Capone talks to Matthew Vaughn about STARDUST, Bobby De Niro, X-MEN, THOR and much more!!!
Published at: Aug. 7, 2007, 3:53 a.m. CST by quint
Hey, folks. Capone in Chicago here. One of the great benefits of getting to go to Butt-Numb-a-Thon every year is that we've stayed up to date with the works of Matthew Vaughn over the years. At the second BNAT, we saw SNATCH (which Vaughn produced); a few years later, we got a tasty preview of LAYER CAKE (his directing debut); and at Half-Ass-a-Thon just days before the Alamo Drafthouse closed its doors, we got a sneak peak at the delightful and subversive STARDUST, based on the book by Neil Gaiman. Vaughn recorded a hilarious video introduction to the screening, in which he apologized for leaving X-MEN 3 in the hands of Brett Ratner. I've seen STARDUST twice now, and really enjoy watching it charm an audience as it goes deeper into its imaginative tale of a young man falling in love with a celestial body.
During filming on STARDUST, both Quint and Moriarty were invited onto the set on separate visits (my invite clearly got lost somewhere over the Atlantic), and I was intrigued by what I read from those reports. I wasn't convinced that the film would work, but seeing the film has made it abundantly clear that what you see on a set (or what you read about happening on the set) does not always predict what will end up on the screen. Vaughn was in Chicago recently, and although was traveling when he came to town, I managed to arrange a phone interview with this very gracious man. Enjoy.
Capone: I think I’m the only Aint It Cool person that didn’t get to visit the set last summer.
Matthew Vaughn: [laughs] You should complain.
C: I know, I think I will, but I don’t usually find out about those things until after the films are done shooting. However, I was lucky enough to see the great videotaped introduction you did before the screening at one of the last events at the Alamo Drafthouse. That was fantastic.
MV: Well, I hope so. I literally ran into the TRANSFORMERS junket, and I don’t remember exactly what I said, to be honest. So, it was sort of ‘Hi’ and ‘Goodbye’.
C: You were very apologetic, obviously, for dropping out of X-MEN 3. That’s really what I remember.
MV: It was a decision that was forced. I wanted to make a film that was as good as X2, and in the time period that I had, I couldn’t do it. I could understand why Fox wanted to motor ahead.
C: How long were you actually attached to that film, because it didn’t feel like it was that long, but…
MV: Well, that’s how long I was in it. I did about two months prep.
C: Including some lasting casting decisions.
MV: Exactly. It was a very, very tight schedule.
C: I remember you had told one of our guys when they were visiting you on the STARDUST set that there was a handful of scenes that you came up with that were pretty much intact in the finished film. Is that true?
MV: Yeah, it is, it is.
C: And, you mentioned the casting of Kelsey Grammer, who actually turned out to be great.
MV: Everyone thought I was insane, except Kelsey, but I think he did a good job.
C: Okay. It’s actually been great, because over the years at the Butt-Numb-A-Thon events, we’ve been exposed to a lot of the work that you’ve been involved with. For example, SNATCH played one year, LAYER CAKE another year, and then, we just got to see STARDUST, which actually was the second time I had seen it. I think I liked it more the second time. But, had it always been your intention after LAYER CAKE to do a much bigger film with special effects, etc. Has that always been your goal and your dream, to do something bigger like that?
MV: Yeah, I’ve been wanting to do a big move since I saw STAR WARS. As a producer, I was doing the smaller movies, hoping that one day we’d go for this big stuff. It’s weird because, ultimately, I think a good movie isn’t dependent on what the budget is, but I think spectacle is. And, I think, now that I’ve got kids as well, it’s been triggered even more, that I want to develop and make films which I can take the whole family to and really enjoy it.
C: It seemed like there was a time after LAYER CAKE when your name was getting attached to a lot of different things, including X-MEN, but also I seem to remember CASINO ROYALE for a while, and there was a MAN FROM UNCLE project. How much of that was legitimate? I mean, where did that all come from, because obviously, you can’t work on all of those at the same time.
MV: I think it came because, obviously, after LAYER CAKE I started meeting people. But, officially I was attached to none of those. X-MEN was the only thing I was attached to. It’s probably about to happen all again, because I’m out there now trying to find the next project. And, they’re very hard to find.
C: I was going to bring it up toward the end of our talk, but since you mentioned it…The one I’m hearing now is THOR. Is there any truth to that?
