Ralph Fiennes could’ve made one helluva James Bond.
Well, he kinda did — as gentleman spy Jonathan Steed in The Avengers, not the Marvel one, but the Razzie-feted 1998 adaptation of the 1960s cult British TV show, alongside Uma Thurman and O.G. Bond Sean Connery as the kilt-wearing villain. More recently, Fiennes played MI6 boss M to Daniel Craig’s 007 in Skyfall, Spectre and No Time to Die.
And now, Fiennes, 58, gets to be a field agent, so to speak, in The King’s Man, the prequel to the Kingsman movies, about how very first independent intelligence agency was born amid a chain of turbulent geopolitical events that ultimately lead to the outbreak of World War I.
Launched in 2015, Kingsman: The Secret Agent — created by Matthew Vaughn (X-Men: First Class) and his Kick-Ass collaborator, veteran comic book scribe Mark Millar — starred Colin Firth as Harry Hart, armed, dangerous and impeccably dressed, and Taron Egerton as protégé Eggsy, the ruffian being groomed to be the Bond for the millennials.
Vaughn’s love letter to the spy movies — the Connery-era Bond flicks, and the Bond-inspired TV shows, The Man From Uncle and The Avengers — made US$415 million (S$561 mil) worldwide, and went to spawn a sequel, 2017’s Kingsman: The Golden Circle, again starring Firth and Egerton as well as a bonkers cameo by Elton John.
For the franchise’s next chapter, Vaughn, 50, decided to go back in time to tell an origin story. He got the idea from watching John Huston’s 1975 classic, The Man Who Would Be King, starring Connery (him again) and Michael Caine. “I afterward jokingly said, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to make The Man Who Would Be Kingsman?’”, said Vaughn, in a virtual press con.
While conceiving the story, Vaughn always had Fiennes in mind as the founder of the Kingsman, Duke Orlando of Oxford. “I always thought Ralph would’ve been a fantastic Bond for so many reasons,” Vaughn said in the film’s production notes.
He added, “And when I met with Ralph, it was funny, because he’s incredibly Kingsman in a weird way, in that he’s an incredibly serious man who doesn’t take himself seriously, and he has a wicked sense of humor. But it’s sort of always bubbling underneath a serious subject matter, shall we say. And working with him was a delight.”
No doubt, the two-time Oscar-nominated Fiennes can handle the acting bit, but what about the action part?
“When it came to the action, I met with him and had a long chat on whether he should do the film or not as an actor,” said Vaughn in a Zoom interview with 8days.sg from the UK. “I said, look, me and my stunt team did an evaluation of him and he was incredible. He learnt all the sword-fighting from the Shakespeare plays he’d done. He’s a very fit guy, strong. And he loved [the action] — he worked so hard in the same way Colin Firth did [in the first movie]. Sometimes people that aren’t known for action try a little bit harder when they are given the chance.”
The King’s Man also stars Gemma Arterton (another Bond alum), Djimon Hounsou, Matthew Goode and Harris Dickinson. The latter, 25, who plays the Duke of Oxford’s son, Conrad, is best known for his roles in the Danny Boyle-produced limited series Trust and Maleficent: Mistress of Evil.
According to the production notes, Vaughn picked Dickinson after just meeting him for 10 minutes. The director said Dickinson’s casting was crucial to make the Duke of Oxford relatable, especially in the harrowing Western Front sequence, another highlight in the movie.
“My fear about the role is that you’ve got a Duke and a Marquis’s son together, and do I really want to watch a movie with two very posh people in the leads?” Vaughn commented. “I always thought Bond worked well because Connery gave it more of an edge. I think if they’d cast a David Niven or a genuinely posh guy, Bond might have been too up there to relate to. Harris came in and he had what I needed — that charm. He is the real deal.”
And what did Dickinson learn from Fiennes?
“Lots, man,” he shared with us in a separate Zoom session from the UK. “Every day is a new lesson, without having to do much really, [just] being in his presence, in the way he comes to work every day, the amount of time and commitment he put into his role is impressive, at the very least.
“His composure, his kindness, the way he sets the tone for the set. Whoever is in that leading role of that project very much sets the tone for the rest of the set and how everyone works and everyone comes in with the same attitude — and he did that.”
Like its predecessors, The King’s Man is a hyper-realistic salute/subversion of the espionage genre — featuring an audacious ballroom dance-and-fight sequence between our heroes and Rhy Ifans’ Rasputin — with actual historical characters and events mixed in the powder keg.
It also has its serious side, especially in the aforementioned WWI battle moments. “It got me to explore another side of filmmaking that I’ve always been intrigued about serious movies, which I sort of enjoy, but a little bit intimidated to do,” said Vaughn. “It’s not my usual string in my bow, shall we say. So, I got to explore [that] world in the safety of my world. And it was good. It broadened my horizons, and I learnt a lot. Who knows, maybe one day, I’ll do [a movie about] Mark Anthony and Cleopatra next.”
To learn more about The King’s Man, watch our interview with Matthew Vaughn and Harris Dickinson.
The King's Man (NC16) opens in cinemas on Dec 30. The Kingsman: The Secret Service and The Kingsman: The Golden Circle are now streaming on Disney+.
Photos: TPG News/Click Photos