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Breaking Baz: Matthew Vaughn On The Thrills And Spills Of Making ‘Argylle’, Why Marv Films Is Not For Sale & How Claudia Schiffer Saved His Career

EXCLUSIVE: Matthew Vaughn reveals that last year he received what he terms “flattering” offers to sell Marv Films, the production company behind productions that include the Kick-Ass and Kingsman franchises and the Apple Original Films romance spy-thriller Argylle. That film is having its world premiere today in London, ahead of its February 2 U.S. theatrical release through Universal.

Marv is owned and controlled by Vaughn and Claudia Schiffer, his wife of 23 years. At the time, he says, “everyone was buying everything, and it was all very flattering and tempting.”

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Vaughn admits he that nearly entered into a deal to sell, but his biggest mentor — whom he won’t name — cautioned him, saying, ”There’s no money in the world which would make it worthwhile for you having a boss.”

Vaughn shot back, “What do you mean?” And his friend went, ”Trust me, it will be a f*cking disaster.”

The friend advised Vaughn either to sell Marv, “throw away the keys and walk away from the business or keep doing your own thing.”

He decided to keep doing his own thing with his team at Marv. Vaughn’s partnership with film executive Zygi Kamasa ended amicably last year when Kamasa founded True Brit Entertainment, in which Marv is an investor. He wouldn’t tell me how much he has invested but praised his former colleague, saying, “Zygi is going to champion British cinema with my full backing.”

Vaughn sits back in the corner table we’re sharing at a restaurant in Mayfair. “[My friend] actually said, ‘Someone should make the documentary of you having a boss.’ And I went, ‘Whoa.’ And he knew what he was talking about and he was right,” Vaughn says now. “And he said, ‘Look, only sell if you want nothing to do with the business.”

That was never going to happen.

Vaughn wakes up every morning brimming with ideas — the weirder the better — and his outlet is Marv Films. ”I’ll probably never let it go,” he tells me.

For starters, he’s passionate about movies and the business of making movies.

And he’s passionate abut the art of mischief.

It kinda makes sense now that I’ve watched Argylle twice, but when I first visited the film’s set in a huge hangar located in some woebegone outta the way field outside of London, the cast — Bryce Dallas Howard, Sam Rockwell, Bryan Cranston, Catherine O’Hara and pre-West Side Story Ariana DeBose — were lovely and polite. Henry Cavill and Samuel L. Jackson weren’t on call that particular day.

Argylle Still
Dua Lipa and Henry Cavill in ‘Argylle’ (Universal)

But something was ever so slightly off; couldn’t put a finger on what it was, though.

The filmmaker roars with laughter. “I told them to give nothing away to you and pretend it’s just a normal thriller.”

He played the same trick in a follow-up visit.

Vaughn has good reason to not to let the cat outta the bag regarding Argylle’s deliciously smart plot twists that were honed by Vaughn and scriptwriter Jason Fuchs. “The less you give away about the plot, the more people enjoy it,” he says.

That the story springs from a spy thriller supposedly written by Elly Conway, the role Howard plays, is pure marketing genius.

It’s a date movie in the way the 1984 Michael Douglas-Kathleen Turner Romancing the Stone pic was. Stanley Donen’s 1963 movie Charade, starring Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant, also was an inspiration.

At age 13, Vaughn took his first date to see the Romancing the Stone. ”I realized it was a movie where men could enjoy it, women could enjoy it,” he says.

His daughters Clementine, 19, and Cosima, 13, like it too, and one day, he says, “my girls were like, ‘Come on, make a movie for us.’ And it’s been really good fun having them involved” with Argylle, which he calls a date movie.

Also their cat Chip plays Elly Conway’s watchful puss Alfie.

Bryce Dallas Howard and Chip in ‘Argylle’ (Universal)
Bryce Dallas Howard and Chip in ‘Argylle’ (Universal)

Chip got the role after another cat was fired. “We had an acting cat. Got rid of the acting cat. It wasn’t listening. I asked the budget, ‘How much are we paying for this cat?’ And they went, ‘Seventy-five grand.’ I went, ‘OK, that will come off the budget.’”

No more acting cat. Chip enters stage right to play Alfie.

Daughter Clementine came up with the idea for the video of “Electric Energy,” a disco-beat number that’s in the film. The video’s being teased out from today.

It features Boy George, DeBose and Nile Rodgers with Vaughn providing backing vocals. He also co-wrote the song with Lorna Balfe, Gary Barlow, George Alan O’Dowd and Stuart Price.

There’s also a Bond-sequence ballad, also sung by DeBose, called “Get Up and Start Again,” penned by Balfe, Barlow, Vaughn and Giles Martin.

Vaughn’s a huge fan of DeBose and is eager to work with her some more. “I like to think she’s my new muse. She’s brilliant,” he says.

He also wants to work again with his Argylle stars Howard, Rockwell and Cavill. There are plans for more movies under the Argylle banner, and there’s also hope of launching a series featuring a younger version of Cavill’s fictional spy, Argylle, to be played by Enola Holmes actor Louis Partridge.

