Kingsman and Kick-Ass Genius Talks Tech and Movies

By Duncan Bell on at

From the team behind Kick-Ass, Kingsman: The Secret Service is another dose of kinetic, goofy, blood-spattered ultra-violence. Where K-A “paid homage” (-ish) to superhero movies, this does much the same to the spy genre, from 007 to The Avengers (the one with the guy in a bowler hat and the karate-kicking femme, not the one with Hawkeye).

So Colin Firth kicks considerable amounts of arse as the dapper yet deadly Harry Hart, while teaching the ways of the elite Kingsmen team to council estate reprobate Eggsie (Taron Egerton) – how to use their wealth of amusingly lethal gadgets, and the importance of favouring Oxfords over brogues, for instance.

They’re pitted against Samuel L Jackson, who plays an evil Jobs/Zuckerberg type intent on genocide, using a signal transmitted via his firm’s free SIM cards to turn anyone in range into a homicidal maniac.

This seemed to us to to be a very obvious metaphor for the way that social networks on mobile devices can be used to instantly whip up mobs of irritable folks. However, as you will read below, the film's writer Mark Millar says it was no such thing, so what do we know? A crackingly nasty little film, anyway. Now: on with the interview.

Kingsman: The Secret Service is out on Digital HD, Blu-ray and DVD now from Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment.

T3: Hi!

Mark Millar CRRRRccckckkkksxxxxx [incomprehensible static].

Umm, that's not very audible.

Is that any better, I'm kind of craning out the window now.

Poor reception area, eh?

I've actually got a phone that's 13 years old. A Nokia that cost £10. I was in a shop recently a girl said to me, “Oh I LOVE your retro phone, where did you get it?” Erm… I got it from 13 years ago.

Apt, because Kingsman: The Secret Service has rather retro spy tech in it. Clearly you're a fan of classic James Bond gadgets…

Oh god yeah. I used to try to make my own gadgets as a kid, like gas bombs and things like that. In Glasgow at the time that was kind of essential, you know? I'd load up my school uniform with shit! That seemed like the whole point of being a spy, to have spy cameras and rings with poison gas in. When I started working with Matthew (Vaughan, Kick-Ass and Kingsman director) seven years ago, we were kind of sad Bond had jettisoned all the cool stuff after Bourne. So now, Kingsman's almost like the anti-Bond.

Yeah, in the latest Bond, Q says, “Were you expecting an exploding pen, mister Bond? We don't do that kind of crap anymore”. I'm paraphrasing.

I'd have said, “Yes!” What's the point of having Q then? He might as well be working in a shop; the WHOLE point of him is he's meant to make up cool shit for Bond. BUT, when I went to see Skyfall I was nervous, cos we were doing Kingsman and I'd heard they were bringing back Q and a lot of classic elements, so I was worried they'd be in our territory, y'know? I went to the first showing, I was that desperate to check. Afterwards I phoned Matthew and he asked, “We got anything to worry about?” I'm like, “No, it's okay.” Thank god!

What was your favourite Bond era?

MM Roger Moore doesn't get a lot of love but I think your favourite Bond is kind of like your favourite Dr Who or whatever – the one you grew up with. And for me that was Roger Moore. The first time I saw Bond I was 7 and it was Spy Who Loved Me, so to me Roger Moore was Bond. Even though I'm Scottish, I prefer him to Sean Connery. I know Connery is cooler but Bond IS Roger Moore, and the Bond I wanna be in particular is the one in The Spy Who Loved Me. The car! That's the greatest of all the Bond cars; the way it goes under water. Fantastic. I couldn't wait to grow up and own one. That was very aspirational for me, to own a car that went under water.

And have you fulfilled that particular ambition?

Actually, I can't drive! Not only do I have a crap phone but I've never had a driving licence either.

I will now cross out the next five questions on my list, then.


So moving on then. The fact that the signal that causes characters in the film to turn into homicidal maniacs seemed like a metaphor for rage on social networks, and rage at tech itself…

I had never thought of that, maybe it's subliminal. You're right, the film could be read as very anti-technology in a way but that wasn't intentional!

