It’s been four-and-a-half years since Matthew Vaughn first pitched The King’s Man to 20th Century Fox, and to say a lot has changed since then would certainly be an understatement. Vaughn’s long-delayed film is a prequel to 2014’s Kingsman: The Secret Service and 2017’s Kingsman: The Golden Circle, as it explores the origin story of the Kingsman agency in conjunction with World War I. Since it’s rare for the third film in a franchise to go back in time by nearly 100 years, Vaughn remembers catching Fox executives a bit off guard.
“I think they were surprised,” Vaughn tells The Hollywood Reporter. “But [Former President of Production at 20th Century Fox] Emma Watts was always incredibly supportive of any nutty ideas I had. The more nervous I make the movie executives, the more I believe in it. I just know it’ll be different. I don’t know whether it’s going to work with an audience, but at least it’ll feel that we’re pushing the boundaries of filmmaking and doing things a little bit more different than just repeating the same formula.”
Due to the delayed release of The King’s Man, Vaughn has had plenty of time to prepare the next chapters in the Kingsman franchise, and he’s now ready to conclude Taron Egerton and Colin Firth’s Eggsy and Harry story in a third Kingsman film.
“In a perfect world, we will do Kingsman 3 next year, which is the conclusion of the Eggsy-Harry relationship. It’s all ready to go. Covid has slowed us down a bit, but we’re ready to shoot next year,” Vaughn shares. “And then we would love to do a sequel to The King’s Man, which will be about the first decade of the Kingsman agency with our characters that you see at the end of this. And look, if we can get that far with these two, then maybe we spin off Statesman [from Kingsman: The Golden Circle] as a TV show. I loved Loki, but we don’t want to get too greedy or too arrogant to think that we can make loads and loads of these.”
Vaughn is also nearing completion on his next film, the spy thriller Argylle, which boasts a star-studded ensemble cast including Henry Cavill, Sam Rockwell, Bryce Dallas Howard, Bryan Cranston, Samuel L. Jackson, John Cena, Catherine O’Hara, Dua Lipa, Ariana DeBose and Rob Delaney. In August, the film’s distribution rights were sold to Apple TV+ for $200 million, and if all goes well, the plan is to make a trilogy of films. And despite being purchased by a streamer, Vaughn believes that a theatrical release of some kind is still in the cards.
“Apple believes in cinema and I believe in cinema,” Vaughn says. “So we’re discussing how to give it the right cinematic release, not necessarily the normal cinematic release. It’d be a cinematic release that is right for Argylle, and Argylle is quite specific and different. So weirdly, it lends itself to a whole new way of being released.”
In a recent conversation with THR, Vaughn also discusses Ralph Fiennes’ skepticism when he first approached him with the offer for The King’s Man. Then he reflects on the struggles he faced during the casting of X-Men: First Class.
So I can’t think of any other film series where the third film served as a prequel to the first two. When you pitched the movie to 20th Century Fox way back when, did this unconventional approach take some convincing?
(Laughs.) Gosh. (Vaughn pauses for a beat.) I wouldn’t say it took too much convincing because, luckily, we were in a position where we could make the movie with or without 20th Century. But I think they were surprised. It was a long time ago. It feels like I pitched it to them during World War I. We made this three years ago, so I probably pitched it or discussed it four-and-a-half years ago. I can’t even remember. It’s going back into the real history now. But [Former President of Production at 20th Century Fox] Emma Watts was always incredibly supportive of any nutty ideas I had. I told them I watched a movie called The Man Who Would Be King, and it gave me this whole idea of doing The Man Who Would Be Kingsman. I just said, “This is it.” Once I’ve said, “I’m making this movie,” I’m making the movie. The more nervous I make the movie executives, the more I believe in it. I just know it’ll be different. I don’t know whether it’s going to work with an audience, but at least it’ll feel that we’re pushing the boundaries of filmmaking and doing things a little bit more different than just repeating the same formula.
I like that you went straight into the story without present-day bookends such as Harry (Colin Firth) telling Eggsy (Taron Egerton) a story in front of a portrait of Ralph Fiennes. That said, were there versions of the film with a framing device along those lines?