And he wants to continue being in business with Apple Studio chiefs Jamie Erlicht and Zack Van Amburg and Universal Pictures chairman Donna Langley.

Vaughn recalls being on vacation with his family in Naples when he received a message from Erlicht and Van Amburg. “They said, ‘We’d really love to meet…’ And I said, ‘Look, I’m in Naples right now. I can’t.’ They said, ‘We’ll come to Naples.’”

They met and enjoyed tubs of pistachio ice cream. Vaughn recalls that the two Apple executives spoke about making original movies. “They said, ‘We’re going to back people. We want quality.’ They were like, ‘Yeah, everyone wants it.’ Guess what? Everyone wants that. Easy to say, harder to do,” says Vaughn.

The man from Marv mentioned to the men from Apple that he was planning a film called Tetris, “and they immediately got it.”

He remembers Van Amburg “was smart enough to persuade me in two seconds. He just said, ‘Apple Presents Tetris. Marriage made in heaven.’” Vaughn beams now. “And I was like, ‘Well yeah.’ They were wonderful partners on that, which then gave me the confidence to produce a movie with them. I’ll figure it out. Because everyone talks a big game and then over-promises, under-delivers. And they’re men of their words. They’ve got great tastes. And they’re men from television and they’re navigating in the movie business when they’re not from the movie business. At the end of the day, they’ve made some very good movies, which is hard. They won a f*cking Oscar [for CODA]. They bought it, but they still did it. Anybody else could have bought CODA, but they bought it. They took that step.”

Vaughn says that Erlicht and Van Amburg “encouraged all the names that are in Argylle. It was a joint effort of how to be brave. Other studios would have been, ‘You know what, we’ll make it if you’ve got Brad Pitt and Charlize Theron or if you’ve got Leo and Margot Robbie,’” he says, exasperated.

Sam Rockwell
Sam Rockwell

“First of all, they were willing to make the movie just with no cast attached,” he adds. They told him to go with his gut and cast people he wanted. “What do you think about Sam Rockwell?,” he asked them. “And they went, ‘He’s a brilliant  f*cking actor. Do you think it would work?’ I went, ‘Sam, he’s one of my favorite actors.” And they went, ‘We love it.’”

They loved the idea of Cavill as well. ”Bryce they loved. They’d just done a documentary [Dads] with her at the time, so they knew her.”

Henry Cavill, right, is Agent Argylle in ‘Argylle,’ directed by Matthew Vaughn (Universal)
Henry Cavill, right, is Agent Argylle in ‘Argylle,’ directed by Matthew Vaughn (Universal)

Bryan Cranston already was very much on their radar. “Remember, they made Breaking Bad when they ran [Sony Pictures Television],” he reminds.

A year ago Apple saw an early rough cut and decided, says Vaughn, “This deserves to be on the big screen.”

Soon, Donna Langley, chairman of Universal Pictures and Universal Filmed Entertainment Group and Chief Content Officer, and her team were viewing the same early cut with no special effects. “Anyone that can get Oppenheimer $1billion are f*cking geniuses,” he says admiringly.

“I always wanted to work with Donna. First time I spoke to Donna was when she was trying to buy the literary rights to Layer Cake at the same time I was,” he recalls.

More on Layer Cake later.

Vaughn says that that there has been no interference from Apple and Universal. “Oh no, we financed the movie and licensed it. That’s what we do now. Marv always finances our own movies, makes them, and then we bring in the partners at the right time. I’ve had the best of both worlds with Apple and Universal.”

He refuses to reveal the actual cost of Argylle but insists it didn’t cost anywhere near the $200 million figure I put to him. “I don’t know how you spend $200 million on it,” he says. “I actually don’t. Unless you’re going to make a five-hour CG fest.”

RELATED: Director Matthew Vaughn Shuts Down Taylor Swift Conspiracy Theory She Wrote ‘Argylle’ Book

One of the problems with films is that they’re too expensive, Vaughn says. “A lot of the big blockbusters coming out are big spenders. Our budget’s a third what they spend, right?”

He says he runs a lean operation with longtime producing team of Adam Bohling and David Reid. “We’re more contained. We still duck and dive,” but where they save money is by having scripts ready.

Studios greenlight movies “and the screenplays aren’t finished,” he complains.

“Imagine building a skyscraper and you go, ‘all right, then, f*ck it. Start building.’ And then they get to the eighth floor and they’re like, ‘We’re not sure about this. Get another architect’ … and the whole thing collapses because they didn’t build the foundation. They had no blueprint.

“The amount of blockbusters that they’re still writing the script for on the morning they start shooting. … If you’ve got a script, you can navigate any storm. It’s having a map,” he argues.

“Most of our scripts we pre-write and then we do the budget restrictions. … But we also do a lot of rehearsals to stamp out the problems. And therefore, we spend more money than the studios do on prepping, but it’s a lot cheaper prepping a movie than shooting a movie without a finished script.”