Do you use Twitter?

Oh, I'm on it all the time. In fact one of the reasons for having a crap phone is otherwise I'd literally be on it ALL the time. This way, at least it's limited to when I'm sitting at my desk. If I had a good phone I'd be one of these people tweeting about going to the toilet, waking up, and everything.

But going back to your question, I actually LOVE it when people spot things that we didn't even mean to be in there but, the real reason we used phones as the source of the rage signal is that I spoke to this guy at Glasgow University. I did some work for the university and got in touch with him through the Chancellor, and said to him, “Look, I've got this idea I want to kill of 80-90% of the world's population. What's my best way of doing this?” And he came up with the idea of having people killing each other, so he came up with this radio wave thing. So to be honest, it was born out of a necessity to kill off a large number of people.

Samuel L Jackson's character is a murderous tech billionaire. Was he inspired by anyone in particular?

When I wrote it in the book, he was the same character – a tech billionaire with an eco-conscience – but he was about 25. When we came to casting and we needed someone to face off against Colin Firth, we just couldn't picture anyone having that same air of menace as Sam has, so we made him older. Originally it was inspired by Mark Zuckerberg and all those guys… they all seem to get to about 23 and become terribly worried about the environment.

I've been a fan for years of Professor James Lovelock, which is who I based Mark Hammill's character on. He's a guy who was so smart they used to have security sitting with him in exams to make sure he wasn't cheating – because his test scores were so high. Like, 100% in every exam. He coined the Gaia Theory in the 1990s, that humans are like a virus that's poisoned the planet and will eventually kill the planet off and everything on it. So that's where the concepts in the movie came from.

Umm, so how do you feel about the idea of it being necessary to slaughter everyone so Earth can recover?

[Laughs] If you're a gamekeeper, sometimes you have to pick off some animals so that other animals in your reservation thrive. But when it comes to people I think that seems a little callous.

That's a great line: “Genocide on a global scale could be seen as a little bit callous”.

[Laughs]…Yeah, once you start killing people I do think, “Stop killing people”. I think many a dictator through history has sat down and said, “Oh we're doing this for the best of reasons,” you know? You're probably best not getting into that.

I never get too bothered about any kind of global panic, because I remember all the older ones! I remember as a kid, my dad being very worried about global freezing. That was big in the '70s. There's just something in human nature where we love terrifying ourselves with the apocalypse, that's why everyone loves zombie films. It's just in the back of our minds all the time.

Do you like electric cars?

They kind of make me sick. I'm so out of the loop I thought they were just something people talked about; I didn't realise they actually exist, till I saw two in Glasgow charging up at some electric point! I said to my kids, “What the hell's that?” I'd never seen anything that looked so innocent in my life. They looked like turtles turned upside-down.

How about self-driving cars?

I'm a bit nervous about them. Once you hand that much power to a machine… you can't trust them. But on the other hand, if cars drove themselves you'd never need to worry about drinking again, just tumble into the back and off you go.

You're not a tech-head as such, then?

Well I've got an iPad that I use all the time. I liked the Apple Watch but I have a watch. The way I see it is like boats: don't own a boat, it's a lot of hassle. Just know a guy who owns a boat. That's how I feel about tech – I love people around me having them, so I can know where I'm going and look stuff up. And I just keep my crap phone.

We've nearly got to the end and I've barely asked about the film at all, but… Any projects you're working on next, or would like to get off the ground?

I've got a few! I've been so lucky with my work, every one has been picked up. The next one is Chrononauts which is kind of a time travel thing, it's like time travel meets Apollo 13, kind of thing. And Starlight is my thing with a kind of Buck Rogers figure but as an old man. I wanted to do something about an old sci-fi hero. Someone who used to be awesome but now is 60-something, lives on Earth and his life's a bit shit and he's only got his memories. Kind of like Unforgiven, but with Flash Gordon!

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