We thought about that for an advert, actually, but the answer is no. The story was actually in Kingsman: The Secret Service when Harry explains to Eggsy why, what, how, when. So it was a story that sort of wrote itself. You had that and you had the history of World War I. So it was combining those two things.
You captured Ralph Fiennes in a way that’s unique from most of his work. When you first explained his character’s arc to him, how did he respond?
I think he was dubious. He was like, “I’m not sure.” He was very attracted to the character, the pathos and the arc he goes through. He went, “As an actor, I love this character. I start off as a pacifist and by the end, I’m this. But the stuff I’m really liking, how does that work with all the other stuff you’ve written? The Rasputin, the action… You sure it can all come together?” And I was like, “I’m sure that I can give it my best shot.” And then he saw how prepped I was and I showed him the action sequences. So he became a partner. I said, “I’ll tell you what, Ralph. You keep me in check if I’m going too far on the drama side and I’ll keep you in check if you’re not going far enough on the action side.” So it became a really good collaboration. I really enjoyed working with him.
Rhys Ifans is having the time of his life in this film. Can you tell me about the first time you saw him in character as Rasputin?
Well, I knew what he would bring to the character. That’s why I cast him. I knew Rhys would bring that mischievous, dark, charismatic, over the top but real performance. Weirdly, after we’d shot the film, I bumped into him at a cafe in Turin, and I didn’t know who he was. He came up and literally, I was like, “Have we met before?” He didn’t have the costume, the wig and the beard. They were all gone. I spent three-and-a-half months with that version of Rhys, so when I saw the real Rhys, I was like, “Man, you did a good job.” He is Rasputin. If anyone believes in reincarnation, Rasputin was reincarnated in this gentleman.
Since you’ve created so many memorable action sequences in your career, it must be challenging to find new ways to top yourself. Ultimately, did the World War I period remove that sort of thinking since the tech and weaponry of the era were drastically different from the modern-day Kingsman films?
I wouldn’t say I’m trying to top myself. That’s always a dangerous thing to do. The way I approach action is to tell a story. With each action scene, I’m still trying to drive the narrative through every shot and bring the action to life in a way that only that character or that sequence can do. With Rasputin for example, I did all this research on Cossak dancing and ballet dancing. I said, “Well, let’s take all these great Russian disciplines.” All that dancing and the glide that Rasputin does is all real, and they were all forms of martial arts in Russia before they were banned and became dance. Rest in peace, but I was lucky enough to have the greatest second unit director Brad Allan, who I miss dearly. He died sadly and very suddenly and way too young. But Brad and I had this brilliant collaboration where I could give him ideas that would cause most people to say, “Are you out of your mind?” And actually, most of my crew, especially my producers, were like, “What!?” But Brad would be like, “I get it!” So we would go off and work with people and then we’d look at it and go, “Wow, we did it again!” So we don’t try to top ourselves, but I also don’t like to repeat myself. They knew the way I make movies as I try to imagine what I want to see. I like to be entertained, I like to escape and I like to see things I haven’t seen before. So that’s what we try to do with the action.
Did Tom Hollander play three different characters [King George V, Kaiser Wilhelm II, Tsar Nicholas II] because the movie maxed out its credit cards? Or were you having fun with that cousin line in the movie?
(Laughs.) If you’re reading this interview, go google King George V and Nicholas II, the Tsar. And when you see them standing next to each other, they are identical twins. I couldn’t believe these photographs. I was like, “That is a joke.” So I said to my casting director, “We’ve got to find three very similar-looking actors,” and then I was like, “Wait, I’m being a moron here. Let’s just cast the same actor. Just change the beard a bit, one little fake nose for the Kaiser…” So I needed to find an actor who could play each role brilliantly, and Tom is a fantastic actor. So he came aboard.
In a perfect world, what would you like to do next with the Kingsman franchise?