RELATED: Matthew Vaughn Suggests Marvel Studios “Make Less Films & Concentrate On Making Them Great”

We calculate that perhaps tens of millions of dollars was saved due to the prep done in advance of filming Argylle.

Vaughn says that he owes “my whole directing career” to Schiffer. “Full stop.”

Guy Ritchie had to pull out of directing Layer Cake. “I thought, ‘We’ll, that’s it, I’m f*cked. That movie is not going to happen. And then Claudia said to me, ‘Why don’t you direct it?’ I laughed. I went, ‘You’re crazy.’”

But Schiffer was adamant. And J.J. Connolly, the author of the Layer Cake book, backed her up.

It was tough, though. “We had no actors, nothing. No money, nothing. I remember saying to her, ‘Look this could really f*ck up my career.’ To her credit, she went, ‘I’ll back you.’”

Schiffer backed Vaughn to the tune of £2million ($2.55 million). “We founded Marv together. We’re co-owners.”

He has since paid back every penny. “She’s done very well out of Marv. We’ve both done very well. But I’ve always been grateful to her because it would never have occurred to me to direct. It felt like something way out, unapproachable.”

RELATED: Matthew Vaughn Has Big Ideas On Ways To Change ‘Superman’ And ‘Star Wars’ Franchises

They work closely together. Schiffer has an entire floor of the Marv office building they own in Soho. Schiffer worked closely with her husband on Argylle “because it was more of a female-oriented movie. She was much more about dealing with the makeup and hair and talking with Versace and Donatello about the gold lamé dress” that both Howard and Dua Lipa wear. “Claudia’s involved with a lot. I ran all the casting by her. She watched all the auditions and gave me good notes,” he tells me.

She also visited set a lot because Chip the cat had to be looked after.

In fact, Schiffer has written a lovely hardback book about the family pet titled Blue Chip: Confessions of Claudia Schiffer’s Cat with illustrations by Angelica Hicks.

Vaughn says that he and Schiffer are “two allies in a weird world,” adding that the movie and fashion worlds are not “easy.”

Marv Films has several projects in development including a musical written by La La Land’s Damien Chazelle that Vaughn plans to direct. Then there are the various Argylle and Kingsman prequels and sequels, and there’s a movie he’s calling Project X that has been shooting in the UK for the past 11 weeks. “It’s hush-hush,” he whispers.

He promises to reveal more to Breaking Baz soon.

He wishes that he had the knowledge of moviemaking that he has now when he took on Layer Cake, a seminal movie for him, and for many others. Vaughn recounts a time when during rehearsals for the film, Daniel Craig offered a piece of friendly advice. He told him to stop giving line readings to Michael Gambon.

“Actors f*cking hate it,” the Bond star warned.

Vaughn continues “Daniel said, ‘I’m telling you now, there’s no way you’ll ever read a line as good as f*cking Michael Gambon.’ So let him do his job.”

Gambon was “sweet,” says Vaughn. “He said nothing. He mimicked me and had a laugh, but he never said anything about line readings. … That’s why I loved the man.”

The great actor used to take Vaughn to the pub to help him through the chaos. “I didn’t know what I was doing, but he was helping me a lot. That’s why I’ll always be grateful to him.”

He’s not supposed to tell me that when he was out in L.A. last year, he had a preview of Apple’s Vision Pro spatial headset. “It’s virtual reality. It’s like having Imax at home. I watched a bit of a movie on it, and it …blew my mind.

“I’m telling you it’s going to change the world. It’s going to transform everything,” he says.

But what about the communal experience of watching movies in a theater?, I ask.

He counters that can still happen — only we’ll be sitting in theaters wearing these headsets.

It’ll shake up the industry, he tells me.

But it needs shaking up. He’s hopeful, though, because he says that the bravery needed to refresh the business is already in place. He sees it in the fact that Marvel is making Deadpool 3, Shawn Levy’s action movie that will see Ryan Reynolds’ Deadpool link up with Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine.

That film will “revitalize” the Marvel universe, says Vaughn.

RELATED: ‘Deadpool 3’ Wraps Filming; Ryan Reynolds Thanks Cast & Crew “Who Battled Wind, Rain, Strikes And Hugh Jackman”

We’ve been chatting for hours. I roar with laughter and remind him that a few hours earlier he’d mumbled about having media training.

”I had media training, all right?” he barks.

But it was bonkers, he says. ”I have never laughed so hard. So I got off the phone after about 20 minutes. I was like, ‘Can we just stop this?’”

How did this happen?, I ask, aghast. “Apparently some folk at Apple Studios and Universal Pictures said, ‘You should talk to a media trainer’ because I am quite outspoken. There’s a few times in my life where I’ve gotten into hot potatoes.”

He adds: “Because there is a whole new world that I don’t actually totally understand. So I had to go, then I went, ‘No, no, no’ and left there pretty fast. I never went back.”

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