Welsh actor and Kingsman: The Secret Service breakout star Taron Egerton owes Bryan Singer a big favour. Ish. How so?
Let’s go back to a few moons ago when producer-turned-director Matthew Vaughn was expected to follow-up 2011’s X-Men First Class with X-Men: Days of Future Past — expected being the operative word. Turns out Bryan Singer had the first option to direct the sequel, but should he decline to do it, Vaughn was next in line. This arrangement didn’t sit well with Vaughn.
“Having to wait to see if Bryan wanted to do it was just weird,” said Vaughn in a 2015 interview. “I want to be in control of my destiny, not waiting. I felt like Bryan had let me play with his toys and I’d had a good time but it was time to give them back.” So he bailed on the mutants and focused on spies instead in Kingsman: The Secret Service, a passion project he and veteran comic book scribe and Kick-Ass collaborator Mark Millar had been working on for years. It was Vaughn’s love letter to the spy movies — the early Bond flicks, The Avengers (not the Marvel one) and The Man from UNCLE — he was raised on, and then some.
“I realised Kingsman had to be done now,” he said. “The spy movie [genre] needed to be reinvented. And it was my franchise.” Kingsman: The Secret Service introduced the eponymous covert agency where the operatives not only have a particular set of skills, they also have an impeccably snazzy wardrobe.
So had Vaughn not gone to do his own thing, he might not have cast relative newcomer Taron Egerton, a Royal Academy of Dramatic Art grad who had until then done only TV work, as Gary ‘Eggsy’ Unwin, the delinquent whom Colin Firth’s Harry Hart, aka Galahad, groomed into a James Bond for the millennials. (Egerton reportedly edged out Unbroken’s Jack O’Connell and Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ John Boyega for the part.)
The final product, a hyper-realistic salute/subversion of the spy genre — featuring an exploding head musical sequence, and a febrile church fight, if you can call it that, set to Lynyrd Skynyrd's ‘Free Bird’— reinvented Firth as an unlikley action hero, catapulted Egerton to the big league, and made US$414 million (S$560 mil) worldwide, becoming Vaughn’s biggest hit. Yes, it made more dough than X-Men: First Class.
Cue to the present: Egerton, 27, is back as Eggsy in Kingsman: The Golden Circle, again directed by Vaughn. This time Eggsy and Mark Strong’s quarter-master-cum-trainer Merlin find themselves in the US where they meet the Kingsman’s American equivalent, the Statesman and its chief agents, Tequila (Channing Tatum), Whiskey (Pedro Pascal), Ginger Ale (Halle Berry) and Champagne (Jeff Bridges). The two agencies team up to tackle a Martha Stewart-ish villain, played by Julianne Moore. Firth’s back too as Hart, even though his character died a violent death in the first movie. Hart’s resurrection is one of the sequel’s many highlights. Says Vaughn at the recent San Diego Comic Con: “I think it was [Stanley] Kubrick who said you need five water-cooler moments for a hit film, I always try to put eight in.”
“It has everything the first one does, but cranked up,” says Egerton, whose next movie is the Robin Hood reboot (due in a year’s time). So Mr Egerton, what else can you share with us? - DOUGLAS TSENG
8 DAYS: Where is Eggsy when we pick up with him?
TARON EGERTON: We meet Eggsy in an undisclosed amount of time after the first one. But you can see in his mews house that there are three additional [newspaper] headlines on his bedroom wall, indicating that he’s done a handful of missions on his own. And he is now going steady, to use a very 1950s term, with — shock horror! — the Swedish princess from the first movie. Love blossomed in an unusual place. He’s trying to juggle the lifestyle of being a Kingsman while nurturing a blossoming relationship with a person whom he really loves. He’s basically the same guy, but with a really important job.
He still has those rough edges.
Oh, the rough edges haven’t been sanded off. Eggsy still [messes] up. That’s essential for the audience to have a window into the movie — to experience it through his eyes. He still has to escape through a sewer and emerge covered in shit. He’s not [Colin Firth’s character] Harry Hart; he’s Eggsy. If we’d started the movie with Eggsy being Harry Hart, he wouldn’t have anywhere else to go. He’s the rough-around-the-edges lad. We even see him putting on an Adidas hoodie — that’s who he is in his downtime.
This is your third film now with director Matthew Vaughn, who also produced the sports biopic Eddie The Eagle. You two clearly work well together. Were you in contact with him as he pulled the sequel together?
The whole time he was writing it, he would always call me [to share his] ideas. There is a real big kid in Matthew. When he has an idea he’s excited about, he wants to share it. Just when you think you have a handle on who Matthew is and how his creative brain works, he comes in with something else which is really [expletive] clever, something I could never have thought of.
The first movie was your first time on a movie set. Did it feel easier on The Golden Circle?
