“When I write a movie, I usually have actors in my head because it’s a lot easier. Ironically, I do tend to use dead actors,” revealed Matthew Vaughn, the writer, producer, and director of The King’s Man. “When I wrote The King’s Man, it was David Niven.”
A period prequel to Kingsman: The Secret Service and Kingsman: The Golden Circle, which grossed $414.4 million and $410.9 million, respectively, The King’s Man finally lands in theaters on Wednesday, December 22, 2021.
He added, “I was thinking about who would be the epitome of the man who could start all this, the nascent Kingsman, and David Niven with a bit of James Mason popped into my head.”
I caught up with Vaughn to discuss his process, making old-school high tech cool, and how he got Ralph Fiennes to headline the action-adventure.
Simon Thompson: The original plan was to shoot the third Kingsman movie and this prequel back to back. Did that happen?
Matthew Vaughn: No (Laughs). The King’s Man should have come out about two years ago, although my mind is sort of in a vortex of confusion these days when it comes to time. I know it has been over four years since we wrote it, three years since we shot it, and nearly two years since we finished it, which is bizarre. I want to say a huge thank you to Disney for not just putting on a streaming service because we did make this for the big screen experience. Kingsman: The Blue Blood will be the next thing we do, and we’re hopefully going to shoot that late summer 2022 before Eggsy and Harry get too old.
Thompson: How fundamentally different is doing a prequel to a sequel?
Vaughn: This is the second prequel I’ve done, with my first one being X-Men: First Class. I got an itch for this one when I rewatched a movie called The Man Who Would Be King, as it reminded me a lot about when I fell in love with cinema. It had everything in it. I remember watching it and thinking it was epic and entertaining. It has history, great characters, great actors, a great story, genuine pathos and humor, and important messaging. I thought it was a masterpiece. Afterward, I just joked around with some of the guys in the film company and said,’ Why don’t we do The Man Who Would Be Kingsman?’ Everyone was like, ‘What are you talking about? No one likes movies like that anymore,’ to which I replied, ‘How do people know they don’t like movies like this anymore because they’re not given a chance to see them. Isn’t it our job to make movies that we would love? Spielberg did Raiders of the Lost Ark because it was like all the big movies he grew up and loves.’ As always, they thought I was crazy, but the more people were nervous about it, the more excited I got. I know that even if people don’t like it, they’re not going to forget it, and you’ll have a good or a bad reaction, but you’re not going to think it’s another formulaic, cookie-cutter film.
Thompson: The other Kingsman movies use tech and gadgets a lot, but you didn’t have that advantage here. How did you approach that and keep the wonder?
Vaughn: To a caveman, a wheel is high-tech. We have tech in The King’s Man; it’s just from a different time. We found lots of things that were cool. I did a lot of research. When I found the swords with the guns, that’s all real, I thought, ‘Well, we’ll take that.’ When I had to go in the World War I fighter plane, I called it the lawnmower made of canvas and balsa wood. I didn’t want to go up in it. However, then I thought we could do a great action sequence around how flimsy the damn thing is, and we had fun with it. We’ve got the shoes with a knife coming out the front; I slipped that in, so we used the technology of the period and ran with it. Back then, a sword was the equivalent of a laser beam, so whether it’s a lightsaber or steel sword, it’s all about the context. I think there’s something quite charming about the low tech being high tech.
Thompson: Pulling together a cast for something like this, do you have a list somewhere with names of people you’d like to see in one of your projects or think about that after?
Vaughn: When I write a movie, I usually have actors in my head because it’s a lot easier. Ironically, I do tend to use dead actors. When I wrote The King’s Man, it was David Niven. I was thinking about who would be the epitome of the man who could start all this, the nascent Kingsman and David Niven with a bit of James Mason popped into my head. Then I had to decide who the modern equivalent is because that’s tough to pull out of the bag. I looked at Ralph Fiennes, and I’ve been a fan of his for a long time, and he can be funny as hell as well. Some of the other great thespians, you give them a one-liner, and they choke. They can’t do it. I did everything I could to persuade him to do the film, and it took a bit of time. I had to jump through some fiery hoops to convince him, but once he was on board, you couldn’t have a more dedicated, brilliant actor to work with.
Thompson: Whenever I speak to the people who star in your movies, they always talk about “Matthew’s unique style.” So, what is Matthew’s unique style, Matthew?
Vaughn: (Laughs) No idea. I guess the only thing I can say is that I like to try and look at things differently and try and be as entertaining as possible. I always say that we’re serious films that don’t take ourselves too seriously, meaning that, as a craft, we all work hard, but we’re making movies. It should be fun to make, and it should be fun to watch. I know the real secret to my success is casting great actors because you gave me a dud actor; I wouldn’t know what the hell to do with them. I’d be like, ‘F**k. He can’t act. What do I do?’ I’ve actually been in that position once, and I just got rid of them and brought in a good actor to replace them. John Huston said that directing is 90 percent casting. You’re good if you cast the right people and have a good script, but if people start talking about the cinematography because that’s what they remember the most, you’re buggered. I love cinematography, but it should be lower on the totem pole of what is the thing that you enjoyed. I still pretend I’m a director. It makes me laugh that I became a director, but I was so pissed off with directors being auteurs, thinking the sun shone out of their arse and that they were changing the world. We were making movies. When I’m making a movie, I’m trying to imagine myself sitting in the movie theater watching it and hopefully not getting bored. People may hate the film, and there are a lot of negative descriptions that I will accept when it comes to my movies, but boring and forgettable, I won’t.
The King’s Man is in theaters from Wednesday, December 22, 2021.