MV: I’ve been discussing it with Marvel. I really like the Marvel guys, and it would be good to make. We’re trying to find something to work on together. If THOR is going to happen, I don’t know. I’m seeing them again next week. And, the other problem is the whole strike thing. It’s, like, we’d like to make a movie before the strike, so whether THOR could be the one, I don’t know.
C: That’s becoming the big question mark now, when I’m talking to anyone about their project. It’s, like, well, there’s the strike coming up, so who knows. When did you first meet Neil Gaiman? Was it when you produced his short film [ 2003's A SHORT FILM ABOUT JOHN BOLTON], or had you known him before that?
MV: I first met him in LA about a year before that--I can’t remember what the date was--but basically, I was sent…CA, his agent, sent me the book, STARDUST, and I read and loved it, and said, ‘Let’s meet up’. So, I’ve probably known him six years, I’d say.
C: What did you like about STARDUST, because there’s a real subversive quality to it that translates really well to film.
MV: What did I like about it? The weird thing is--and you may think I’m insane for thinking it--but, I read it thinking, God, for me, I could make a PRINCESS BRIDE with a MIDNIGHT RUN on the tone.
C: [Laughs] MIDNIGHT RUN?
MV: If you think about this movie, out of any film structurally, it’s virtually identical to MIDNIGHT RUN.
C: Including having Robert De Niro in it?
MV: I remember saying it to Bob, and Bob said, “So, what is this movie like?” and I said, “Well, it’s going to be a bit like MIDNIGHT RUN.” And, he looks at me, like, “ Wha-a-at?” And, then I explained. The analogy is that if you think Charles Grodin is the star, Tristan is De Niro’s role, right? They’re trying to get back to the bail bond…
C: Oh, I definitely see it, but don't ask me to think of Charles Grodin as a star.
MV: [laughs]…and the mob are the witches, and the FBI are the princes.
C: Wow, okay. You know what, I’ll go along with that, because I love MIDNIGHT RUN.
MV: So do I. It’s one of my favorite, favorite movies. I just felt that…in the sense that the comedic thriller element was MIDNIGHT RUN, and the romance, whimsical fancy was the PRINCESS BRIDE. That’s what I was trying to get.
C: I guess PRINCESS BRIDE is the obvious sort of touchstone. A lot of people are going to compare it to that, and I think in terms of the humor, I see that. But, this is much darker. It’s a PG-13, but you could have pushed it just a tiny bit more to make it R rated. The deaths of the princes alone are almost enough to push it into a slightly more adult category.
MV: I’m a very big Roald Dahl fan. Roald Dahl didn’t write kids for kids, all this saccharine-coated stuff. He wrote dark, interesting novels. Kids are dark, I mean, kids love to be slightly scared and have their boundaries pushed. I’ve always said, I hope STARDUST is the sort of film that adults can enjoy with their kids and kids can enjoy when they’re with the adults. I say it’s an adult film for kids, or it’s a kid’s film for adults.
C: Were there certain fairy tale conventions that you wanted to try to avoid? And, conversely, were there certain ones you wanted to wholeheartedly embrace?
MV: I wanted the sort of a sense of awe I used to have when I heard fairy tales, and the romance, and the good versus evil, and the adventure. And, I always think kids really enjoy seeing, you know, a leading figure that’s pretty sort of relatable and nerdy and then becoming the hero--sort of boy to man. I think the happy ending…that’s the stuff where we borrowed from fairy tales, but at the same time, I didn’t want it to feel, like, you say ‘fairy tale’ and most men would run a mile from watching the movie. “Fairy tale? Na-a-h, I don’t watch fairy tale films.” If someone said to me, “Come and watch a fairy tale” I’d be, “Eh, I’m not sure.” So, that’s what I tried to avoid, the elements in fairy tales that, I think, could put people off.
C: When I had heard Michelle Pfeiffer’s name involved with this film, I have to confess I wasn’t sure she’d fully embrace the cruel and crude nature of her character. But, I need to stop underestimating her, because she’s absolutely fearless here. For someone as beautiful as her to portray someone who plays most of her role kind of ugly is a bold move. What made you think of her as this character?
MV: I think because, as far as beauty is concerned, she’s an icon for me and has been for…God, 25 years now? …more. And, so I figured you’d understand why Michelle Pfeiffer is running around trying to find a damn heart to eat to stay young and beautiful, and at the same time, you really relate to her falling apart physically on the screen as well. And, when I met her, we laughed at the amount of freaks, you know, these women who spend a fortune on plastic surgery and trying to look young. And, in the end, they just look more and more horrendous. So, we actually tried to make her…All her look is based on real photographs of women, because I thought that was more scary than giving her a pair of fangs.