On the first one I thought Matthew could fire me at any moment. I was a bit more tight-lipped and reverential. Now it felt easier [because] I’ve had spent far more time on film sets, I was more certain of myself and this world I now occupy. Matthew kept calling this movie “the tough second album”, and it is. People shout “Eggsy!” at me in the street sometimes, and that’s quite [overwhelming]. And when you’re coming back to play the same role again, people have a level of expectation from you — they want the same thing again, but at the same time, they also want something new and exciting. Kingsman has totally changed my life, and to come back for the sequel, my overriding emotion was excitement and real anticipation. The script is great, and it’s a really great story. I was so excited to be doing a sequel to your first film within four years of coming out of drama school. I am the luckiest man on the planet!
Have you changed your approach to the character?
On the first one, I was constantly thinking about the accent but that is very much a part of me. I don’t think about it for a second now. I’ve played this character since his inception and so I feel very secure.
Speaking of Harry Hart, it’s official — he’s baaack, even though he supposedly died in the first movie.
Well… we were on the same set, and we are friends and I love his company, and it was really nice [for Colin] to revisit a job well done (laughs). There were a lot of ways Matthew could have gone with the sequel, but in my mind, there was no doubt that Harry is coming back. I’m not sure how far the movie would go without that Harry-and-Eggsy relationship. That dynamic they share is the beating heart of the movie.
Has their relationship changed?
When they are reunited, it’s lovely. It’s very affecting and they’re pleased to see each other. But for undisclosed reasons, a tension grows in their relationship. That’s enormously fun and an interesting dynamic. When Harry and Eggsy’s relationship came to its untimely end in the first movie, they weren’t on good terms. It’s quite sad. Eggsy hasn’t dealt with the situation particularly well. So in this movie, there’s a reconciliation but it’s not always a harmonious one. Matthew knows that their relationship is the key [to the film’s success]. Sure, you’ve got all the guns and fighting, but for me, it’s the relationship between Harry and Eggsy that drives the movie.
In the trailer, we see the Kingsman HQ destroyed. What are those ramifications on Eggsy?
Eggsy was disenfranchised at the start of the first movie, aimless and discontented. This wacky world of epsionage he's involved with gives him direction and purpose, so to dash it to smithereens in the sequel is mad. Eggsy doesn’t really know what the hell to do next. In some ways, we get to reset [the franchise]. Everything was okay before, and now it’s not again.
New to The Golden Circle are the Statesman, the Kingsman's American counterpart. What can you say about them?
The Kingsman makes its money through tailoring and that’s its front. The Statesman, on the other hand, makes its money from selling booze, which is more rewarding than tailoring. The Statesman are a level up. We thought the Kingsman’s jet was good, but [the Statesman’s] jet is even better. You can see Eggsy being wide-eyed with wonder again.
The Statesman agents all have alcohol-related nicknames.
Ginger Ale, played by Halle Berry, is the equivalent of Merlin. She’s very clever and you might describe her as bookish. She’s a quieter character, and then there’s Channing Tatum as Tequila, who has a bit of bravado and is butch and manly. He’s quite gung-ho. He likes his weekend parties. Jeff Bridges is Champagne, who is really cool. He’s an alcoholic who doesn’t drink, but is forever swilling and spitting whiskey, or sniffing the whiskey as he’s talking and thinking things through. Then there’s Pedro Pascal. He plays Whiskey, a seasoned veteran and the Statesman’s top field agent, who takes Eggsy under his wings. For a little while, it begins to feel like he’s taking up the mantle of Eggsy’s new mentor, while Harry Hart is absent. But you also get the sense that Whiskey might be a little reckless, a little cold.
What’s the relationship like between Eggsy and the Statesman?
I think it’s one of mistrust. These organisations aren’t aware of each other. They’re only supposed to become aware of each other in the event of a serious disaster. Eggsy and Merlin [Mark Strong’s character] find themselves face-to-face with Tequila. I don’t recommend fighting Channing Tatum. He’s a dancer, but that guy is like an ox. I had a few sore fingers after [doing the fight scenes with him].
The cast assembled is astonishing.
It’s amazing [to be] at a table with Jeff Bridges, Colin Firth, Channing Tatum, and Halle Berry! It’s a weird thing to be part of that scene with all of them. They’re such great characters — so animated, larger-than-life — and they’re played by such great performers.
Let’s not forget Julianne Moore. She plays the villain, Poppy.
And she has a dastardly plot that’s every bit as chilling as [Samuel L Jackson's] Valentine’s plot from the first movie. That’s thematic link between these two films. There’s a very cold world in which you get what Valentine was saying about global warming. You can also sort of see where Poppy is coming from, depending on how conservative you are. But Julianne is lovely. She’s a children’s author as well. When she heard that I have two young sisters, she sent them some of her books. She’s really great in the movie, really disturbing, saccharine and rotten to the core. The smile never reaches the eyes.
The first film pushed the envelope with its R-rated tone, exploding heads and stylish violence. Does the second follow that up?
You’re not going to be leaving the cinema feeling like Matthew played it safe this time. It takes a character like Matthew’s to be as resolute and uncompromising as that, especially in the face of all the pressures that come from dealing with a commercially viable property. If you call the first one provocative, you’d call this one a punch in the face.
So it’s a movie that may ruffle feathers.
I think it may ruffle more feathers more than the first one did.
(Interview transcript and photos courtesy of 20th Century Fox)