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Spy Franchises, Secret Authors, Stellar Casts and Sam Rockwell Dancing: Matthew Vaughn Chats 'Argylle'

When you’ve just made three 'Kingsman' movies, what comes next? More espionage — this time starting a new big-screen series.
By Sarah Ward
February 09, 2024
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By Sarah Ward
February 09, 2024
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Spy movies and intrigue go hand in hand. Matthew Vaughn should know. With Kingsman: The Secret ServiceKingsman: The Golden CircleThe King's Man and now Argylle, the British filmmaker has spent a decade bringing the espionage world to the big screen with splashy flair. His latest secret-agent caper isn't just filled with twists in its plot, however. The story around it has been earning its own interest and speculation, including the possibility that Taylor Swift penned the book that it's based on. There's no truth to that rumour, however, but it was a helluva way to get everyone talking about Argylle before it even hit cinemas.

The fact that there's many tales about Argylle's genesis IRL befits the twisty spy caper, which stacks narratives within narratives gleefully. Chatting with Concrete Playground, Vaughn describes the film by referring to the Harry Potter franchise. If you imagine that its author "met a wizard for real and the wizard went 'you got a lot of it right, you get a lot of it wrong, and I'm going to take you on adventure," the Layer Cake, Stardust, Kick-Ass and X-Men: First Class director explains, then that's Argylle. "And by the way, Voldemort wants to kill you — let's go."

Within the movie, writer Elly Conway (Bryce Dallas Howard, Jurassic World Dominion) has done the penning. Her bestselling saga is also called Argylle, about a suave operative of the same name. The fourth book has freshly hit shelves and she's putting the finishing touches on the fifth novel, but real-life agents are now after her because she knows her stuff a little too well. Elly Conway is also the name adorning the Argylle text that's in bookstores everywhere off-screen, with little other information about the scribe initially given. Hence the Swift conjecture, although the reality is that novelists Terry Hayes (I Am Pilgrim) and Tammy Cohen (They All Fall Down) are behind it, as revealed shortly after the feature started playing to audiences.

So, Argylle sparks another spy saga for Vaughn, who isn't one to back away from something he loves. See also: his role as the producer on Guy Ritchie's early pictures, not only including Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch, but also Swept Away; bringing not just one but two Mark Millar comics to the screen in Kick-Ass and Kingsman; and his Taron Egerton ties, producing Eddie the Eagle, Rocketman and Tetris starring his Kingsman lead. And, Argylle spun a gambit around its own existence. It's also home to an impressive cast, and links in with the glorious Sam Rockwell dancing meme.

Kate Green/Getty Images for Universal Pictures

Henry Cavill (The Witcher), Dua Lipa (Barbie), John Cena (Freelance), Ariana DeBose (Wish), Sofia Boutella (Rebel Moon — Part One: A Child of Fire), Samuel L Jackson (The Marvels), Catherine O'Hara (Pain Hustlers), Bryan Cranston (Asteroid City), Richard E Grant (Saltburn), Rob Delaney (Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One), Vaughn and his wife Claudia Schiffer's own cat: they're all featured. As for Rockwell (See How They Run), he plays Aidan Wilde, the agent trying to keep the film's Elly alive after nefarious forces put a target on her back. If you rightly believe that all Sam Rockwell-starring flicks should require him to bust out his fondness for fancy footwork, as the actor himself clearly does, Vaughn obliges in Argylle.

We chatted to the director about the tale behind the film's source material, that cast and Rockwell's smooth moves — so, from taking inspiration from pandemic viewings of 80s action-adventure comedies to imagining Sean Connery and Roger Moore in the movie, and also making a female-led action flick that didn't feel like the character had just been gender-swapped from a male protagonist.

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On Argylle's Secretive Source Material — Which Isn't Written by Taylor Swift — and Vaughn's Broader Inspiration

The truth behind the IRL Elly Conway mystery has now been unveiled, with Hayes and Cohen's names made public, and no mention of Swift to be heard. But Vaughn's story about the film's origins involves throwing it back several decades — and, doing what we were all doing at the beginning of the pandemic, aka viewing old movies at home. 

