Weirdly unusual, with a love for old British spies

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 British director-producer Matthew Vaughn and screenwriter Jane Goldman have worked together on several film projects, beginning with Stardust in 2007 and including their newest, Kingsman: The Secret Service, which opens in Singapore tomorrow.

"We've written 51/2 things and they have all been made into films," Vaughn said proudly. The half refers to last year's X-Men: Days Of Future Past, which he was hired to direct, but ultimately did not. The two received story credit.

"It's weirdly unusual," Goldman added. "Which actually describes us."

Weirdly unusual or not, Vaughn, 43, and Goldman, 44, seem to have a particularly harmonious taste for surreal ultraviolence that is often disturbingly funny and that has earned them a fair share of controversy, especially when they cast an 11-year-old Chloe Grace Moretz as a lethal schoolgirl in 2010's Kick-Ass.

They also share a love for old British spy characters, encompassing James Bond and Austin Powers, evident in X-Men: First Class (2011) and at the forefront in Kingsman, a spy spoof, based on a comic book series by Mark Millar that is also a homage to the venerable tradition of dapper men who never spill a vintage whisky while dispatching a foe.

In Kingsman, a youth from public housing named Eggsy (Taron Egerton), is recruited by Harry Hart, a suave secret agent played by Colin Firth. Hart is straight out of the Classic British Spy handbook, complete with bespoke tailored suit, bulletproof umbrella and a neat line in slinging a beer glass.

As Eggsy is tested to see whether he is worthy of Kingsman, an independent international secret service, Hart and his colleagues try to unravel the evil plans of a Bond-worthy villain with a Bond- worthy name: Richmond Valentine.

Played by Samuel L. Jackson with a lisp, Valentine is a tech billionaire who wants to save the world. In his own very special way.

In an hour-long telephone chat, Vaughn, speaking from London, and Goldman, calling from Toronto, revealed how they met and work together, among other things.

How they met: "Neil Gaiman, whose book Stardust was based on, and whom we knew, somehow thought I'd be a good fit to write the screenplay, even though I had written only books before," explained Goldman, a former journalist who has written fiction and non-fiction. "I think Matthew met me as a courtesy."

Vaughn denied that. "Not out of courtesy, out of desperation," he said. "Most screenwriters do scripts as a way of making money, not as a way of making movies. I was so relieved to meet someone fresh, with a voice, who I could be in a room with and who didn't drive me mad."

At the end of their meeting, he asked Goldman when she could start.

How they work together: "We don't necessarily fall into the complementary areas that people imagine," Goldman said. "People think I do the human interest and he does the crazy violence, but we cross over quite a lot."

Vaughn said: "When Jane started writing gangster dialogue in Kick-Ass, I thought it would be a waste of time, but actually her middle name should be Scarface."

Usually, they agreed, they have similar sensibilities when it comes to the cartoon-like, extravagant violence that has characterised several of their films.

"I remember ringing Jane up and saying, 'We're going to blow everyone's heads up and it's going to look like Busby Berkeley'; she thought it was a brilliant idea," Vaughn said, referring to the director known for his extravagant musical production numbers in the 1930s and 1940s.

Goldman added: "It's actually not gruesome, it's rather visually beautiful."

Occasionally they do conflict: "The dog scene in Kingsman is the first time we've genuinely disagreed with each other for longer than a few minutes," Goldman said.

For fear of a spoiler, suffice it to say that Eggsy must make a difficult decision, which she felt was inappropriate for the hero. Eventually, she came up with a solution Vaughn liked.

"I love taking the audience down one path and then subverting expectation," Vaughn said gleefully.

They had been thinking about a spy movie for ages: "Matthew has been talking about it since we met," Goldman said, adding that they had talked a lot about the movies they loved when younger.

"Roger Moore was technically our Bond," she said. "The things you encounter in your formative years always stay with you."

Vaughn agreed: "I was very aware of that history and referentiality in Kingsman. I call it a postmodern love letter to the tradition. The best part of shooting the film was when we stopped and Michael Caine could tell us stories about Harry Palmer," he said, referring to the five films featuring the Len Deighton hero in which Caine (who plays the Kingsman head, Arthur) is a secret agent.

 
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