Back in February, on the occasion of the German premiere of Matthew Vaughn’s latest Mark Millar adaptation Kingsman: The Secret Service, I had the great opportunity to talk to the film’s two leads. One is the renowned Oscar winner Colin Firth, who thanks to movies such as Bridges Jones’s Diary, The King’s Speech, A Single Man and, of course, the BBC miniseries Pride and Prejudice long belongs to British acting royalty. The other is the newcomer Taron Egerton, handpicked by Matthee Vaughn against many competitors to play the breakthrough role of his career. Egerton stars in the film as a talented young man from the wrong side of the tracks, whom Firth’s lethal super-spy recruits into the training programm of a secret orgainization. It’s basically Kick-Ass meets James Bond by the way of Men in Black (but without aliens) with a little dash of Star Wars in it – and if that doesn’t sound like a great time at the movies, then I don’t know what does.
In my interview, Mr. Firth and Mr. Egerton both have shown themselves to be greatly excited about their film and our topics ranged from James Bond actors over British stereotypes to, um, mushy peas. Take a look:
(Spoiler alert: the second half of the conversation contains Kingsman spoilers, also signified within the interview!)
Filmfutter: “Take That” did a song for the film and they are next door right now. They are only three now, you could join them, Taron.
Taron Egerton: Yeah, Colin (Firth) and I are talking about replacing. Colin is going to choreograph and I’m going to do the vocals. (both laugh)
FF: Kingsman is a great throwback to older James Bond movies. It’s so very British.
Colin Firth: It’s funny how many Bonds have actually not been English. Connery is Scottish, Lazenby is Australian…
TE: Well, the character was written as Scottish, wasn’t he? I might be getting confused because Fleming did not want Connery, did he?
CF: Fleming felt that Connery wasn’t patrician enough and he had to be mentored into the role, which is interesting because I think he is most people’s favorite Bond. But yeah, Pierce (Brosnan) is Irish, (Timothy) Dalton is Welsh.
TE: I think that because there are references to Bond and shades of it within the film, it suggests to some that perhaps we are challenging Bond. But you’ve got to be stupid to do that. We are rather hanging on the coattails of Bond. It’s an alternative to the stark ultra-realism of the current spy films and it nods its head back to the time when films raised eyebrows.
FF: What is the difference between Harry Hart (Colin Firth’s character in Kingsman) and James Bond?
CF: I’ve never thought about it in those terms. There is already a lot of difference between one Bond and another. Roger Moore’s Bond and Daniel Craig’s Bond are totally different and so are David Niven’s Bond and Connery’s Bond. And this isn’t James Bond. If you want a simple, prosaic answer: you don’t know anything about Harry’s sex life. You know a lot about Bond’s sex life. That’s a very marked and noticeable difference because he has sex in every film and it’s usually connected with the plot and the espionage and some poison…
FF: So Eggsy (Taron’s character in Kingsman) is more Bondian then?
TE: I think he is. Harry is closer to someone like Obi-Wan Kenobi (looks at Colin Firth). I’m not suggesting Alec Guinness. A much younger Obi-Wan. (laughs) The dynamic in their relationship is that Harry is kind of a father figure to Eggsy and you don’t really want to think of a father being a womanizer.
CF: I think the fact that Harry does not have other relationships in the film was a good way to focus on his relationship with Eggsy. I don’t want to imply too much seriousness or deconstruction in this film, but in terms of how the plot is shaped, it throws the focus on the boy. All we know about Harry is his professionalism, one aspect of his past and his emotional investment in this young man. There is something very streamlined about it.
TE: I think Harry’s mystery is his appeal and his allure. You cannot demystify him.
CF: My character appears from nowhere for Eggsy in the film. It is even presented visually. The scene, in which Eggsy walks out of the police station, is a single uncut camera shot. You see the policeman getting the phone call, going inside, you see Eggsy coming out and you see me standing where the policeman stood before. It is as if I just appeared, whereas in reality I had to move very quickly to the spot. Later, when Harry walks out of the pub door, he disappears in a similar fashion. The idea that Matthew (Vaughn) had was to make him more like Obi-Wan Kenobi, to have him appear and disappear like an apparition.
