Interview: Kick-Ass Screenwriter & Director Matthew Vaughn
by Alex Billington
April 16, 2010
Earlier this week I finally got the chance to interview a director that I've been waiting years and years to talk with - Matthew Vaughn. Not only did he previously direct Layer Cake and Stardust, but he's the brilliant British filmmaker who decided to adapt Kick-Ass into the badass R-rated independent comic book movie that it is. If you remember, Vaughn financed the movie on his own and helped pen the script with his writing partner Jane Goldman and creator Mark Millar. Not only did we talk plenty about Kick-Ass, but Vaughn and I also talked about comic book movies, his thoughts on 3D, how great the films in the 70's were, and more.
I've been waiting to talk with Vaughn because I think he's one of the best filmmakers out there who's staying out of the Hollywood system yet making great movies exactly the way they should. Beyond that, I absolutely loved Kick-Ass, it's one of my favorites of this year, and I wanted to talk with the man behind that awesome movie. I've said enough, so read on for my interview and be sure to go see Kick-Ass in theaters this weekend!
When you initially read the comic and picked it up, did you think that it would make a great movie from the start, even though it had an extreme amount of violence, and a 12-year-old girl killing people, all of those controversial elements?
Matthew Vaughn: Yeah, basically that's why I wanted to make the movie -- everything that made it different and fresh. I was like, "God, it's about time there's a superhero film like Kick-Ass," literally, and I knew I could make a film that I'd want to go see, and I wanted to make a comic book movie that was more relevant to the world we live in.
We've heard the stories about Hollywood studios immediately rejecting the idea when you first brought this to them. So is it great to be at a point where there's so much buzz now and your film is, I think, about to open big this weekend? It seems like you've come a long way.
Vaughn: You're right. I mean, you know what it is? Is it a good feeling? Yes. Is it very tempting to go, "Ha-, told you so," and be a dick about it? Yes. But I'm trying not to, and I'm relieved, because I didn't realize -- I mean, I knew I was taking a risk, but I remember Mark Millar pointed it out to me, saying, "You realize the people who have said no to this film are the people you're going to have to try to sell it to again when it's finished? What makes you think they're going to say yes?" And I was suddenly like, "God, you're right." But I already started shooting it when he told me that. I had such belief in the film, and I felt passionate about it, and I just thought: That's what wrong with the film industry, there's not enough people doing what they think is right and loving what they do. I mean, I love making movies, and I'm the luckiest man alive to have a job which feels like a dream come true.
Do you think that the freedom you have to make a movie this way, with your own financing, is a truly gratifying experience for you as the director, or is it potentially problematic when you lose control?
Vaughn: Lose control if the studio financed it, you mean?
No, I mean from your standpoint, in terms of just going overboard. I mean, do you think that working on your own independent financing is the absolute best way to make a movie these days?
Vaughn: I think if you're a director who's got a proper vision, that you're not some moron that will just run off amok… I think in the '70s -- it's one of my favorite periods of filmmaking, the '70s. Not to sound arrogant, but filmmaking is a director's medium, number one, and I think that the director is being minimalized more and more and more as the industry is growing and growing and growing. And I think if you're a good director, you should have a good producer keeping you in line, but a director should have the freedom to make the movie. Especially if you're a writer-director. If you've written a script, then you've written the outline to what the film is and what it's going to be, and therefore there shouldn't be any issues.
I've actually heard from a lot of other directors that they love the '70s as well, so you're certainly not alone.
Vaughn: Well, it was. There were great movies made then. I think the '70s is where the directors really let loose. And early '80s.
Do you ever think there's a chance that we'd get back to that kind of timeframe where the directors had--
Vaughn: I think it's happening as we speak.
Vaughn: Yes. I think suddenly the audiences are crying out, for example with District 9, they're crying out for original films. And also the studios now are trying to figure out how to make films cheaper. The best way of making films cheaper is get a director who knows what they're doing.
Vaughn: Most of these big Hollywood movies, they're throwing money rescuing the piece of shit that some moronic guy who doesn't know -- some director who doesn't know his ass from elbow, and hands in a cut and they just go, "What the fuck is this?"
I think the worst trend nowadays is the 3D trend, and just pushing everything they can to 3D. What are your opinions on 3D? Would you ever consider it?
Vaughn: Oh, 3D. I couldn't give a shit about 3D until I saw Avatar, and then I was like, "Ohhhh okay, this is different." And it's more than 3D. I think 3D is the wrong term for -- Avatar is not 3D. Avatar is something else. For me, 3D is a piece of shit, like the Clash of the Titans sort of 3D, in post-production. That's not 3D. That's 3D like Jaws 3 3D. You're not seeing anything new or special. And with Avatar, you definitely did. But Cameron shot it in a way that, I mean, it was mind-boggling. And it's sort of intimidating. I've only just figured out how to fucking handle a 2D camera, let alone a 3D one. And so I do think the Cameron blueprint is the wave of the future. But the whole of idea of post-production-wise, making things into 3D that weren't shot for being 3D, I think is a total insult to the audience.
I agree. One of the parts I really loved about Kick-Ass was the incredible cast you pulled together. We obviously have Nic Cage, a recognizable name, but at least two newcomers with Aaron Johnson and Chloe Moretz, and then Mark Strong, and Christopher Mintz-Plasse. It's just one of the best casts I've seen to come together that's well-rounded, a perfect ensemble, a perfect mix of big names and newcomers. I'm impressed and amazed that you could get a cast together like this and it worked so well in the end.
