KICK-ASS' Matthew Vaughn: Breaking All the Superhero Rules

KICK-ASS Director Matthew Vaughn

It’s a pretty safe bet film director Matthew Vaughn has a healthy affection for comic books. Originally attached to direct 2006’s X-Men: Last Stand before dropping out, he instead turned his attention to another comics-based project – a 2007 adaptation of Neil Gaiman and Charles Vess’ magical Stardust. Now, Vaughn is headed back to the graphic fiction-inspired arena with a big-screen version of Mark Millar and John Romita Jr.’s innovative ICON series Kick-Ass.

Based on the comic surrounding a normal young man who adopts a superhero persona, production of the film briefly hit Toronto in 2009 before moving on to London. While there, after proudly sharing some clips of Hit Girl strutting her stuff, a stoked Vaughn sat down in a Toronto donut shop to talk Kick-Ass with Newsarama…

Newsarama: Matthew, can you talk about the genesis of this project and how you got involved?

Matthew Vaughn: It basically started at the UK premiere of Stardust. Mark Millar came up to me, Neil Gaiman was there, and he had heard how much I respected Neil and his work and how collaborative I was with him. He said “I have an idea for a new comic I’m been toying with, but haven’t written it. Do you want to sit down and have a drink about it?” And I was like “Yeah, I would love to.” So we had a few drinks and got along extremely well. When he pitched it to me, I went “F**K! That sounds so cool!” And ever since I was flirting with directing X-Men and was going to try and make that more realistic, I felt comic book movies weren’t reflecting what comic books were doing anymore. They were stuck in this rut and I think when they cast Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man, it was the first time it felt incredible again. It was something you could watch even if you weren’t into comic books and relate to it.

And I thought Kick-Ass took it to the next level. I tried to buy Hancock, when it was called “Tonight, He Comes”, about four years ago because I thought it was the first of the post modern superhero films out there. I was desperate to do that and then I thought kick-Ass took it to the highest level of what I was looking for which is doing a superhero movie that respects all the superhero rules, but breaks every single one of them at the same time.

Nrama: Speaking of Mark Millar, how was it working with him on this project?

Vaughn: He’s pretty hands-on in the sense that I want him to be hands-on. I ring him up every time I want to make a big decision. We finished the script before he finished the comic. He’s like “Oh, that’s a good idea. Maybe I’ll put that in the comic” which is probably unheard of. When it came to casting, I showed him all the casting tapes and for when we were designing the costumes. It was his idea so when filmmakers ignore the guy that created it, they are f*****g idiots! You’ve got to keep it real to the inception of what it is.

Nrama: Was it strange making this film without all the superpowers usually associated with superheroes?

Vaughn: That’s sort of what I wanted to do with X-Men. Yeah, these guys have got superpowers or are genetically mutated but at the same time, they’re real people and feel pain. I always felt, whether it was with Superman who was basically a refugee who didn’t fit in, that superheroes are basically flawed characters we can relate to, want to be, and take you on a journey that gets you out of this mundane life we all have. All those rules are applying. It’s scary saying whether we can pull off a superhero movie with no superpowers. Mark did that in the comic already and I’m having so much fun with it so I think it’s definitely working.

Nrama: Other franchises have plenty of history and baggage so an upside to Kick-Ass must be how the film is unrolling as the comic books come out?

Vaughn: We’re in virgin territory right now so I have no idea whether what we’re doing is a good idea or a bad one, but it’s a fun one. And having no studio involved, we’re getting such cool stuff we’d never get. When you see what Hit Girl does in this film, its mind blowing. People may want to lock me up after they watch this film, but she’s really cool.

Nrama: And what about working with relative newcomer Aaron Johnson?

Vaughn: He saved my ass. I nearly pulled the movie because I had seen about 500 actors for the role and it was mid-day on a Friday in Los Angeles what I said “I’ve had enough of this s**t!” There are too many young boys who all want to be famous and have no craft, no technique, and didn’t know how to act. I was like “Okay, if I can’t find the right guy for Dave, it doesn’t matter who’s playing the other roles. We’ll live or die by that casting.” When Aaron walked in, he was literally the second to last guy I met for the role. I was paranoid it was desperation that made me believe he was brilliant. I said I needed the weekend to think about it and met him again. He was just brilliant.

Nrama: Do you read comic books at all?

Vaughn: Never [laughs]. Of course I was talking to Mark about how I sort of go in and out of what I like and don’t like. At the moment, I can’t read Spider-Man or stuff. Maybe I’ve just gotten too old for it. I don’t know what it is. I like War Heroes. I just read a comic someone sent to me and it was all about the Holocaust. It’s all set in a Nazi camp. It was really weird and I wouldn’t want to read it again, but I’m sort of getting into more of the realistic side of comics.

Nrama: Speaking of the realism in comics, especially with Mark’s stuff and all the movies coming out for Wanted, Kick-Ass, and War Heroes in development, do you think this is part of an initiative to make a whole Mark Millar verse of movies?

Vaughn: That would be Mark’s dream. I think between Mark and Neil Gaiman, I’ve captured working with comic book writers with huge voices. I think Mark has very commercial ideas. He deserves to have more stuff made. I think Neil deserves something. I think it’s weird that hardly any Neil Gaiman stuff has been made. I think there was supposed to be Sandman years ago.

Nrama: Is that a project you’d like to do?

Vaughn: I’d love to do Sandman, but I think it’s in developmental hell. That could be like a Lord of the Rings with a huge new universe.

Nrama: Can you talk about how you’re approaching the action because having seen Wanted, it’s very slick, has the violence, but also has that Matrix feel. This looks grittier.

Vaughn: I loved The Matrix, but it’s a moment of nineties cinema. My problem with Wanted was the whole thing of seeing bullet time. I was like “No. No, no!” I’m also not going hand held where I’m trying to copy Paul Greengrass. We’ve framed everything a lot like Spider-Man so you start with the comic book movie vibe that everyone knows, and then we slowly suck you in, and beat the crap out of you. As you can see, it’s with long lens and we’re trying to make it as beautiful and epic as we can. It’s not going to be gimmicky at all.

Nrama: So you’re not worried about selling this to the big studios?

Vaughn: My job right now is about making a good film, not what the studios want. And what the studios want wouldn’t be the film people want. Let’s be frank.

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