FF: So the character doesn’t have a backstory?
CF: I could make one for myself, but you’re not told. In the comic book, my character is called Jack London and he is related to Taron’s character. He is his uncle and comes from a similar background. But the movie takes all of that away. You don’t know if he is or has been married, if he has children or even if he is straight or gay.
FF: Spy movies often work best when they are British. Why does Britishness corresponds with spy themes so well?
CF: I have a theory about this. The first film I did, Another Country (1984), was in some ways an exploration of what it is that connects spying to a particular kind of Englishmen. It was set in a British public school, similar to Eton or Winchester. In this elite environment the boys are politicized. They are given a great deal of power within the school infrastructure. The senior boys are disciplinarians. In order to get into the elite, you have to be elected. At the age of 16 you’re campaigning and become a politician. You have to use strategy to win popularity. This film is set in the 1930s and this was really a training to become a member of the ruling class because these boys would go on to become diplomats, government ministers and they would run society. They are being groomed to that. In the context of that era, there are boys that are not going to fit in. The communism revolution across Europe creates this massive idealism, which runs contrary to that system. You also have a boy (played by Rupert Everett), who realizes that his own homosexuality would limit him. Even though there is nothing uncommon about it, you are supposed to keep it a secret. He learns subterfuge and he hides this side of him. It is a serious deconstruction, but it recurs again in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011) because the character I played in that is based on Kim Philby, who was closely associated with Guy Burgess, on whom Rupert Everett’s character in Another Country was loosely based on. They both went to those schools and they were rendered idealistic by an alternative political system, radicalized as you might say in modern terminology. I think we have our roots in that world, where the veneer is incredibly well-presented and carefully calibrated. Britishness, good manners and a suit offer a very good hiding place. The British have a very stereotypical reputation of having this kind of presentation.
FF: For the first time in your career, you had to do a lot of action scene. Were you afraid of that?
CF: Yes, I was. I saw a lot of my sports rehab person. They would pop the shoulder back in and send us back on. It was intense. The training went on for three hours a day, every day for six months. I had to be turned from a rather lazy actor into an athlete. We worked with Damien Walters, a famous Olympian gymnast and Rudolf Vrba, a six-time thai boxing champion. This fellow (points to Taron) came a bit later along, so they had to be training him, while we were acting. I would go home after the end of the shoot and he had to stay and train.
FF: Well, you looked great in those scenes. Why did it take you so long in your career to play an action-heavy role like this?
CF: I didn’t want to. I’m lazy and I don’t like pain.
FF: What changed your mind then?
CF: What changed my mind was that I had to be there to do the job by the 1st of November. The piece of paper that said you had to be there, nine o’clock at the studio. (laughs)
FF: Maybe Liam Neeson can be your role model, a character actor turned action hero at a certain age.
CF: I don’t know, whether it will happen again. After this experience, I would love to do it. We shot most of the stunts and action scenes on Kingsman first and when I looked back at it, I couldn’t believe that it was over. It has been in my life for a year and then all I had to do was just walk around and point my suit at people again.
FF: You play a sailor in your next film (a biopic about Daniel Crowhurst), though, don’t you?
CF: Well, there is a physical rigor to it. It’s not the same sort of thing. I was reading about Robert Knox-Johnston, who participated in the same race (Sunday Times Golden Globe Race of 1968). He added two inches to his chest, his hands looked like the bottom of his feet and he lost seven pounds. But Kingsman was not so much about strength, as about the moves that you normally don’t do, like the squats and the lunges. After the age of 50 I was very lucky that I got the chance to do something like that. I forced myself to do it because having accepted the part, I just had to do it. When it was over, I asked myself why it took me so long. I thought I wasted a lot of time, when I could have enjoyed this.
FF: Speaking of the action: my favorite scene in the movie is probably the Kentucky church scene, with all its mayhem and craziness….
CF: What’s the matter with you?! (laughs)
FF: How long did it take for you to shoot the scene and how much of your stunts did you do yourself?
