'Kingsman: The Golden Circle' Screenwriter Jane Goldman Celebrates Spy Movies [Interview]

Saving the world generally doesn't look as fun as it used to in spy movies. Looking cool and having a blast has gone out of fashion for some of cinema's spies – with the notable exception of Xander Cage – who tend to have more inner-turmoil than a good time. They're sometimes brooding, tortured, and self-serious – which are not the words to describe Eggsy (Taron Edgerton) and the world of Kingsman, born from Mark Millar and Dave Gibbon's comic.

Screenwriters Jane Goldman and Matthew Vaughn adapted the source material with glee. That feeling of all-around giddiness comes from the spy movies Goldman and Vaughn, who've worked together for over a decade, grew up loving. With Kingsman: The Secret Service and its new sequel, Kingsman: The Golden Circle, the co-writers want to celebrate spy tropes, not poke fun at them, as Goldman recently told us.

Below, check out our Jane Goldman interview.

When it came to scope, was there a lot of discussion over how much bigger the sequel should be?

I think for us it was about rather than going bigger, in what would have been an obviously more violent and crazy, certainly for me the thing that feels like the sort of USP of the Kingsman universe is that it's just constantly surprising and it's constantly subverting your expectations of a spy movie or an action movie. I think for both of us it was about how can we match that feeling of enjoyable surprise and things being unpredictable that we had in the first one. In some way, I think it would have been predictable to just go more violent, crazy balls-out rather than doing something different. For us, it was about making it, not necessarily about making it bigger, but making it equally surprising, and that was the aim in making it a worthy successor to the first movie.

Right, it feels like there's more character instead of more scope in the sequel. 

Oh good, I'm so glad. There isn't that much room for character stuff that's outside of the origin story where it's the great fun of having unlimited space to tell a story so that you can then kind of deep in character. Then of course there was pressure of it being a sequel, so you don't have to introduce – especially the central character. You already know him, and the audience already know him so there's more space to explore some interesting character. We really enjoyed exploring some more stuff about Harry and getting deeper into it. That is one of the pleasures of doing a sequel. This is a first sequel for both me and Matthew, actually.

I wanted to ask about that because obviously you two worked on X-Men: First Class, which is sort of a prequel. What presents more challenges, a prequel or a sequel?

There are just obviously different challenges. In some ways X-Men, it was in some sense a reboot as well. I think there were very few constraints in a way. That in itself didn't present any difficult challenges because we had a lot of freedom so that, yes, it's a prequel but equally a new universe. Generally our directive was if it winds up just being an actual reboot that's allowed, and that's the case. There weren't really those kinds of constraints.

I guess with a sequel the challenge should be different. The challenge is really wanting to make sure that it lives up to the first one. That was certainly I think both Matthew and I absolutely had had conversations in which we agreed that we wouldn't do a sequel unless we felt really comfortable that we had a story that includes both a proper character journey for the main characters, proper character growth, interesting themes, and also a really good interesting bad guy plot.

For us, it would have been just really unsatisfying if it was like, "Oh yeah, now there's some crazy guy that wants to take over the world and Eggsy has to..." We would prefer to have not made the movie. That was always a possibility, we absolutely did not plan for a sequel, it was just all a matter of if we have an idea we love then we'd do it but if not, then it would be just move on to the next thing.

What was the initial idea that both got you excited about making a Kingsman sequel?

I'm trying to remember what came first. I think there were two or three different factors that all sort of came to us at once. Like I said, I think the point at which we felt okay we can go ahead and do this was when we had a villain and a villain's plot that we agreed that we liked. It was always about, not necessarily the plot, but about the villain's ethos. That felt like another thing that was very important in being a, not a selling point but a characteristic of the Kingsman universe. We had loved Valentine's ethos was actually really interesting and conversation provoking.