"I watched Romancing the Stone with my kids during lockdown and they were like 'why can't you make a movie that's a really good feel-good action-adventure film?'. And I said 'well, I guess I could'," he notes.

"And then the manuscript came of the book, and then the script arrived as well, which is similar in the idea — and it was about a book and an author, and there was another book. And I thought 'god, I'm gonna create the meta universe of all universes here. I'm going to do it in the spy world."

Cue the aforementioned wizard analogy "but translating that into a spy world — and off we went to the races," Vaughn advises. "The book has just come out, and the book's great. The movie is about book four and book five, and book one has just been published."

"It was just me wanting to push the boundaries and try and do an original spy movie — or, should we say, a novel spy film."

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On How Vaughn Imagines His Characters Before He Starts Casting

Given the hefty list of well-known names that've starred in Vaughn's work — a pre-Bond Daniel Craig (Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery) in Layer Cake among them — audiences might expect that the filmmaker has his cast in mind early. But he actually approaches his features by picturing icons in the parts first, then matching today's talents accordingly.

"I always imagine movie legends, because it's easier that way — and then I haven't got the baggage of real actors of my generation. So for example, Henry Cavill, when we were writing Argylle, I was imagining he was a mixture of Sean Connery and Roger Moore. Those two Bonds could be cut in half and spliced together. You have the humour, but the toughness together. So Henry Cavill, I knew he could do that," Vaughn explains.

Director Matthew Vaughn with Chip the cat (playing Alfie) on the set of ARGYLLE

"Sam Rockwell as Aidan Wilde, I was really imagining primarily Gene Wilder but with a bit of Bill Murray and Jack Nicholson. So that became Aidan Wilde. And so on and so on."

This isn't a new approach for Argylle. "Even in Kingsman, I did it. David Niven was the inspiration for Kingsman," says Vaughn.

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On Bringing Together Argylle's Star-Studded On-Screen Talent

Once the director has done his spot of fantasy casting with film legends, how does he pick their counterparts? That's where his connections do come in handy.

"What happens with actors, I knew Henry Cavill and I knew Sam Jackson, so that means I could call them up, pick up the phone and call them, and they said yes. And Bryce — I've done two movies with Bryce as well. So those were just phone calls," informs Vaughn.

"And then Cranston. I think when I got Cranston, it was amazing. He's like an actor's actor — and Rockwell," he continues, noting that getting the Breaking Bad star and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri Best Supporting Actor Oscar-winner onboard was like catnip for other cast members,

"It was interesting watching — you can hear other actors going 'Rockwell and Cranston, I want to be in that film'. So it was just great."

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On Getting Sam Rockwell Not Just Playing a Spy, But Playing a Dancing Spy

It's been true for decades, and gloriously: to watch Rockwell on-screen is to watch him dance. The music video for Flight Facilities' 'Down to Earth' deployed his skills, but the 2015 clip for the Australian duo's song capitalised upon a reputation built in Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, Moon, Charlie's Angels, Matchstick Men, Iron Man 2, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and more. Indeed, Rockwell rarely makes a movie that doesn't involve him dancing. Argylle busting out bops pre-dated Rockwell's casting, however.

"It was definitely in the script. But Rockwell is like a dog with a bone when it comes to dancing — just give him an inch and he's taking a mile, and he will dance all day long," Vaughn observes.

"But in this one, I wanted to do some action sequences that celebrated beauty and feminism — something where it's action sequences that a woman would be playing."

"What's happened in Hollywood and in a lot of the movies, the female characters, all they did was change the name. The idea is that Philip becomes Philippa, or James becomes Jane, and that's it."

"And I'm like 'well, I want to be more than that'. And I thought again, instead of John Wick-style action, let's do something where some people will think it's cringey and weird, but I think it's fun and beautiful."

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Argylle opened in cinemas Down Under on Thursday, February 1. Read our review.

Published on February 09, 2024 by Sarah Ward
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