, Layer Cake) serves up a dazzling origin story with the thrilling espionage prequel The King’s Man.

After the success of his comic book adaptations Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014) and  Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017), director Matthew Vaughn (Kick-Ass, X-Men: First Class) takes the story right back to the beginning to showcase the creation of the gentlemanly espionage agency that drove the first two films. A rollicking rip through not-so-recent history, The King’s Man is set during WW1, and follows Ralph Fiennes’ Orlando, The Duke Of Oxford, an oh-so-proper former military man who battles to thwart the world-dominating plans of an evil genius. With a trio of supporters – Gemma Arterton’s Polly, Djimon Hounsou’s Shola, and his own son, Conrad (Harris Dickinson) – Orlando does battle with real life historical figures like Rasputin (Rhys Ifans) and The Kaiser (Tom Hollander) while always retaining his sense of style, decorum and good manners.

Ralph Fiennes and Harris Dickinson in The King’s Man.

Germany and The Kaiser play large roles in the film…

“I like history, and one cannot not mention The Kaiser when you’re talking about World War I.  The whole movie was always about the foundation of the Kingsman, and in the first film, Colin Firth says that the Kingsman was founded due to World War I. I found it fascinating that Donald Trump is virtually a reincarnation of The Kaiser. He’s a narcissistic, egotistical sort of baby that had a hatred for his cousins, King George and the Czar. They used to bully him, and Queen Victoria tortured The Kaiser because he had a little hand. And Germany was a very, very new country. He was only the second Kaiser, and Germany was just being unified. They belittled him, so he built the navy. He wanted to be like Great Britain, and then he wanted to beat us. And he failed. That is the basis of this movie: how wars can break out for really silly reasons. I wanted this movie to remind people that history, especially bad history, has a habit of repeating itself, so we need to learn from history and change our behaviour patterns. And there are a lot of warnings, which now become a lot more relevant in the film to this crazy world that we are sadly all part of at the moment.”

Did you find something that reminded you of James Bond in this film?
“Yes, there are a few little nods and winks, but not as many in this as the other ones. It’s a different film, but there are a few. If you are a big Bond fan, you might see a few polite nods.”

A scene from The King’s Man.

I just loved the gag with Tom Hollander playing The Kaiser, The Czar and King George. Do you think the Queen will have a good chuckle about this when she sees it?

“Do you know what? I think the Queen will…she might and she might not, depending on the mood she’s in. The reason that we cast the same actor is because if you Google King George and The Czar, the pictures will come up and you cannot tell the fucking difference between these two people. They were cousins and ultimately what we are saying about World War I is that there are three cousins having a family feud at the expense of a lot of noble soldiers. That is one of the themes of the movie, and I’m not sure what the Queen will think of that. But King George comes across a lot better than The Kaiser.”

I know that you cast Harris Dickinson within ten minutes. What was it that you saw in those 10 minutes?
“The same thing that hopefully you guys will see in 120 minutes. The way I cast, I am very instinctive. When they walk through the door, it’s the same experience you guys have watching the screen with somebody entering a scene. And then they open their mouth and you make your decision on them. So I’m just using my eyes and I’m viewing him as if I am viewing the character, and either it is the character or it isn’t. Sometimes someone might come in and they look right and then they deliver the lines perfectly, but it just doesn’t happen. With Aaron Taylor-Johnson, I saw hundreds of people for Kick Ass, and then he came in and within two minutes I knew that he was the guy. It was the same with Taron in Kingsman. I’d virtually given up on finding anyone in both those scenarios. And weirdly, Harris was the second person I saw for the role. And then he got it and that was it. So if they are right, they are right, and unless I am 100 percent sure they are right for the role, I don’t give it to them.  You either believe it or you don’t, and I believed him.”

Harris Dickinson in The King’s Man.

This movie seems to be more serious and on a bigger scale than the last two movies.  Was it tricky to balance with your signature comedic moments and over the top action?