Obviously, his methods were despicable. What was behind it was interesting and about just trying to find another issue that was actually a real world issue that somebody could actually have some very good and very interesting views on but have a villainous way of approaching what they see as the best solution. We wanted the villain to have an ethos that was something that might make you have a conversation with your friends after you come out of the movie theater.

Where Eggsy is at in his life was another thing that convinced us that that was an interesting story to explore for Eggsy. I think without spoiling anything, it kind of comes up as a joke about some of the reactions to the first movie. That I think Matthew, in particular, has been quite annoyed that some people have had an extreme reaction to some of the sexual joke at the end of the last movie. I think Matthew jokingly had said...I think Matthew felt that was unfair and that hadn't been his intention as a director and there was a kind of, well we should create a situation where it's almost the polar opposite.

I think Matthew saw the movie to be seen as something that's subverted spies tropes. Almost the fact that Eggsy is actually dealing with living his personal life in a much more regular guy way in this movie kind of came out as a joke. Matthew saying, "Well, perhaps we should have Eggsy be in a situation where he's trying to deal with domestic life now." Then we both suddenly realized actually that would be really interesting. Not necessarily domestic life but how do you reconcile the high-octane life of a spy with actually trying to have a relationship.

You both take the characters very seriously, no matter how silly things can get. During the writing process, is the tone of Kingsman ever difficult to get right?

I think those aspects interest me and Matthew kind of equally. I think the balancing always comes later. I think we just, creatively, we tend to dive headlong into both aspects. We'll be putting out outrageous ideas for actions scenes, but at the same time, really, really exploring gosh, almost an ongoing TV drama. How could we turn the screws, how can we make it worse? Eggsy then has to explore some other aspect of personal drama and wrestle with his own inner conflicts. We'll just wind up with a huge amount. Particularly the way things worked on this one, we ended up with an extremely long script that we would never be able to shoot all of and just to have the fun of getting it down.

That genuinely is a fun thing, it genuinely is a fun thing to allow yourself to take parts all the way to their conclusion even if you wind up with a thing that's really long. I think that is kind of how we end up with those extremes of things is by allowing ourselves rather than going, "You have to stick to this formula." Eventually, you obviously trim it down into something that is a regular movie shape. I think allowing yourself to really, really dive in properly into all of those aspects, you wind up with the best of those.

I think what's great with Eggsy is that just so many spy movies today are about, "It's so sad and hard being a spy." They can be mopey, but with Eggsy and the style of this world, you can explore similar conflicts or ideas as those movies but with a tone that's actually fun.

I think in some sense what we like a lot about Eggsy's character that he takes absolute delight in the exciting aspects of his job, in the way that I think most of us would. It's sort of like Kingsman is a universe in which spy movies exist. It's like, in zombie movies, they don't exist. No one ever goes, "Oh a zombie." [Laughs] In a lot of spy movies, there's kind of a sense of that they take it more seriously and spy movies not existing, even though they absolutely do in this universe and Eggsy is constantly aware of the fact that he is living something that is probably a boyhood dream for a lot of boys and probably a considerable number of women as well. We like that he delights in it and isn't mopey. Yeah, I know what you mean, I'm not a big fan of the mopey spy.

Kingsman Whiskey - Kingsman: The Golden CircleEarlier you mentioned subverting expectations of a spy movie rather than subverting spy movies. Is that ever a fine line to walk?

I know what you're saying, yeah, it is about subverting expectation; it's certainly not about parodying spy movies and never has been. It's not always a conscious way of asking out loud what would happen in a regular spy movie. It's definitely a part of the process, but it's always conscious part of the process in saying exactly, "What would happen now if this was another spy movie?" It's how do we take that in a different direction because that's sort of what makes Kingsman Kingsman. It's certainly not about parodying things that have been seen.

It's also, in some ways, celebrating the things that we love about other spy movies. It's not about other spy movies, we don't want to be like them, it's about what did we love in the Roger Moore's Bond movies or that feeling that we got when we were kids growing up with that era of Bond movies. It's about conjuring up that feeling again of, "Oh my God now there's this and now this is happening!" [Laughs]

Do you recall anything from that very long draft that didn't make the movie?

