Matthew Vaughn Tells Mr. Beaks How He Plans To KICK-ASS At Comic Con!
Published at: July 13, 2009, 3:23 a.m. CST by mrbeaks
Modesty does not exist in KICK-ASS' dojo. It's all right there on the cover of the first issue: "The Greatest Superhero Book of All Time Is Finally Here!" So why should anything change now that it's a film?
Though director Matthew Vaughn isn't boasting that he's made "The Greatest Superhero Movie of All Time" or anything crazy like that, he is extremely confident that his adaptation of the Mark Millar/John Romita Jr. comic book series is singular, massively entertaining, and, most importantly, violent as fuck. The independently-produced film stars Aaron Johnson as Dave Lizewski, an unpopular high school student who up and decides to become a costumed crimefighter called "Kick-Ass". Sounds like a goofy teen comedy or an escapist yarn straight out of the '80s Amblin playbook, right? Try SPIDER-MAN crossed with DEATH WISH - only Dave isn't avenging much of anything (his mother's dead, but she was felled by an aneurism), and he's not very good at the "fighting" part of crimefighting (which nearly gets him killed in the early going). But he's got moxie. And a lead pipe. And when his second feat of derring-do hits YouTube, Kick-Ass suddenly becomes a worldwide phenomenon.
Dave's rise to fame draws the attention of a truly effective masked vigilante duo in Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage) and Hit Girl (Chloe Moretz), aka Damon and Mindy Macready. They're a father-daughter team: Damon is in his forties; Mindy is eleven. But they're both stone-cold killers, and they're out to take down ruthless mob boss Frank D'Amico (Mark Strong) - whose son, Chris (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), also gets into the superhero business as Kick-Ass's sidekick, Red Mist. You may think you know where this is going, but Vaughn and Goldman (following Millar's lead) consistently defy expectations along the way.
KICK-ASS was enormously entertaining as a screenplay, but its lightness of tone was so completely at odds with its graphic, John Woo-esque bloodletting that I couldn't help but worry that it might fail to make sense visually. I still haven't seen a frame of footage, but the fact that a recent test audience flipped for the film is heartening. Recruited audiences generally have a low tolerance for anything that's not pitched right down the middle, so if they responded strongly to something this offbeat, Vaughn's surely got the goods.
We'll get a better sense of what's up with KICK-ASS on Thursday, July 23rd at 5:45 PM, when Vaughn screens select scenes from the film for 7,000 rabid geeks at Comic Con. As I said last week, this is a unique make-or-break situation for the San Diego Convention Center's hangar-sized Hall H. The fate of this movie is riding on the fans' reaction. Will they be capable of registering awe two hours after James Cameron does his nasty thing with their eyeballs during the AVATAR panel?
When you put it like that, even Vaughn has to wonder if he's fucked. Fortunately, he loves his movie - and thinks you will, too.
Matthew Vaughn: I'm nervous. I don't even know when the bloody thing is coming out. I always look at FIGHT CLUB, and how that was getting all of this press and attention. Then they push it back, and it dies due to being released at the wrong time.
Beaks: But FIGHT CLUB was, from the beginning, a studio production. KICK-ASS is independent, correct?
Vaughn: (Proudly) 100%. This is the most independent film I've made since LOCK, STOCK [AND TWO SMOKING BARRELS].
Beaks: But you're partnered with Plan B. Has their involvement been helpful?
Vaughn: Plan B got on board because I sent it to Pitt [with whom Vaughn had previously worked on SNATCH]. I was so scared. Basically, all of the studios said no to the film. And so quickly. It was weird. I got a hold of some of the studios' coverage for the project, and the coverage was fantastic. So it was a strange that they gave it good coverage but wouldn't engage in the process of even asking what I would do with the film. There was just this knee-jerk reaction to it - which, in a way, is understandable. The film breaks a lot of taboos, and has certain elements that, if you're a studio executive, might make you think, "Why in the hell would we make a film like this?" One thing I don't think anyone got from the script was how humorous and fun it is. It was hard to understand the tone and the humor and the style of what I was going for. It was very similar to the beginning of the journey for LOCK, STOCK, where nobody got the script. They were like, "Is it a gangster film, is it a comedy? What is this? We don't get it! We're not making it!" So we thought "Fair enough. Screw you guys, we're going to go off and make it."
We just test screened [KICK-ASS] three days ago, and I can genuinely say what LOCK, STOCK did for gangster movies, we're doing for comic book/superhero films.
Beaks: You know, when I read the script for KICK-ASS, my first reaction was, "Oh, my god! This is great! But how in the hell are they going to get away with this?"
