IN 2020, with the world in lockdown, visionary filmmaker Matthew Vaughn – the director and producer of “The Kingsman” films, “Kick-Ass” and “Stardust” – sat down at his home outside London and decided to stage a film-appreciation class for his wife, Claudia Vaughn (née Schiffer), and their two daughters, who were around 10 and 15 years old at the time.
“Because it was lockdown, it gave me license to keep screening movies for them to watch,” Vaughn says. He showed them movie after movie, including Alfred Hitchcock’s 1959 classic “North by Northwest,” in which an ordinary man (albeit one who looks like Cary Grant) gets swept up in an extraordinary, espionage-tinged adventure. His girls went crazy for it. “And I thought, ‘I want to make a movie like that for my daughters,’” Vaughn says.
As it turned out, the answer – or rather, the genesis of one – would soon land on his desk in the form of a manuscript for an unpublished spy novel by an unknown author. Elly Conway’s book, “Argylle,” was, Vaughn says, the best spy thriller he had ever read. But the structure of the novel was straightforward, focused on a young secret agent named Argylle, and Vaughn is not a straightforward filmmaker.
Throughout his career, Vaughn has used source material as a cliff from which he can make daring, often breathtaking, creative and narrative leaps, and “Argylle” would be no exception. Far from a traditional adaptation, the film of “Argylle” would use the world and characters of the book as inspiration only, functioning as a springboard for an entirely new, original film.
“I’ve helped orchestrate what people have come to expect from spy thrillers, and it felt like the right time to challenge some of the clichés I’ve been guilty of upholding,” Vaughn says. “Those ’80s films I watched with my kids combined great storytelling with pure escapism. I thought the post-COVID world would need something to make people smile and feel like they’re on an exciting thrill ride.”
Vaughn and screenwriter Jason Fuchs began developing a screenplay with a major meta-shift, in which a fictional version of the real-life author of the “Argylle” novel, Elly Conway, would become the central character in the film. Rather than being a film about a spy, “Argylle” would now be a film about a reclusive spy novelist who gets catapulted into real-world espionage when the plots of her books get a little too close to the activities of a nefarious spy organization.
“My primary motivation is to craft a compelling narrative,” Vaughn says. “I don’t aim to reinvent the genre, but to provide a fresh perspective. I direct as if I were an audience member, thinking about what I would like to see or what unexpected elements I can incorporate to keep it feeling new.”
Bryce Dallas Howard, who plays Elly Conway, was immediately wowed by the screenplay. “This is a spy thriller like you’ve never seen before, and I couldn’t believe it when I was reading it,” Howard says.
The actress also gives high praise for the film’s unique action sequences. “When you sign on to a Matthew Vaughn film you know there’s going to be a lot of action,” Howard says. “You also know it is going to be conceived in a way that is incredibly fresh. In this film, the action sequences were a hybrid between dance and martial arts.”
Howard is part of star-studded cast that includes Oscar® winner Sam Rockwell, Henry Cavill, John Cena, Emmy winner and Oscar® nominee Bryan Cranston, Emmy winner Catherine O’Hara, Samuel L. Jackson, Oscar® winner Ariana DeBose and Dua Lipa.
Vaughn encourages audiences to watch “Argylle” in cinemas, for the shared experience with fellow moviegoers is part of the thrill and fun of watching it. “The cinema remains one of the last places where we, as a society, can connect on a deeply human level,” Vaughn says. “It’s a place where we can come together and experience the rollercoaster of emotions, the highs and lows, as a collective.
This film, in particular, was made for the big screen. It’s grand and filled with unexpected moments you won’t see coming. When you’re in a theater, surrounded by fellow audience members, and those moments hit, the reactions create an unforgettable experience. It’s more fun, more immersive. It is pure escapism, something we all need in a world that is not always sunny. A little ray of sunshine, even in a dark room, is a good idea.”
Opening in cinemas January 31, “Argylle,” an Apple Original Films presentation, in association with MARV, a Cloudy production, is distributed by Universal Pictures. PR