CF: Pretty much all of them in that scene. It took about a week. There were some injuries that held us up. The difficulty in shooting that scene was that it was single camera. Every scene had to be like a piece of theatre. We had to rehearse to get it right. If you are intercutting and you do a sequence, in which one small thing doesn’t fit, it’s not a big problem. You can take a piece here and a piece there. Couldn’t do that here. They were all single takes. Every single of the sequences in it, which were consecutively joined together, had to be perfect. It had all to do with the choreography and the guy with the hand-held camera obviously had to be part of the choreography. It was a big dance with different people. Everybody had to be synchronized. The pub fight was more conventional, it was intercut.
FF: Taron, Harry is a father figure and a teacher to Eggsy in the movie, but what did you, as a young actor, learn from Colin during the shoot?
TE: You know what I didn’t learn? How to eat properly. (laughs)
CF: Mushy peas, yeah…
FF: Oh do tell!
TE: Colin was eating fish & chips, which is traditionally served with mushy peas. We were chatting and I looked at Colin and he had a single pea perched atop of his glasses! (laughs loudly) We still don’t know how it happened; you are usually a very tidy eater. Something malfunctioned.
CF: I should only be permitted dry food.
TE: On a serious note, of course I gained tremendous amounts from Colin. But Colin’s generosity manifested in his warmth, his time, his conversation, his openness to me. He wasn’t lecturing me on set because it would have been condescending.
CF: Well, you were the same with me. I think one has to value that as well. You can be a difficult young person or a difficult old person.
TE: Colin would never say it this way, but of course it was a greater gesture for him to be inclusive of me than vice versa. He was so unbelievably kind and lovely to me.
CF: I spoke very badly of you behind your back.
!!FROM HERE SPOILERS PERTAINING TO THE MOVIE FOLLOW!!
FF: The film sets itself up perfectly for a franchise. Have there been talks about a sequel? Maybe Colin’s character could have a twin brother, so he could return.
TE: We gossiped about all the possible ideas. I’d love to do a sequel because then I could buy a house, which would be really nice. But it’s in the hands of Gods, as they say. There is definitely scope for future stories.
CF: Knowing Matthew, it would have to start with an idea that works. It is not going to start with the thought that he must do a sequel. If something interesting and unexpected can be done, he will do it. If my character can be exhumed somehow, it’d be fun for me to do another one as well.
TE: It’s Matthew Vaughn, we are talking about. He is not beyond killing me in the first frame of the sequel.
FF: By Harry’s evil twin maybe.
TE: The fact that you had that idea means that it’s probably out. (laughs)
CF: I am not against sequels in theory. There have been some great ones. The problem with sequels is that people usually want a sequel because they loved the first film. In some ways they want a version of that experience again. But if you give them the first film, they hate you for it because they have already seen that. You have to find a way to continue the narrative in an unexpected way and still as thrilling as the thing they fell in love with the first time. It is a very challenging thing to pull off.
FF: Speaking of sequels here. You have been in one before, Colin, the second Bridget Jones movie. A lot of people have been wondering for the past decade whether you will do a third movie.
CF: I’m one of the people wondering. If there is a good idea, a good script and good people are involved, it would be ridiculous to say that I wouldn’t do it. But at the moment there is nothing to say “yes” or “no” to.
FF: Millions of women of all ages have been swooning over you for a very long time. Has it ever bothered you?
CF: No, I don’t think it bothers me now. It is quite nice actually. It is just cinema. If I was working in an office, it wouldn’t be happening.
FF: Maybe it is because you have been in so many great movies.
CF: There have been some unfortunate moments as well. I’ve done a lot of stuff over the years and I suppose that if you keep working every so often you draw a lucky card. It is hard for me to analyze it the success from my position. I just take a job, I do it and the fate of the film is often a surprise.
FF: Well, you drew a lot of lucky cards and Kingsman is certainly another. Thank you for the great interview.
by Arthur Awanesjan
There you go. Anyone looking for a blast at the movies, should definitely check out Kingsman: The Secret Service, which is every bit as anarchic, irreverent and fun as Kick-Ass, yet very much crafts an identity of its own.
All images © 2015 20th Century Fox