Vaughn: Well, the good news is I think we pulled it off. I don't want to sound too arrogant about the thing because there's nothing worse than someone saying, "I made the best damn movie of all time!", then you watch it, and you go, "Yeah..." I can say this... not that it means much... but it's definitely the best movie I've ever made. That doesn't mean it's a great film. But, for me, I think I punched above my weight.
Beaks: But LAYER CAKE's a great film, so that's saying something.
Vaughn: You know, I'm very proud of LAYER CAKE because I had no fucking idea what I was doing when I decided to direct it. LAYER CAKE is quite a conventional movie. I based it on all the '70s thrillers that I loved. KICK-ASS is like nothing else that I've ever done - or a lot of other people have. I remember when we made LOCK, STOCK, and looking at Guy going, "You fucking dude! You've made a fucking great film! This is so exciting!" It was so much fun waiting to see the reaction of an audience to LOCK, STOCK in England. We thought, "They may hate it, but if they get it, they'll really get it." And I think KICK-ASS is a movie that I can guarantee you will either 100% think is a pile of dog shit, or you're going to love it. There will be no in-between reaction to the film. It's going to be one or the other.
Beaks: That's the reaction I figured the film would engender after I read the script. Honestly, it struck me as the strangest hybrid of SPIDER-MAN and DEATH WISH. The vigilante aspect of it was just so hardcore.
Vaughn: I used to love DEATH WISH as a kid.
Beaks: Well, yeah, so did I.
Vaughn: It's funny you say that, because with LAYER CAKE and STARDUST, people would watch the films and talk about a reference. And they'd always name one of my favorite films. And I go, "Fuck! That must've fazed me." It's quite extraordinary the influence the movies you see as a kid... I think it's very hard to disassociate those memories and not be affected by them. It's funny you say DEATH WISH. The idea of DEATH WISH in this movie has never occurred to me until you said that just now. But there is definitely some similarity.
Beaks: I can tell you the exact moment I flashed on DEATH WISH. It's the moment when he pulls out the lead pipe. That reminded me of Kersey whipping out the sock filled with quarters.
Vaughn: Yeah. (Laughs)
Beaks: It's his first act of violence. And as it's happening, you're thinking "Crap, this is for real!" I think that's one of the most striking things about KICK-ASS: it's a superhero movie that is, on many levels, for real.
Vaughn: There's nothing in this film that couldn't happen. Some of the actions sequences are... you know, we're making a movie, so I pushed the boundaries as far as I could. There are a few moments you'd maybe pull off one in a million times if you were doing it for real. But I tried to ground this as much in reality without it being a documentary.
Beaks: Making this without studio involvement, did that force you to compromise anything creatively? Did you have to lose anything because it might've been too big [for the budget]?
Vaughn: It's funny you say that. My only advice to filmmakers now is "If you don't have any studio involvement, if you have less financial reward or choices... take the less money route. You'll have the time of your life." I had so much fun making this movie. There have been no politics to deal with. I'm not getting notes saying, "Could you make it happy?" or "Could you make it sad?", and then you end up in some horrible nowhere land. There are certain sequences that, if I had a little more money and a little more time, would be better. But there are also sequences that are a lot better because I didn't have the money or time, so we had to think of a way of shooting it quickly, and that made it better.
Beaks: I'm sure the reduced budget put a major emphasis on getting the casting right.
Vaughn: I nearly postponed the movie for a year because I couldn't find Dave. I just couldn't find Kick-Ass. It was a Friday morning, and I said to the guys, "We're going back to London tonight, and we're postponing the movie until we figure out who's playing Dave." Then Mr. Aaron Johnson came in, who, mark my words, is going to be a huge movie star. I just saw NOWHERE BOY, where he plays John Lennon, and it is a ten-out-of-ten performance. The whole film is fantastic, but he is phenomenal in it. I actually feel like a juvenile moron for what I did to that kid compared to what he does in that film.
Beaks: What sort of qualities does he bring to the character?
Vaughn: He has that charisma where you believe every word he says. He can also stand in front of the camera and say nothing, but you still want to watch him. He's fun. The actor I think he'll become is Robert Downey, Jr. He's very similar to him.
Beaks: That's high praise. I imagine the other tricky piece of casting was finding Mindy/Hit Girl. That's the one character I need to see in action before I believe it can be done.
Vaughn: Okay. When you watch it... I will bet you any amount of money you want... anything at any odds... I'll give you a million-to-one odds if you want... that you will a) fall in love with her, b) buy her, and c) think, "My god, I just saw the Jodie Foster/Natalie Portman of this generation."
Beaks: (Laughing) I love that you're calling your shot. This is so refreshing.
Vaughn: I really mean that. That's the one thing. If this movie was STAR WARS, she'd be Han Solo.
Beaks: I love that one of the first images we've seen is her pointing the gun straight at the camera like Clint Eastwood on the poster of MAGNUM FORCE.