C: Plastic surgery mishaps, things like that?
MV: Mishaps, yes. And, there was a book we had, it scared me. This guy brought in a book of 95-year-old men and women, basically naked, doing yoga. Jesus, it was scary. We’re all going to end up like that, but it’s scary. I think also, when you watch it as an audience member, you know that’s going to happen to you, and that’s far more scary than if you see a two-headed monster; you’re not gonna fuckin’ have to face that.
C: Continuing the topic of your casting…I’ve seen Mark Strong, but I think I’m always going to identify him with this role from now on. There’s something really special about the way that he plays this. Actually, this last week, I was speaking to Danny Boyle, and he told me that Mark for a little while was bouncing between the sets of SUNSHINE and STARDUST, and that you were sort of sharing him. And, he’s critical to both films and adds maybe more than any other cast member to the subversive nature of the work--he is just eating up every scene that he is in. He’s fantastic.
MV: I think he’s the best actor. When Ian McKellen came in to do the voiceover, he actually said to me, “Mark Strong is the best actor of his generation,” because Ian had done theater with him, and he really is. Mark is a flawless, flawless actor. And, that’s what I wanted for Septimus.
Anyway, when I cast him…actually, he was cast with no screen test. The studio was going crazy, going “Whaddya mean, no screen test?” I said, “Guys, trust me, what Alan Rickman did for PRINCE OF THIEVES, he’s gonna do for this.”
I'm being told we have time for one more question…we’re just about up. So, what’s your nickname on the site?
MV: Oh, you’re Capone—a nice big cigar and a machine gun.
C: That’s exactly right. My avatar is actually an amalgam of Robert De Niro characters. Okay, speaking of that, let’s talk about Robert De Niro. What was it about Robert De Niro that screamed out ‘gay pirate’?
MV: Absolutely nothing. That’s why I thought he was perfect for the role. I wanted someone where you’re, like, ‘No-o-o way.’ When that closet opens, you’re just like ‘Can’t be. This can not be happening.’ That’s the fun of it, because you also have those clichés, you know, the tough pirate. And, I thought, How am I going to reinvent the cliché of the tough pirate? What if I have a tough pirate that’s got a secret? And, then make him a really tough pirate--De Niro. And, it’s just amazing watching people when they see that.
[END SPOILER ALERT]
C: When you’re working with De Niro, is that a little…I mean, he’s got to have been a long-time hero of yours.
MV: Total. My biggest problem working with De Niro was thinking of the directors that have directed him in the past. I just thought, ‘My God, am I going to get found out very, very quickly?’, because he’s worked with De Palma, Scorsese--heroes of mine. But, after about a day, I got used to it. And, he was great. At the end of the day, he’s an actor, he wants to be directed, and takes it very seriously and was a joy to work with.
C: Okay. Well, Matthew, I’ll let you go now, if you need to go, and thank you very much.
MV: I’ve got to do some TV shit now. But, please spread the word, and I’ll see you…umm…
C: Hopefully, next time. Whatever you’re working on next, I’ll see if I can get the set invite.
MV: [laughs] I'm in LA this weekend, some junkets, swing by there. I’m there. Are you based in LA?
C: No, I’m based in Chicago.
MV: Chicago! You should be coming here then.
C: I’m out of town this week. That’s why I’m trying to do this on the phone. I’m actually on the East coast today. But, I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to talk to you, because I know you've been very kind to many of our writers over the years.
MV: Some of those people have been unbelievably supportive to me, so I’m very, very appreciative.
C: Well, it helps that you make these great movies. So, yes, thank you very much.
MV: What makes me laugh is in the Talkbacks [when they say] “This is another plant. It’s a plant, it’s a plant.” Goddam it, guys! They are not shy about saying something is shit, if they didn’t like it. People forget that.
C: I was thinking, when I heard Ian McKellen’s voice doing the narration for STARDUST, this is just you trying to push the geeks into overload, because they’ve already got enough people in there to get excited about. But to have Ian McKellen do the voice. He just makes all the geeks quiver in their seats with his voice.
MV: You know what is was…I mean, I remember Harry’s review summed it up right. I think his voice made people feel secure.
C: It’s true. That’s absolutely right.
MV: That’s why I went for him. I'm glad he said ‘yes’. [laughs]