Matthew Vaughn: Maverick director fights his corner
Shrugging off corporate and conservative handwringing over Kick-Ass, his latest film, Claudia Schiffer's husband tells Julia Molony that family means everything
Promoting his latest movie Kick-Ass, director, producer and writer Matthew Vaughn is in bullish form. The latest movie from the British filmmaker has had a noisy reception. And that's before it's even been released.
The headlines about Vaughn? He's the maverick British filmmaker whose career was launched in tandem with that of his good friend Guy Ritchie. He turned his back on the X-Men franchise and forged a solo path, reflecting his disdain for the corporate hoops of Hollywood. He's the husband of Claudia Schiffer. His latest venture -- an arch, action-packed, ultra-violent superhero flick based on a comic strip by Mark Millar -- is set to launch him into the stratosphere.
He has a hint of blue blood, a fact that emerged late in life when he discovered that his natural father was not the actor Robert Vaughn, but the aristocrat George De Vere Drummond.
As a friend of the ex Mr Madonna, one can imagine that he and Ritchie had plenty to compare notes about as their careers took off following the success of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch, which Vaughn produced and Ritchie directed. Though they also share responsibility for the turkey Swept Away.
Vaughn's debut as a director came after Ritchie opted not to direct the gangster film Layer Cake. He followed up with the Hollywood hit Stardust, and lives his own real-life fairytale in picturesque west London. He and Claudia can regularly be spotted there, on the school run or hanging out in local restaurants.
Much of the hype around Kick-Ass centres around one of the key characters, an 11-year old girl who has been trained, in the comic-book superhero mould, to be a deadly assassin by her father. She uses bad language and dispatches criminals with a blithe flick of her knife. She loves weapons and especially likes stripping bad guys of their viscera. The counterpoint between the sweetness of this smiling young girl, and the gory blood and guts is deliberate and shocking. But it also makes the movie fun.
"I'd be far more scared about the comic book fans not being happy than a middle-aged Daily Mail reader who quite frankly has never seen it. If there's going to be a controversy I'd rather people watched the movie and then complained," says Vaughn.
He has a very British, laconic delivery. He's not the type, one imagines, to be easily ruffled. When the screenplay, which he wrote with Jane Goldman, wife of Jonathan Ross, was finished, they approached the studios but none would take it up. So Vaughn simply set about financing the project himself.
"I looked at the film industry and I was like, do you know what, I don't want to be one of those guys who is at their beck and call. The quicker they make you into a star, the quicker they'll get rid of you. And it's a horrible business. The turnover is crazy," he says.
In May Claudia will give birth to the couple's third child. They already have a son and a daughter. "I'm about to be outnumbered by my children which is going to be interesting." He says, looking nonplussed. "I'm sure it's going to be exhausting, but I'm going to enjoy it still."
Does he find it hard to strike a balance between the demands of his career and those of his family?
"I think people strive to get a balance whether you are a plumber or a filmmaker or a doctor. Being a filmmaker it's easier because I'm only really away from the family on an intensive three months every two years.
"When I'm filming I do sort of disappear out of their lives, because you are doing 18, 19 sometimes 20-hour days.
"It depends on why you are doing it. If people want the fame and the glamour of the film industry they are the people that normally don't have marriages that last, have totally got their priorities wrong, did it for the wrong reasons and have no interest in getting a balance. But I love it, I get the best of both worlds.
"Our kids, they do sometimes ask us, like why are those photographers following us when we're going to school? Try and explain fame to a young kid," he says, with the hint of a sigh. "It's pretty hard.
"But they have a really normal upbringing, in the sense that we have breakfast together every morning. Dinners and stuff. We do everything that everyone else does. Claudia has a reputation that we don't go to the parties. We might cocoon the kids a little bit more, because we just have to, we can't be as blase about meeting people."
It helps, presumably, that his supermodel wife is also totally devoted to the cause. "A lot of the famous mums I know, they say they're great mums, but they're not really, they're great employers of nannies. Claudia is very different. Claudia is amazing, she genuinely is. I could say she is probably the best mother in the world."
Commitment to family is clearly a value that she and Vaughn share. Every other demand in life pales in comparison to his role as a parent. And not just in a practical and emotional sense, but philosophically too. "I believe it's the only reason we're on this planet, to reproduce. I read a book that said once you've had your children and you hit the age of 30, you are insignificant to the planet, the planet doesn't need you any longer.
"As you get older you start thinking of why am I here, we're all going to die, how insignificant our span of life is to the planet and the universe and the things we can't understand. And the only thing I can keep coming back to is, I've done the one thing I'm meant to do, which is have kids. Because, movies? Do you really think in a million years people are going to be talking about Kick-Ass? I hope not."
Does he think parenthood has shaped his approach to filmmaking? "I think as a human being, it changes everything you think you know about life. Having children just gets rid of any selfish ... Or it should do, and I'm amazed, because there are a few people it doesn't affect and you look at them and it's like I think they're freaks.
"Unconditional love," he goes on, warming to the theme, "you don't really understand it until you have kids. And once you've got that as a barometer, everything else in your life you get rid of or embrace, depending on how real it is."
He hopes that when his kids are older, they'll go to Dublin to study at Trinity College. He feels an attachment with the college and it seems with the city, not least because of how the quality of Guinness compares with London. It is, he says, his favourite beer.
"For some reason, all my friends who went to Trinity are good people and I've really good friends who went there. My godfather went there. Hopefully my kids will go there. I think there's something about Dublin. University is about getting out, for me, out of England. I think Trinity would be perfect."
Kick-Ass is in cinemas now. See review, Page 6