Interview: Mark Millar, Kingsman: The Secret Service: “I’m very particular”

Kingsman was adapted from the comic book by Mark Millar.

This week sees the release of the ludicrously entertaining action-fest, Kingsman: The Secret Service on Blu-ray and DVD.

Directed by Matthew Vaughn (Kick-Ass, X-Men: First Class) and adapted from the comic book by Mark Millar (Kick-Ass, Watchmen), Kingsman: The Secret Service follows the fortunes of street kid, Eggsy (Taron Egerton) who is recruited into a super-secret organisation’s highly competitive training program when master spy, Harry (Colin Firth) recognises his potential.

DIY spoke with Mark Millar, who was extremely jovial despite being woken up in the early hours of the morning by one of his children, and filled us in on the story’s journey from book to screen and just how they managed to get Luke Skywalker on board!

Kingsman is doing extremely well and exceeding all expectations…

That’s always a nice email to get, because I’ve been on the other end! So it’s actually really nice. Although saying that today I’m so tired, my middle kid got me up today at 4am so it still feels like the middle of the night or something. So I got the email this morning about the sequel and everything going public and I couldn’t even get excited, I was just lying there feeling like death when I read it on my phone [laughs].

I actually saw Kingsman: The Secret Service in 4DX which I don’t know if you’ve ever experienced?

No, no I haven’t.

We had water in the face and all sorts, it was great fun.

Was it not just a rough area you were watching it in? [laughs].

The idea for Kingsman came from you and Matthew Vaughn talking in a pub. Writing a comic takes less time than getting a film off the ground so obviously you had this out before the movie was made and in the mean time some guys were hawking a similar idea around Hollywood…

Matthew and I first talked about this, the germ of the idea, back in 2008. I think maybe it was when Kick- Ass was being shot at Elstree. Somebody was setting up a shot or something and we said: “Let’s get out of here, it’s going to be an hour before a take can be done.” We went for a quick pint and were slagging off Jason Bourne and James Bond and a germ came from the idea of let’s do a fun spy thing. So I went off and wrote it around about 2011 and the book came out early 2012 and Matthew and Jane started on the screenplay at the end of that year. What we didn’t realise is that - believe it or not - there’s a lot of sharks in Hollywood. Who’d have guessed?! The comic had been out since March and Matthew was telling somebody about it and they said: “Ah we had a director in here pitching that exact idea, like scene for scene almost.” And then another studio executive that I’m friends with phoned me up and said: “Hey you know your book you had out last year? Someone’s just been in pitching it.” There were actually three projects that were on the brink of happening! Two of them were from quite big name people which was a shocking thing. You realise how a very simple idea can be very valuable you know? It’s one of the tiny dangers I guess of doing what I do which is that my company creates the project and then we sell them to a movie company and then the movie comes out and it in turn helps the publishing but the danger is, if the publishing comes out first you have to get it out faster than they can steal from it. So you have to move pretty fast.

There are several differences from the comic book to the film, for instance the character Jack is now Harry and is no longer Eggsy’s uncle…

Matthew was like: “I just can’t feel it, in the comic it’s fine but when you actually see a posh actor and a kid from a council estate you don’t feel that they’re biologically related.” I’m open to discussing it and Matthew is like that too, we’re both quite blunt about things. So if something doesn’t work we’ll be ruthless about it. Like Gazelle for example was a large black man in the book. We got a lot of guys in and tested them and it just wasn’t working at all. Matthew said: “Let’s try a girl,” and we brought in Sofia [Boutella] who was amazing and that was that. I felt it was a weird organic, collaborative thing. Sometimes what works on the page doesn’t on film. And sometimes circumstance changes things, the Valentine character in the book was supposed to be based on the Facebook guy, a 25 year old billionaire. Matthew saw Sam [Samuel L. Jackson] on a chat show one night and he said: “He’d be amazing!” and it just ended up becoming a 65 year old black man instead!

With a brilliant lisp.

Oh amazing! It’s like you almost can’t imagine anyone else playing him.

You’re not precious about your material then as long as the essence is correct?