Vaughn: Well, we didn't have anyone getting in the way, is why. I could cast -- the problem is, if you're doing it in Hollywood, they say like, "You know what? We really, really want… some actor that's not right for the role but is a movie star," and then they don't understand why the film doesn't really work. You go, "Well, because it was miscast! It's starring Mr. X, but Mr. X should never have done a film like this, and if he wasn't a movie star, we wouldn't have cast him." So the beauty about this movie, is all I did was cast people who were right for the role.
Does Nic Cage fall into that category? Not that I don't think he's right.
Vaughn: Oh, a hundred percent. A hundred percent. Because I only wanted people who also understood what we were trying to do. Most of the people in this movie love comic books and comic book movies, and when they read the script, they got it. And we sent Cage the script and asked, "What do you think?" And he's like, "I get it. I want to play Daddy." And he brought -- the whole Adam West thing, that was his idea! No other actor would have come up with that, I don't think.
That's what I mean about this cast just being perfect, what everyone brought to each individual role. I mean, Mark Strong -- it's funny seeing him play an American gangster, when he's often playing British villains.
Vaughn: Yeah, well. That was the plan. But yeah, I'm glad you picked up on it.
How involved was Mark Millar from the start? I know he helped with the story, but I'm just wondering how integral he's been in the production?
Vaughn: Well, he came up with the original concept. So I've always said this -- I always find it weird where somebody writes a book or writes a first draft of a script, and they get frozen out. So whenever I wasn't sure about something, I wanted to make sure I wasn't screwing up the integrity of what the original idea was, which is why he was there.
Right. I love the comics as well, but I'm glad that there's a little bit of a disconnect between the story in the comic and the movie. And I heard that you wanted to specifically write a different story so that the movie was its own original idea.
Vaughn: No, just… I didn't want to change anything unless I felt -- my goal is how to make the absolutely best film possible, and a movie that works as a movie, for people who have never seen the comic, and gives you the highs and lows of what I think a film should do. So there were certain things I changed, but I never changed anything without talking to Mark about it. I said, "Look, Mark, I'm changing it for the following reasons. What do you think?" And he's like, "Yeah, great."
Good. Simple as that, I guess.
Vaughn: Pretty simple. That's the thing people forget. It's like, if you keep it simple, then things turn out pretty good. Simple, good ideas are much better than complicated, bad ones.
Oh I agree with you there. Do you think this is the perfect time for this movie to be hitting in terms of its relation to the comic book movie world, and the development and evolution of the comic book movie genre recently?
Vaughn: Well, for me, yeah, but I'm a comic book movie fan. So I mean, for the public, I've got no idea. I obviously -- I mean, I made the damn thing, so I obviously I would feel that way. As a director, you have to do what you believe in, and that's what I've done. So hopefully the public will watch it and agree with me. They can go watch it. They might not even go watch it, but we'll see. I mean, I have no idea how we're going to do this weekend.
I just think it's a great movie that sort of comments on the current state of comic book movies. And I love that it's R-rated, and I love that you push it to those extremes that we don't see often with comic book movies these days.
Vaughn: Yeah. Well, as I said, that's why I wanted to do it, because I just get bored of seeing the same thing. I mean, I'm really, really -- I'm really looking forward seeing Iron Man 2, but I'm also a little bit nervous because I loved Iron Man 1 -- absolutely loved it. But I have no idea what to expect. I mean, the trailer's awesome and stuff, but I do think -- hopefully Iron Man 2 will be like Spider-Man 2 was -- a good film. And then whether they can do an Iron Man 3 better than Spider-Man 3, will be the question.
I just want to ask, with The Avengers coming up, and we just heard a couple of days ago that Joss Whedon is directing it. But were you ever offered--
Vaughn: And I'm extremely jealous.
Well, were you ever offered it, and would you have even taken the job?
Vaughn: I wasn't offered it, and heavily considered it. Yeah. Heavily considered it.
But you weren't offered it, you said?
Vaughn: I haven't been offered it, no.
I mean, it seems like a daunting task, and to me, that seems like the future of where comic book movies are headed, if they can pull off an ensemble movie where they bring together these big actors from their individual movies into one big movie.
Vaughn: Well, see, Kick-Ass is an ensemble. For me, all my movies have got loads of big characters all running around doing crazy shit, so that's why I think I would have enjoyed doing something like The Avengers, because I'm a bit of a seasoned pro when it comes to having all kinds of characters and plots.
Yeah, I understand. Do you know what you're doing next?
Vaughn: Haven't got a clue right now.
No problem. I don't really have anything else to ask you at the moment.
Vaughn: Well, keep spreading the word, and tell everyone to get off their asses this week and support independent cinema that's trying to make a difference, and go buy a fucking ticket.
I will make sure to tell everyone! Right now, there is no other movie that I have enjoyed more this year than Kick-Ass, and I will make sure to tell everyone exactly that.
Vaughn: Well, please do!
Thank you to Matthew Vaughn and everyone at Lionsgate for arranging this. Be sure to go see Kick-Ass as soon as you can and support independent cinema, like Vaughn said. You will not be let down, I can guarantee it. Kick-Ass starts playing in theaters everywhere this weekend!