CS Interview: Matthew Vaughn Talks Rocketman & Kingsman Prequel!
Paramount Pictures provided ComingSoon.net the chance to speak 1:1 with Matthew Vaughn about producing this weekend’s Elton John biopic Rocketman, as well as his upcoming Kingsman prequel set at the turn of the 20th century! Check out the full interview below!
The film will focus on Elton John’s beginnings, starting when he was a prodigy at the Royal Academy of Music and carrying over to when he reached global stardom through his influential and enduring musical partnership with his songwriting collaborator Bernie Taupin. It will look at the performer’s life past the glitter saturated image we have grown so accustomed to associating with the performer.
Rocketman stars Taron Egerton (Kingsman: Secret Service) as the famed singer/songwriter, along with Jamie Bell (TURN: Washington’s Spies), Richard Madden (Game of Thrones), and Bryce Dallas Howard (Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom).
BAFTA nominee Dexter Fletcher (Wild Bill, Eddie the Eagle) will be directing Rocketman from a script by Oscar-nominated writer Lee Hall (Billy Elliot). Matthew Vaughn and his Marv Films will be producing the film alongside Elton John with his Rocket Pictures partner David Furnish.
ComingSoon.net: Dexter said that you were the one who came to him with the package of this script and Taron. What made you think that alchemy would work?
Matthew Vaughn: Alchemy is definitely the right word for making movies. I make all my decisions based on gut instinct and fear in the sense of if I’m getting nervous, I know there’s something. The fact that everyone in Hollywood didn’t want to make the movie, David and Elton have been trying to get this off the ground for 12 years. So I was like, I don’t get it. You had Tom Hardy, you had Michael Gracey. But they had problems with the rating and the subject matter and no one understood that style. And then, I watched this crazy thing going, god, I remember a movie I loved called “All That Jazz.” And I watched that, just to remind myself, I think that’s what it is. I was so tired that I watched “The Jazz Singer.”
CS: The one with Neil Diamond?
Vaughn: Yeah, I downloaded that bloody movie. And I was going, “I don’t remember it being like this.” And then, I figured out it was the wrong movie and I said, “Dexter, watch ‘All That Jazz’ and tell me how you respond.” And he loved it. And I knew there was a trust between me, Dexter, Elton, Taron, David Furnish. There’s like a band, where we were a really good band that all had our skillset, but together I was pretty sure we’ll make good music. And we went for it.
CS: Whenever I see very dark subject matter paired with snappy musical numbers, my mind always goes to Dennis Potter, “Pennies From Heaven” and all that stuff.
Vaughn: “The Singing Detective”.
CS: Yeah, because that was his shtick, right, was juxtaposing those two things. Was that a touchstone for you?
Vaughn: I hadn’t even thought of that until you said it. That’s why “The Singing Detective”, and yeah, and ‘The Rose”. Do you remember “The Rose”?
CS: With Bette Midler.
Vaughn: Yeah, with Bette Midler, and even people don’t remember it being so, but “Saturday Night Fever” was pretty dark at the end of it and real, but fantastical. And with Marv, my job is I only want to make movies with people, where like, I want them to love them, hate them, but never be accused of being boring and just making a safe film in the box. So I wanted to push the boundaries. And I knew these guys, the script did it. I mean, Elton and David, the script, we did hardly any work to, which, that’s why I was so stunned. I was going, this is amazing. It’s been fun. We’ve had a good time.
CS: The biggest surprise for me is how deep and ugly it gets into the addiction stuff. Since it’s being sold as sort of a light and frothy musical fantasy…
Vaughn: That’s good to know. You tell me. I only got here 24 hours ago, so I don’t know how it’s being sold to the American public.
CS: Well, you usually have a little bit of input into the marketing, right?
Vaughn: I’ve been slightly under the making a “Kingsman” prequel. We just wrapped last week, and this film is a whole new genre for me. When we were polishing the screenplay and I was saying to everyone, “This is a true fantasy,” was a name that I came up for when people say, “What is this?” I said, “It’s a true fantasy,” because Elton’s life is the most fantastical. Moments you think aren’t true and some of the truest moments are actually fantasy. So it felt real, in that sense. But the marketing of films, America seems to have a different way of… even when I look outside, looking at your advertising, it’s so different than the British advertising. We’re much more… I think about sense of humor and subtlety. I think you guys are a little bit like, “buy this because it’s 100 times better than that” and you have to say what it’s better than. In England, you can’t compare things. You can’t. I think there’s a different dynamic. We’re very different, our cultures.
CS: How hands on were you during the different phases, like pre-pro, filming, post?