Vaughn: You know your good movies. Maybe I'm cynical about the film industry, but it's quite hard to have discussions with people in Hollywood and talk about movies that were made [prior to 2000]. I grew up on '70s and '80s movies, and, to me, that's it: Dirty Harry.
Beaks: So are you infusing the superhero film with a 1970s grittiness?
Vaughn: Sort of. My DP [Ben Davis], who's great, wanted to shoot it a bit grittier, but I've actually gone for a high, glossy, colorful palette. I said this needs to look like SPIDER-MAN. It needs to look like this big, glossy American movie, even though we haven't got $200 million. We made sure we used these new anamorphic lenses. I think they're the G series. They're unbelievable. For me, that makes the movie more like... "What the fuck is going on?" It's what the characters are doing and what the action is, but shot in a style of the big Hollywood films that you're used to. For me, I thought that if I shot it grittily, you'd then expect gritty shit to happen. So I thought let's do the opposite; let's make it glossy, so you could easily see these characters in SPIDER-MAN. but it's like "What would happen if Spider-Man were in the real world?"
Beaks: There are a lot of people who aren't used to seeing comic book movies with a good deal of blood in them. So when WATCHMEN came out, it kind of blew their minds. That film also had a very clean look, and I think mainstream audiences had a hard time wrapping their minds around that. Now that you're testing the film, are you running into people comparing it to WATCHMEN?
Vaughn: No. The test scores... I'm not even going to tell you what they were because you wouldn't believe me. They were just phenomenal. And two of the things that were singled out for praise was that it was unique - it was like nothing anyone had seen before - and that it was fun. I think the difference between WATCHMEN and KICK-ASS is... I mean, I thought WATCHMEN as a piece of filmmaking was exquisite; I thought Zack Snyder did stuff that was jaw-droppingly brilliant. My only criticism of it was that I thought it was a little too faithful to the structure of the comic. It just felt episodic; the narrative drive wasn't working. That's the one thing I would've changed.
But it was very serious, WATCHMEN, and [KICK-ASS] isn't. It hasn't got a serious bone in its body, to be frank. But it ain't a spoof or a comedy either. When I say it's not serious, I mean it's meant to be fun. Someone described it as "Teenage Tarantino". And as much as I'd love to think I could walk on that man's coattails, that a description that made me smile.
Beaks: But that's appropriate. You are calling back the iconography of all of these superhero movies. It's that magpie approach to genre. You borrow a little from this film, and a little from that film. So if people are then saying it's unique, well, that's very Tarantino.
Vaughn: I hope so. You'll have to watch the film and tell me yourself. That's the weird thing: we're discussing the film, and you haven't seen it.
Beaks: Yeah, you're getting me all fired up.
Vaughn: Well, I'm excited. I really am.
Beaks: Just to eliminate any doubt: this is an R-rated film?
Vaughn: Yes. Although we've got no sex in it. I don't quite understand the ratings system in America. Apparently, I can say to you, "I'm going to fuck you up bad tonight!", and you'll get a PG-13. But if I say, "I wanna fuck you bad tonight!", you get an R. I was scratching my head at that one when I found that out.
Beaks: But there is actually viscera being exploded across the screen, right? I remember this passage from the script: "The viewing window is decorated with Danil's insides." If there are images like that in your movie, then I think you've got an R.
Vaughn: There are. (Laughs)
Vaughn: I mean, I've held back on some of it. It's funny: we're doing the blood at the moment with visual effects, and I'm struggling to make a decision. I have one idea that we'll take the drawings from the comic and do the blood like that; we'll make it very cartoony, comic book blood. Then I looked at it, and... it looked really cool in the stabbing and stuff, but afterwards, you were like, "What does that mean? Is there comic book blood on the floor?" These are a few things which I probably should've made a decision on before I shot it. (Laughs)
Beaks: How are you going to incorporate the animated scenes we've been hearing about?
Vaughn: Basically, there's a scene where it's the backstory of how Mindy and Damon become Big Daddy and Hit Girl. I was just looking at it, and I was like, "Fuck, I'm going to have to get someone who looks like a young Cage, and then a two-year-old and a four-year-old Mindy. And then I'm going to have to shoot in fifteen or sixteen different locations. This is going to cost a fortune!" And then we came up with this premise where Big Daddy is brainwashing Hit Girl into thinking all of this is fine [by drawing] all of the gangsters as comic books. That's her life: reading comic books. And Big Daddy is also a comic book artist; he makes his money drawing comic books. So Mark and I had this idea where... he draws the Big Daddy and Hit Girl comic, which he gives to her to read. And what happens is another character finds this comic and reads it. It's not going to be animated like a cartoon or a manga. John has drawn the comic which the character would've drawn, and we're just going to give it a 3-D look with a little movement. It should look cool. I haven't seen it yet. We're working on it at the moment. But we're not trying to do a KILL BILL moment. It should have a very different feel to it. I hope. (Laughs)
Beaks: : One of the things readers of the comic are wondering is how you're going to complete the arc of the story.
