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With ‘The King’s Man,’ Matthew Vaughn Refuses To Be Pigeonholed

Usually, there’s an, at least, attempt not to reveal my opinion of a movie, either way, when interviewing a film’s director. Some days I’m better at this than others. On this day I was bad at it. Perhaps because it seemed Matthew Vaughn was being a little down on himself about The King’s Man (a prequel to the previous two Kingsman films that have been ungodly successful), because he’s made a pretty weird action movie. And this is when I found myself saying, “I fucking love this movie.” Which, yes, is true. It’s just unlike anything I’ve seen recently and kind of taps into the sheer bravado and earnestness of action movies from the ’80s and ’90s.

The King’s Man stars Ralph Fiennes as Orlando Oxford during the lead-up and events of World War I. It features a plethora of historical characters from that era and involves a secret society that orchestrates events to defeat Britain. Let’s say this movie goes in a lot of directions you will not expect and gives us a full-fledged Ralph Fiennes action movie. (At one point he is riding on top of an airplane.) And, then there’s Rhys Ifans’s turn as Rasputin, which is one of the most bizarre performances I’ve seen in a long time and I loved every second of it. (As Vaughn ahead explains, that performance was the result of a perfect storm of “crazy button” between Vaughn and Ifans.)

I can’t tell what Vaughn thinks his public perception is right now. He keeps making remarks about people don’t like his movies, even though – like with X-Men: First Class, Kick-Ass, and these Kingman movies – they are wildly successful. (When mentioning the next Kingsman movie after this one he comes out and says, “A lot of people will hate it.”) He makes a point to say he will never be pigeonholed. And my best guess about his attitude is not many people are making these kinds of movies quite like he is these days. This is a good thing he’s doing this. But he admits, it’s leaving some audience members confused since he isn’t give them, as he says, a “generic action movie.”

When you were talking about your next movie, Argyle, you said you wanted it to be an ’80s and ’90s action movie. I think you hit some of that spirit here, too, with The King’s Man.

Listen, I think I’m an ’80s boy. God, it’s very different to this, I can tell you that now.

Well, when Orlando Oxford is balancing on top of an airplane I was in a screening room by myself, applauding. I was having so much fun.

Well, yeah, this is my earlier part of the ’80s influence, in the sense that when this all started… Have you seen the movie The Man Who Would be King?

I have.

So that was one of my favorite films as a kid. I watched it four years ago and I went, oh my God, I want to make The Man Who Would Be Kingsman. I want to bring back epic adventure, good story, great characters – some good humor, some good banter, but a lot of pathos and some very strong political messaging.

Ah, I see.

So that’s where it came from. But the ’80s? I still think the ’80s was that moment for me, it’s probably because that was when I was absorbing it, so that feeling of love and passion of cinema and music and art and fashion, all that stuff. I was absorbing it every day. So you can’t help but be inspired by it. Even now I watch these ’80s movies and yeah, CG can be terrible, or some of the editing, or the fights can be really bad, but they’re escapism. That’s all this is.

There’s something so earnest about those movies, where they totally believe in what they’re doing.

Yes. If I don’t believe in it, why should anybody else? You have to commit and be strong. This is hard, by the way. We cut a lot of stuff out. I had three Rasputin scenes I couldn’t release. Everyone who saw them, “Are you out of your fucking mind?”

So let’s talk about Rhys Ifans’s Rasputin for a second. Was that you telling him to do that? Was that him? I have not seen anything quite like that.

Let’s say Rhys and I both have a crazy button that melded together very quickly.

So that was the perfect storm.

It was the perfect storm. As I said, there are three scenes, which one day they may be released, and people will look at it and go, “Oh my god.”

Can you tell me one?

There was quite a fun way of… Well, actually, this is a silly one. It was how the Tsar was told Rasputin was dead, and he said, “Get me proof.” And the proof was a certain part of his famous body on a silver tray.

Oh no.

And that was one. Another one was him having a threesome with Tsar and the Tsarina. Things like that. We went more into the dark sexual side of things.

And you have to understand, from my perspective, the scene where Rasputin is licking Orlando’s wound on his way upper thigh is still in the movie. That is one of the craziest things I’ve seen in a movie in a very long time.

Yeah. Well, what’s wrong with a bit of wound licking? Ask Ralph about his wound licking, what he thought.

I’m not speaking to Ralph, but I would love to know the answer to that, actually.

I think he enjoyed it, I’ll say.

I want to see what you think about this. These Kingsman movies are some of the most successful movies that don’t quite get the credit they deserve for being as successful as they are? I don’t think people realize how popular these movies are.

To me? I don’t know.

These movies make a lot of money and I don’t think people realize it. For example, people think Kick-Ass was successful. And it was. These movies make four times what Kick-Ass made.

It’s a hard one for me to answer that. Because all my films, I think they’re sort of different? Again, dare I say, people are saying, “Is this is a drama, is it an action film, what is this?“ But I think you can say that about Stardust, Kick-Ass?, even X-Men: First Class. I do sort of tend to mash things up, so I think people don’t know. Is this an independent movie, is it a blockbuster? I just think I’m a bit of [pauses]…

An enigma?

Yeah, I think people don’t quite… I think we’re in a world where people like to pigeonhole people quickly. And I’m trying never to be pigeonholed.

Speaking of your ’80s, ’90s roots with those type of movies: There are usually one or two scenes in every single one where it’s like, what the fuck is going on here? And you capture that well in your movies.

I think that’s my job. And if people don’t like it then they can watch a generic action movie, they’re happy. But I’ve been getting bored recently in some of the blockbusters. They are feeling a little bit formulaic.

I am, too. Which is why I like this movie because it does not feel formulaic. And I don’t feel that a lot in current blockbusters, where I’m just having the best time.

Yeah, I agree. I think when you watch these films, the things that you’ll remember, or discover even, sometimes, on the second viewing, they’re pretty packed full of stuff. But it’s my job. I don’t know, isn’t it a job of the director to take people on a journey they weren’t expecting?

I was worried before this movie it would be like the first one where we don’t get Ralph Fiennes the whole movie. But, no, we finally get the all-in Ralph Fiennes action movie.

Yes. Can you imagine how good Ralph would have been as Bond 20 years ago?

Well, watching him in the new Bond, I wanted to see him do some action. And here it is.

Yeah. And he is a pleasure to work with. And deep down he’s a fanboy, he just didn’t know it.

Oh, is that true?

Yeah, yeah. You just have to drag it out at him and relight the fire, and it exploded.

When this was announced there were some reports you were doing this movie and the third movie of the original storyline at the same time. Is that third movie still on track?

Yeah, we’re going to conclude the Eggsy and Harry relationship, it’s all ready to go. COVID came and just derailed that, so we’re behind. So this comes out and we start filming. I think we’re aiming to film August, September next year, with Eggsy and Harry. It’s fun. It’s different, by the way. A lot of people will hate it, but I like it.

No, they won’t. You keep saying that. People love your movies.

Well, yeah, some. Not all of them.

‘The King’s Man’ opens in theaters on December 22nd. You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.