In a perfect world, we will do Kingsman 3 next year, which is the conclusion of the Eggsy-Harry relationship. It’s all ready to go. Covid has slowed us down a bit, but we’re ready to shoot next year. And then we would love to do a sequel to The King’s Man, which will be about the first decade of the Kingsman agency with our characters that you see at the end of this. And look, if we can get that far with these two, then maybe we spin off Statesman [from Kingsman: The Golden Circle] as a TV show. I loved Loki, but we don’t want to get too greedy or too arrogant to think that we can make loads and loads of these. It’s more if the public demands it. So the second The King’s Man is nearly ready to go, but Kingsman 3 is ready to go. So that will be the next two, and if they work, then one step at a time.
I presume you have big plans for Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s character in The King’s Man 2?
100 percent. Seeing Ralph and Aaron on a mission together with Polly (Gemma Arterton) and Shola (Djimon Hounsou)? I’m in! Those four together? Let’s go! I think it would be great.
We’re all rather excited about Argylle and the absolutely stacked cast you’ve assembled. Were you able to see any of Ariana DeBose’s work in West Side Story before casting her?
No! She did an audition that blew my mind, and I was like, “This woman is unbelievable!” I haven’t seen West Side Story. I hear it’s great. I hear she’s great, which doesn’t surprise me after working with her. Listen, I’ve been so lucky in my career that I’ve worked with these incredible actors who suddenly explode and become stars. And I can guarantee that she’s next on the list.
Have you and Henry Cavill been trying to link up again for a while? [Writer’s Note: Vaughn and Cavill previously worked together on Vaughn’s second film, Stardust.]
Yes, I love Henry. We tried on a few occasions, but his schedule, or various reasons, stopped it. So I rang him up on Argylle. The good thing was that because of Covid, it was the first time ever that actors were suddenly all available. (Laughs.) Everyone was free! You didn’t have to go through the hoops of scheduling and availability. It was like, “Hey, do you want to do a film? Do you like it? Let’s go make it.” So it was a lot of fun shooting with Henry again. He knocked it out of the park in this film.
I appreciate you casting Bryan Cranston as well.
I appreciate him saying yes! Again, what an actor. The cast of The King’s Man were unbelievable to work with, and we were just all together again at the premiere. And it was just so amazing. And then there’s Argylle, which is just as great but very different. It’s a more American movie, so I feel like I’ve got my American gang doing Argylle and my British gang, which is Kingsman. So I feel quite blessed that I’ve got the best troupe of actors one could ever ask for.
Do you know if Argylle is going to get a limited theatrical run before it hits Apple TV+?
In the world we’re living in right now where The King’s Man could’ve easily ended up on a platform and not waited for three years, I think the answer is… Apple believes in cinema and I believe in cinema. So we’re discussing how to give it the right cinematic release, not necessarily the normal cinematic release. It’d be a cinematic release that is right for Argylle, and Argylle is quite specific and different. So weirdly, it lends itself to a whole new way of being released.
You touched on it a bit already, but the common thread in your career is that you have quite a knack for casting. And that was most evident when you had the unenviable task of casting a new Charles Xavier and Erik Lehnsherr in X-Men: First Class. So do you remember the first time you saw James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender run a scene together?
I remember doing the screen test and arguing with a certain executive who said I couldn’t cast Michael because he had a mustache. I was like, “C’mon! It gets shaved off. He’s got it for a role. He’s brilliant. We’re never going to get better than that.” And James as well. I just said, “Guys, look at this!” And no one was sure about Jennifer Lawrence either. I was like, “She’s a pretty good actress. We’d be lucky to get her.” I read a biography of [filmmaker] John Huston, and he said, “90 percent of directing is casting.” And that stayed in my head. Because if you cast it right, it’s a lot easier to get an actor in focus and to just tweak their performance. I wouldn’t know how to get a great performance out of someone who couldn’t act; I wouldn’t know where to begin. So the way I cast is someone comes in and they start reading the lines. And I’m either watching it, going, “This is amazing,” or I’m not. People always ask, “How do you do it?” And I go, “I just use my eyes.” And when people watch the movie, they’ll say, “That person is amazing!” And I’ll go, “That’s what they were like in the audition. I just sat there, saying, ‘Can you read more?’” Or someone reads and you’re like, “Meh, it just doesn’t work. You’re not right for this role. Sorry.”
The King’s Man is now playing in movie theaters.