In a move that baffled just about everybody, Paramount had the junket for their new fantasy movie Stardust in Los Angeles the same weekend Comic Con was happening in San Diego. If ever an event would have made a great backdrop for that junket, it’s San Diego. Plus, the crowd would have loved to have seen the stars and creators of the film up on stage in Hall H, showing clips from the film that’s like the modern equivalent of The Princess Bride… but with more ass-kicking.
Matthew Vaughn began his movie career producing the films of Guy Ritchie, but when he became a director with Layer Cake, it soon became obvious who had the most talent in that collaboration. Vaughn was set to direct X-Men 3, but problems arose and he had to drop out, but he barely missed a beat before getting started on adapting Neil Gaiman’s fairy-world fantasy story, Stardust. When I interviewed Vaughn for Layer Cake, he mentioned that he had original Charles Vess artwork from Stardust hanging in his office; at that point he was thinking of just producing the movie, but his love of the material led him to get behind the camera and direct. The result is an often lyrical, often sweet fantasy film that could be the end of summer sleeper hit of 2007.
I got on the phone with Vaughn from my hotel room in San Diego. This is what he had to say.
All of the nerds are down here in San Diego and you’re in LA. What’s up with that?
My life sucks. What can I say? Last year I couldn’t come because I was filming the movie and now I can’t come because I’m doing the press junket. I’ll probably come to Comic Con next year when I have nothing to promote and I’ll just walk around and have some fun. I’ve never been, so I’m dying to go.
Stardust combines adventure and romance in a way that a lot of movies don’t do anymore. Do you think that’s easy to sell to audiences these days?
Sadly no, I don’t think it is. I think the, dare I say it, the whole ADD, instant gratification crowd wants the fast version, three seconds, and then move on. This is a hard film to summarize. In Hollywood people don’t really show their movies until the day they come out because they’re worried it’s shit, or they don’t believe in it but they believ in the way they can sell it, and this is the completely opposite scenario: everyone believes in the film and we’ve been screening the hell out of it. The reactions have been – I have to say I’m thrilled. It was a big risk for me making this movie, and I remember when I finished the script I thought, ‘If I was making this just as a producer I would say, yeah this is cool, but it’s a little bit quirky and different and a bit of a risk.’ But I’m very pleased with it and I hope it does well; I ended up making the film I wanted to make, and I hope it doesn’t bore people. It’s the kind of cinema that doesn’t come out anymore and I used to love when I went to the movies.
You juggle a number of tones in the film, from romance to action adventure to comedy to creepiness. How do you do that, and does that juggling begin for you in the script stage?
Yeah, I look at scripts as a very important blueprint to the film. I try to do as little rewriting on set as possible; I think once you’re in it you’re in and you should have a good plan. I don’t know what the word is – tone is such a hard thing to explain, but in my head I knew I was confident in how to intertwine and balance everything. Sometimes I would do a different take just for safety, I’d go, ‘Can you make it a bit broader, and now bring it down?’ just so that in the editing room I would have a choice.
Did you always have DeNiro in mind for Captain Shakespeare, the cross-dressing sky pirate?
I’m curious what his initial reaction that character was.
So am I! [laughs] I have no idea. It was very weird. Let’s put it this way – I would never have sat in a room and pitched it to Bob. I would have been worried he would have chased me out! I got the message that he’d read the script and liked it, that he had liked Layer Cake, and he wanted to meet me. I went in knowing that the hard part of the film – pitching the concept of him doing what he does in the movie – was already done, and I just had to convince him I wasn’t going to make a big deal out of it.
The final battle has some really terrific fantasy action. Were you working X-Men 3 out of your system?
Yeah. I mean, X-Men 3 had a big influence on this movie because it gave me the confidence to go off and make this film – doing all the prep and learning how CG works and all the pre-viz, all that stuff I had never done before but I liked it. I look at X-Men now as my University of Big Budget Filmmaking. I love the X-Men series and I would love to do a superhero movie now.
How much CG is there in this movie? It looks like there’s a lot of practical stuff.
My concept for CG is to try and do as little as possible. If you can’t do it for real, do it CG, but only at that point. You can’t have a flying pirate ship, as much as I would love to figure out a way to do it for real. So I used it as a last resort. If you look at the Bond movies and Roger Moore – or really the stunt man – was skiing off a cliff and even though it was out of focus with a bad crash zoom trying to keep up, it still works. It’s still amazing. I think the new way of filmmaking is going to be less CG. Transformers impressed me with the CG because it was flawless, I thought, but… CG, I don’t get excited about it.
I’ve talked to Neil about the movie [read that by clicking here], and he said he’s very happy with it and that he left you to do things your own way, but there are some major departures from the book. How did you decide what to keep and what to lose?
Two major influences on the decisions: one was that we were trying to get a PG-13, so there were certain elements of the book that you ain’t going to get away with, or like the sex scenes or a unicorn’s head being hacked off. So one was toning it down for a larger audience, and the other was making it more cinematic, making it more of a cinematic experience for the audience. Like in the book the witch just gives up and goes home – I think the audience would have been pissed off if that was the third act.
Claire Danes was great casting, because I wasn’t sold on her initially but when I saw the film she was just about perfect. How did you come to her?
I thought she was amazing in Romeo + Juliet. I think she actually popped more out of Romeo + Juliet than Leo did. I needed a good actress and I needed someone that could play naïve but wise at the same time, innocent but experienced, and she could do it.
You mention that you still want to do a superhero film. You’ve been attached to Thor – is that still happening?’
I’m not attached. We’re still discussing it. I’m interested in it.
That’s such an interesting character because he has elements of the old Norse fantasy as well as the superhero stuff – which half of him is more interesting to you.
[slyly] I’d say he’s an interesting character because of that, so both parts make the whole.