“Balancing is the key to everything, and this is different, it’s a different film. It has to be different. You can’t have an origin story that starts in the same world as the previous films. The destination can’t be the same place as where you embark from. You must have a journey, so this embarks from a very, very different place to the other Kingsman movies. And the journey starts finding elements of what we know Kingsman for, but this is a companion piece, and a different film. But it’s connected through the tailor shop and through the history and through the values, but it’s different. I didn’t just want to do a Kingsman movie and put them in period suits and go, ‘Hey, now let’s go have a fight in a church.’ It’s different but related.”

The mythology of King Arthur features more heavily this time, and the film is even more British…

“There is more King Arthur in this film because it talks about chivalry, and it talks about a roundtable. I really fucked up on Kingsman; they should have been sitting around a roundtable in that room…only I would fucking think of that two movies later! It was the dumbest thing I’ve ever done! But hey, you make mistakes! But it is about chivalry, and the roundtable is all about how no one has any status, and you are all equal. I am very proud of being British, but at the same time, I think many things that have made us British, we have forgotten. I personally think that we made a mistake leaving the EU, fucking going, ‘Christ, what is going on?’ But there is King Arthur, and it’s a celebration of being English. But it is more about being a gentleman, and a gentleman shouldn’t have to be English to have a proper suit, to use an umbrella, and to treat people well. That has weirdly become a cliche of it being an English gentleman. But I am saying that anyone can be a gentleman, and it doesn’t matter where you are from, who you are, or what you are. If you want to use an umbrella when it rains, you are free to go do it. If you want to treat people well, please do.”

Djimon Hounsou and Ralph Fiennes in The King’s Man.

Will there be more films on the origin story? Filling the gaps in?

“We were meant to be prepping in November on Kingsman 3. But COVID has decided to fuck that up for everyone at the moment, so we are waiting to hear and see what happens. And I am hoping that people like this because I would love to go through the decades, because Kingsman is about history, espionage, and fashion, so it’s fun to explore. We had so much fun redesigning the Kingsman suits and the style of the early 20th century. There was beautiful tailoring back then. So it was lovely to bring back some old fashioned tailoring, where you think, ‘Why did they stop doing it this way?’ So yeah, hopefully people go watch it and like it, and yeah, there will be more. The audience is the boss, not me.”

Is there a reason why you called this one The King’s Man?

“Very much, because if I said to you now, you are about to watch ‘Kingsman: The Great Game’, you will automatically be thinking that Eggsy and Harry are in it, and you will be thinking of the first two films. ‘I am totally fucking confused because I am now watching a movie that is period and with Ralph Fiennes…what the fuck just happened?’ Sorry about swearing…I am knackered and shouldn’t be doing it, but whatever. I am acting in a totally un-Kingsman manner. So we thought about it and thought that this is a misdirect, and what is this movie? It’s about a man and the foundation of the Kingsman, so we were looking at it and then we literally went the King, apostrophe S, Man, alright. So you now know it’s the same thing, but it is different. So if we did a sequel to this, it would actually be The King’s Man 2.  If it’s going to be a sequel to the other Kingsman, it would be Kingsman, so that people aren’t confused or feeling like they have been mis-sold.”

Matthew Vaughn on the set of The King’s Man.

I think all of us have been whining about how bored we are during lockdown, and I am thinking maybe lockdown was helpful to you.  Have you been editing the film during this time?

“No, the opposite actually. We were just finishing the movie off before the lockdown; we had two more weeks of mixing to do. With mixing, you have got to be in the studio. We started mixing until suddenly we had to stop and all go home. I don’t think any of us were expecting it to go on and on and on. I was in lockdown, I am with the kids, and there’s nothing I can do. I couldn’t edit it, and I just forgot about it. So when I went back into the mix, it was the first time ever that I had four months away from a movie. I got to watch it again, and I became a viewer again, which was really refreshing. And it’s odd because I was so proud to watch it; I was astonished that we had made it. We thought the mix would take three to four weeks because we had been away, and we did it in six days, because it was so clear, and we had such a precision. We only allowed four in the room, and we were so happy to be in a bloody working environment again and being creative, that it was really fun. I am proud of this one. I just hope that people get to see it in the cinema, because it really is a big screen experience.”

The King’s Man is released in cinemas on January 6. Click through for our interviews with The King’s Man’s Ralph Fiennes and Gemma ArtertonRhys Ifans and Tom Hollander; and Djimon Hounsou and Harris Dickinson.

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