Oh yes, lots! Mostly action sequences. I don't think we lost any characters or any kind of story points. It was mostly just more fun things and then you just wind up choosing, you kind of have to sacrifice something for time. I can say I think it's a really useful, it's not for everybody and it's not for every job and that's not necessarily how I would approach everything. But something like Kingsman I think you've got to allow yourself your kind of flights to fancy, so you actually explore all these roads and figure out which ones are going to stay and which ones we have space for.

I don't think we've actually done that before. I think we've normally sort of edited as we've gone along and sacrificed one thing for another, whereas this time we kind of ... It was an interesting experiment, we kind of allowed ourselves the luxury of actually keeping everything until we couldn't anymore and then doing a chop as we went into pre-production of just saying, "Now's the time we have to figure out what's staying and what's going." It's the first time we've done that, and I think possibly part of the reason is that our past projects had always been based some source material.

I feel like there had always been some kind of things we strayed from or added things or changed things, whereas...There is obviously Eggsy and Harry in [Mark Millar and David Gibbons'] The Secret Service. The comic had stopped after it's first volume but was picked up again. This story was, in many senses, it was the first time Matthew and I have started with a completely blank page. It was about the fun of approaching that challenge, which was the first time that we had done that together. It was just organically trying to not throw anything out until we have everything and we can figure out what things we love the most.

I don't want to spoil much but Harry Heart's return felt earned. Considering the tone of Kingsman, did reviving him feel like something that could happen organically? And from the beginning, did you and Matthew want to bring him back?

That was the most important thing. We absolutely wanted to bring him back. It's very much proof that we were genuinely not thinking about a sequel. I think Matthew has said in jest had he thought that he'd do a sequel, he would not have killed Harry [Laughs]. I think with the sequel, we absolutely knew we wanted Harry back and then it was about doing it in a way that didn't feel glib and didn't feel like an insult to the audience, because I think we very much invited the audience to emotionally invest and to care and we cared.

To just say, "Oh yeah, that doesn't matter now," that would have felt so wrong for us. It was really important, the story around it, had impact, that it wasn't just, "Oh yeah he's back and let's carry on and have an adventure." It was about what was the impact of what had happened, what are the ongoing consequences. It was important to us that it be a part of the story rather than just us trying to find some kind of smart way of writing ourselves out of a corner.

How early on in the process did you and Matthew know you were getting Elton John?

We had hoped that he had been in the first movie because we initially had that in this subplot where Valentine was kidnapping all of the people that he wanted to save in his apocalypse he was about to create. We had kind of a comedy subplot where Valentine was, as well as kidnapping people who would be important to rebuilding, he essentially just kidnapped all his favorite musicians, actors, and such. We'd quite gone far down the line as writing some stuff for Elton John, which just made us laugh the idea of Elton John being kidnapped [Laughs].

It just made us laugh so much. I'm not sure what order it happened, but I think Elton was not available, and then that subplot got dropped. I think we had it in our heads, what if we could have made that happen? That would have been such a joy because it had so amused us. It actually sort of, it did seem to fit organically, and by some huge miracle, Elton very generously agreed to take the role [Laughs]. At the point when he agreed then it just escalated, just the things that we were thinking now what else can we do that will be hilarious. His part did sort of grow and grow.

When you were writing the role, was it pretty much you and Matthew saying, "What would we want to see Sir Elton John do in a Kingsman movie?"

[Laughs] Yeah, that's pretty much it, just trying to decide what would be really entertaining. Just the premise of him being in the movie was inherently entertaining to us. It just grew and grew, especially since he's so kind and so amenable and good natured and kind of up for everything. I think having seen the first movie he got the tone and he found it funny, too, and was very much up for everything and up for laughs. We were so grateful for that.


Kingsman: The Golden Circle is now in theaters.