Vaughn: I was quite hands on at the beginning, obviously putting the package together and the money. And then I kept an eye on the casting, but Dexter and I… it’s my second movie with him. And as a director, loads of movies as an actor. So we had the same tastes. And the shooting, I was just hardly around and didn’t need to be. Dexter would call me up when there’s a problem. I went off and started filming “Kingsman” during the edit. Every now and then I’d have to look at a cut. I’d wrap “Kingsman” and look at the cut and give my notes. But David Furnish is very hands on with it. But as I said, it was a really good band, because if they needed a drum roll, I’d come in and just rock out for a second and then leave. Dexter’s getting better and better, so he just needed sounding boards every now and then.
CS: You talk about having to get the money. When you were putting this together “Bohemian Rhapsody” hadn’t done what it did yet. So how do you sell studios on this? Did you sell it as an awards contender? Do you sell it as a potential spinoff to Broadway? How do you do it?
Vaughn: Yeah, well, we financed it at the beginning. Marv came in. With our money. So I’ve sort of gone past the stage of pitching movies to people anymore because if I pitch it and they like it, then I’m suddenly thinking I’m making the wrong film. So I’m much more about, “we like it, we’re doing it, who’s jumping onto our train?” I just think if I can pitch a movie and everyone says yes, then it’s not an original film. I want people to be scared of it. I always say if the studios are nervous, then I’m happy. If they’re not nervous, I’ve probably gone and done something a little bit generic.
CS: What is the most bizarre studio note you’ve ever been given on any of your films?
Vaughn: Do you want the “War and Peace” answer or the… god, I have had so many. I remember me and my editor flew out on “Stardust” and I’ll never forget this. We screened the movie and it made me laugh so hard because my editor was just so shocked that they watched the film and the first… I don’t know if you’ve seen “Stardust”, but there’s a character that gets turned into a goat. And we cast him, we’d done all the action sequences a goat and it was quite an important thing. The first note was, “we think it’d be better if it wasn’t a goat, it should be a horse.” And I’m like, “that’s a script note, not an edit note.” And then they all got pretty pissed off at me for saying that. And I explained to them, “if you want to spend like $8 million on CG, maybe we can do it.” They’re like, “okay, forget that.” The second note was, “can we change the dress from gray to blue?” And I was like, “Okay. Again, pre-production notes, if you want to CG it, we can.” And then the third note, “can we put a shirt on Charlie during the sex scene?” And I went, “okay. Guys, there’s a pattern here. These are script or pre notes and did you not watch the rushes?” And that one, we did a CG shot. I always watch the film and he’s topless in the scene and then he’s got a CG shirt for the whole scene. Those were notes that weren’t good or bad notes. They were script notes during the edit. So that stuck out on me.
CS: That’s just executives trying to justify their job or something.
Vaughn: Oh, or their existence. I don’t know what that was. But you get crazy notes. On “Kick-Ass” they’re like, “can’t Hit-Girl be Hit-Woman?” And I’m like, the whole dynamic— “but yeah, if she was equal to Big Daddy? Big Daddy or Hit Mom?” And I was like, “guys, no. We’re not doing Hit Mom.” Maybe now we can do Hit Mom, but then, Big Daddy and Hit Girl.
CS: You said you just finished the shooting on the “Kingsman” prequel. My issue with any prequel these days is it always feels like its on rails. For example, in “Solo” you know Han’s going to wind up with Chewie in the Millennium Falcon by the end. It’s just on rails. How do you avoid that?
Vaughn: Well, let’s say we did the prequel to “Star Wars,” but it’s set 120 years earlier with not a single character you’ve ever met before is how you avoid it.
CS: And you get into the colonialism? Because that’s the height of the British Empire, right?
Vaughn: Yeah. My nickname for the movie is “The Man Who Will Be Kingsman.” I just wanted to do my version of a big, historical adventure epic, and then I came up with the story and then I realized it could be a “Kingsman” movie, but it’s like the 15th cousin 10 times removed. It’s a whole different film. I mean, this film would work even if it had nothing to do with “Kingsman.” But I agree with you. I had this on “First Class.” I’ve done this before. The problem is, you know Magneto and Professor X, they ain’t dying. There is no tension there. But then, I think if you play on it enough, like how did they become the X-Men? How did he lose his legs? There is fun in that, as long as you subvert it a bit. I think they did it great in “Hot Tub Time Machine,” when you knew the guy was going to eventually lose his arm.
CS: With Crispin Glover.
Vaughn: Yeah, like when is it going to happen? And so, you have to be aware of it, but “Kingsman’s” going to surprise people. I mean, it’s surprising me. I’m cutting it at the moment and I’m excited because I’m pinching myself going, “I can’t believe I’ve made this film,” which is the best feeling in the world. I don’t know whether people are going to like it, but it’s definitely going to surprise people.