I’m actually super precious about it if they’re doing it wrong. But if somebody says: “Here’s why I think it would be better this way,” then you’ve got to be crazy to be stubborn about it. For example when they first read James Bond over in the States they tried it as an Americanised version and he was called Jimmy Bond! They filmed it, it was shot and everything and it was a disaster nobody wanted it to get picked up as a TV show. So with something like that you’ve got to put your foot down if they’re going to do something that’s so wrong. There are nine film franchises that I’m doing at the moment and I’ve had disagreements with people maybe five years ago and the project’s been in limbo. So I’m very particular about who the stuff goes to. A guy like Matthew is so good that I feel like I can trust him and if they are gonna change something it’s for the right reasons. Matthew uses logic instead of just being stupid about it.

Matthew has said he was working on the script with Colin Firth in mind for Harry, did you have Colin Firth in mind when you were writing the comic?

[Laughs] I definitely didn’t have him in mind when writing! He’s just saying that to sound clever because he met with so many actors before! Colin was a genius idea it’s just when you’re doing an action movie he’s not the first guy that comes to mind. Of course that’s what made it so fantastic. It was just essentially Roger Moore’s James Bond in everybody’s head at the beginning. We met with some younger actors who just felt wrong, I don’t want to name names or anything, but younger actors felt wrong because they didn’t have the more the mature super-spy kind of vibe, that he was going to pass the baton onto a younger guy. So that felt wrong and one of them was an Australian actor and it just didn’t feel right but the minute Firth was mentioned everybody had a lightbulb going on.

Colin got ripped! He trained for months, he got in really great shape. Last time I saw he was starting to let himself go a bit [laughs].

You’re well known for subverting genres and obviously you do this with the spy genre in Kingsman: The Secret Service, so I guess casting Colin Firth could be considered subverting people’s opinions of him by putting him in an action role…

It’s to find something within an actor that nobody else sees, it’s like: “Oh yeah we love that guy, we forgot how much we love that guy” and Matthew does that too. People just saw the poster with Firth standing there and the woman with the artificial legs on and they’re like: “I’ve got to go and see this.” Had it been a regular action star that wouldn’t have been that enticing but the fact you’re seeing Colin Firth standing there with a gun or whatever is so exciting.

I obviously can’t not mention mention Mark Hamill who is in the film but also is in the comic book. How did you get clearance for that? You’re using his likeness and his name, was he cool with that?

There’s a funny story behind it actually. I wrote the book like 4 or 5 years ago now and it was drawn as Mark Hamill and I actually wrote it in as Mark Hamill thinking: “Ok I need to get a famous movie star in here, I’ll have to get permission from somebody but right now I’ll use Mark Hamill as a sort of place holder.” I don’t know him at all and I forgot about it and the comic book was drawn and lettered and was going off to the printers I was like: “Oh shit! I haven’t got Mark Hamill’s permission!” We have a mutual friend and I phoned him up and I said: “You don’t know me or anything but I’ve just done this comic and it starts with you playing yourself and you die at the end of it..” [laughs] but he couldn’t have been more of a gentleman. It was weird because I phoned up Matthew and said: “I’m going to phone up Hamill can I say to him that he’ll be in the movie when we eventually do the film?” and he was like: “Of course! He’s Hamill!” because we’re both gigantic Star Wars fans. I took about ten minutes plucking up the courage to phone him, it was like a first date [laughs]. At the end we became really good friends and now when we’re in LA I’ll meet up with him and his family and everything and I want him in one of my next things as well. We got him just before the whole Star Wars thing took off as well so it’s great. I think he was shooting Kingsman about 6 months before Star Wars so it was tremendously exciting when all that kicked off. I’ve never been in an audience before and seen such a warm buzz go through the hall than when Mark Hamill appears on screen. Because he didn’t go and make all those shitty movies like Harrison Ford did, he’s untouched, he’s still Luke Skywalker you know? Having him in the movie felt really special.

Kingsman: The Secret Service is out not on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital Download from Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment.


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3 back issues for £7

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