Matthew Vaughn talks 'Kick-Ass'

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Guy Ritchie’s former producer, and director of ‘Layer Cake’ and ‘Stardust’, Matthew Vaughn has now made a movie of potty-mouthed, tongue-in-cheek comic book ‘Kick-Ass’. Mark Salisbury meets him

‘I’m a closet geek,’ admits Matthew Vaughn, one-time producer of Guy Ritchie movies and an accomplished director in his own right. His third feature, ‘Kick-Ass’, has been riding a wave of fanboy hype since scenes from the film debuted to mass adoration at Comic-Con last summer. ‘I’m more of a comic-book movie fan than a comic book fan,’ he clarifies, when we meet in Soho only two days after he put the finishing touches to the film. ‘I like big, entertaining movies. I tried to buy the script of “Hancock”. I loved it. The script was far darker and edgier than the movie. I think “Kick-Ass” took the ideas that intrigued me in that film to the next level: what would happen if people really tried to be superheroes?’

Based on a six-issue comic book by Scottish writer Mark Millar, first published in 2008, “Kick-Ass” is a comic-book movie unlike most others: a violent, profane amalgam of ‘Spider-Man’ and ‘Superbad’ that revolves around American high-school student and comic fan Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson, from ‘Nowhere Boy’, with an impeccable accent) who dresses up as a superhero to fight crime, becoming a web phenomenon as a result. Yet his methods pale next to the dynamic duo of Damon MacCready aka Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage, channelling Adam West’s Batman) and his pre-teen assassin daughter, Mindy aka Hit-Girl (13-year-old Chloe Moretz), who take an extreme approach to crime-fighting.

Despite Hollywood’s current love of all things comic book, Vaughn, who’d previously flirted with directing both ‘X Men: The Last Stand’ and ‘Thor’, was turned down by every studio he approached for financing. ‘They thought it was a “betweener”, because it’s not a kids’ movie and not really an adult film,’ explains Vaughn, who adapted the comic with his writing partner (and wife of Jonathan Ross) Jane Goldman. ‘They didn’t like Hit-Girl. They didn’t like the violence, the fact that it was an 11 year old killing and swearing.’

Not to be defeated, Vaughn, who produced two of the most profitable British films of all time – ‘Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels’ and ‘Snatch’ – used his own money and that of a consortium of investors, including French Connection tycoon Stephen Marks, to raise the $35 million budget independently, giving Vaughn the freedom to make the film he wanted. Which was in stark contrast to his experience making Neil Gaiman’s ‘Stardust’, which ‘died in America’ but performed well internationally: ‘When I did “Stardust” I was fighting the studio for things I believed were right. With “Kick-Ass” I didn’t have any of that madness to deal with. It’s 99 per cent what I wanted it to be in my head.’

Ironically, once ‘Kick-Ass’ was shot and Vaughn was shopping for a distributor, many of the studios that turned it down were vying to release it. ‘The biggest irony [is] that everyone’s comment after they saw the film was, “Are there any more Hit-Girl scenes?”’ Vaughn laughs. ‘It was satisfying.

It was more relief than anything because if they decided not to buy it, then I was in financial meltdown. I’m trying not to gloat, because I understand why they did say no. If I’d pitched the tone slightly to the left or the right, the movie could have been a disaster. ’Vaughn’s savvy handling of tricky material is evident throughout, but nowhere more so than in two key scenes torn straight from the comic. The first sees Cage schooling his daughter Mindy in how to take a bullet by firing a handgun into her bulletproof- vest clad chest. ‘I remember saying to Nick and Chloe: you’ve got to imagine this is a father with his daughter and today is the day you’re going to take the stabilisers off the bicycle. Of course the daughter is a bit scared but the worse that can happen is she might fall off and hurt her knee.’

The other contentious sequence involves Hit-Girl’s use of the word ‘cunt’ before killing an entire den of drug-dealers. Vaughn says Moretz’s parents were always on set and everything was agreed. ‘I said I’ve got kids and I don’t want to make this child do anything she doesn’t want to do, or anything you don’t want her to do.’ Initially, the C-word wasn’t in the script. ‘I’d made the decision not to put it in. We did the scene, it’s the big entrance of Hit Girl, and it wasn’t working. [Chloe’s] mother said to me, “Are we making a mistake not doing what it says in the comic?” I looked at her and laughed, and said, “I don’t know. Do you feel comfortable with that?” She said there’s no harm in trying it once. She could see something didn’t feel right.’

In America, the line has caused controversy, although Vaughn is amazed that people are upset at the language and not the violence. ‘Which I find far more disturbing. When my daughter gets to 11, I’d far rather she had a mouth like a sewer than be a psychotic mass murderer.’ Here in the UK, a certain newspaper has already laid into the film. ‘The Daily Mail has begun the witch hunt. They’ve gone for Jane because she’s married to Jonathan Ross. It’s wrong and it’s bad journalism.’ Vaughn says he’s up for the fight. ‘I’m ready for it. I’m happy [for the Mail] to try to bury it as long as they watch the film. It annoys me when people start having views on things they haven’t seen.’

Author: Mark Salisbury



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