Vaughn: Look, Mark is smart and organized. When he pitched it to me, he had the first comic with an outline of all the other seven comics. He had two-page synopses of each one. And when I saw that, I said, "Fuck! I've got the movie in my head, and I'm going to change this, this and that." And he said, "That's a great idea; that'll work in the comic", and, "That wouldn't work in the comic." They're as faithful to each other as could be possible so that the comic is good and the movie is good. But they have similar endings.
Beaks: : You know, after seeing how he's used in YEAR ONE and thinking about what he'll be doing in KICK-ASS, it occurs to me that Christopher Mintz-Plasse might have a future in villainy.
Vaughn: The thing about Red Mist is that his dad is the baddie in this film. We've got Mark Strong, who's fucking great by the way. I think Mark is going to have his Tim Roth moment in the sense that... I was living in L.A. at the time when RESERVOIR DOGS came out, and I remember hearing a lot about this new American actor named Tim Roth. And I was like, "Oh, really?" (Laughs) But the thing about Red Mist is that he's not as black-and-white as a villain. He's a comic book lover as well, so he has a lot in common with Dave. And every time he's hanging out with him, they're enjoying it. When they put on Danny Elfman music as they're driving Mist Mobile, they're both living the dream. You sort of like him. You do get to hating him because he screws him over, but you do like him.
Beaks: So what about the release date? Do you have any idea where this might land on the calendar?
Vaughn: It depends. I might do a screening at my house on Christmas Day for my family and friends, and say, "How's this for the world's most expensive home video of all time?" But there's been a lot of interest now from the studios. I think they're understanding that... I don't want to tempt fate, but I would say we'll probably copy the 300 model of watching it for the first time at Comic Con, fingers crossed people like what they see, and, if they do, build off of that and release in the first quarter of next year during spring break.
Beaks: I love that Comic Con has become a geek film festival of sorts.
Vaughn: Well, I've never been! And I can't wait! I was meant to go three different times, but failed. I was meant to go for X-MEN 3, then that failed. Then I was meant to go for THOR. And also STARDUST. So fourth time lucky. (Laughs) I've got no idea what to expect. It's funny, but I'm both thrilled and bummed out that AVATAR is on earlier than us. I'm thrilled because I'm going to try to sneak in and see some of it, but at the same time I'm thinking, "How in the hell is anyone going to take notice of us when you've got AVATAR playing?"
You know, the thing about this movie - and this is why I was adamant about launching at Comic Con - is that ultimately any one of the 7,000 guys who are watching that footage [in Hall H at Comic Con] could be the lead in this film. This is a movie about people who love comics. And that's another thing: I've seen a lot of very good trailers over the last few years turn into pretty lousy movies. So we're not doing the big trailer. I'm just going to show some scenes. It's just like, "Here you go! The scenes aren't finished, they're straight off the AVID, but... here are some scenes. And hopefully you'll like the scenes enough to then want to see more when we get the bloody film finished!" (Laughs)
Beaks: I think that's the way to go. I think that's what Guillermo del Toro would call "Showing your dick."
Vaughn: Well, they might need a magnifying glass, but there you go.
Beaks: So if the film takes off, have you already thought about franchise possibilities? How would you continue the story?
Vaughn: This is the annoying thing. I don't want to tempt fate. But Mark and I over a couple of beers came up with one of the funniest, coolest idea for a sequel that we would only be able to get away with if the film does well. We'd sort of dial it up to eleven, shall we say. (Laughs)
Beaks: Well, if these kids take off like you say they're going to, you'll be paying them three times as much as you did on the first movie.
Vaughn: Which means fuck all still.
Beaks: (Laughs) Really?
Vaughn: (Laughing) Yeah. They didn't get paid a lot. Neither did I. It really was a labor of love.
Beaks: But it sounds like it was worth it.
Vaughn: It's really got me so excited about being a director. It was just so fun. It's how films should be. Films should be about taking risks and pushing boundaries. The problem with the film business is that it's become too homogenized.
Wait until you see Cage in this. It's like he's gone back to the WILD AT HEART/RAISING ARIZONA days.
Beaks: He's that unhinged?
Vaughn: In a different way.He's done a cool-as-hell performance. I really mean this. I wish I could just start screening the movie for everyone, but I've got to finish the bloody thing!
Personally, I think Vaughn should commandeer one of those multiplex screens in the Gaslamp District on Thursday night and show the whole goddamn movie. But the Hall H footage will suffice. For now.