Matthew Vaughn

This first appeared in the Sunday Independent on November 26, 2007

Matthew Vaughn is tucked up in a throne-like armchair blowing over a cup herb tea. He’s sporting two days of stubble, dying with a cold but gamely soldiering on with the interviews for the sake of his newest film, Stardust – a sort of adult fairy tale in which Michelle Pfeiffer is one of the baddies. But you can tell he’s not in fabulous form. When I mention, jokingly, that Charlie Cox, the youngest star of Stardust, had playfully suggested that I ask him whether it was difficult to direct someone who had beaten him at tennis, Vaughan sits bolt upright and there’s a slight edge to his voice. ‘Charlie’s slightly delusional and desperate to be taken seriously at sports. He’s probably the most uncoordinated actor we’ve ever come across. We were actually scared he’d injure himself.’

If Vaughn isn’t in the mood to take a public ribbing from his young star it might be because Stardust is just his second outing in the director’s chair. And while he says that he ‘couldn’t afford to be intimidated’ by the array of talent on front of the lens- De Niro and Peter O’Toole in addition to Pfeiffer – he seems slightly overeager to make sure you know he was the gaffer on set. ‘Sometimes the actors would try to outdo each other being funny and I’d have to go ‘guys we’ve written a screenplay here and we need to stick to it a bit.’’ The results seem to have mostly worked and Stardust, which also stars Ricky Gervais, blends big budget fantasy with a sometimes sly sense of humour.

Until now Vaughn has mostly been a producer and best known for being Mr Claudia Schiffer and best friend of Madonna and Guy Ritchie – he was best man at their wedding. He made his name alongside Ritchie on Lock Stock And Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch – which made he and Ritchie £9 million each – and the critically mauled Swept Away. ‘I have had one big blip’, he concedes, not mentioning the Madonna vehicle by name. ‘I said to Guy if anyone can make this work you can and ironically I think you can make Madonna work as well. I don’t think it was a great movie but I don’t think it was as bad as people said either.’ Vaughn may have jumped that particular ship just in time – Ritchie’s follow up, Revolver, was widely dubbed ‘the worst film of all time’ but he remains resolutely loyal to both of them, telling me that the first 40 minutes of Revolver was ‘actually rather good’, that Ritchie was ‘let down by his distributors and that Madonna ‘doesn’t need any advice from me. She knows what goes up and what comes down.’

Like Ritchie Vaughn has some blue blood coursing in his veins. He was brought up to believe that his father was the actor Robert Vaughn, who played Napoleon Solo in the television series The Man From Uncle. Matthew’s mother, the actress Kathy Ceaton, had been in a relationship with Robert Vaughn at the time of Matthew’s conception but the relationship soon ended and he always denied that he was Matthew’s father. Matthew’s paternity was resolved in the 1980s in the Superior Court of Los Angeles, which determined by virtue of DNA tests, that Matthew’s father was in fact George Harley Drummond, a minor British aristocrat who was godson to the late George VI and godfather to the model Jodie Kidd. Matthew was reported to have eventually adopted his father’s sir name for private use whilst retaining ‘Vaughn’ as a professional moniker. ‘That’s semi-true’, he tells me. ‘I use it (Vaughn) for some legal and professional reasons. But it’s so complicated; it would take hours to explain it. That’s a whole other conversation.’

I feel somehow it’s not a conversation we’ll ever be having. He is incredibly cagey – even by Hollywood standards – when it comes to discussing his personal life. When I ask him if he has a relationship with his father and that side of the family he says bluntly: ‘I do but it’s not really relevant to the movie.’

Similarly even the gentlest line of questioning in relation to his supermodel wife is met with another shameless attempt to ram the conversation round to the marketing effort. ‘I met her while she was auditioning for Stardust’, he deadpans. ‘Seriously, that’s too personal a question’ he adds and tells me ‘I don’t like talking about myself.’

It’s slightly strange because he seems to have an astute and down-to-earth understanding of the quid pro quo of press and public interest and the enormous benefits of stardom – at least when it relates to other people. ‘I get very annoyed with celebrities who moan about being famous’, he says, ‘I ask them if they know how they afford sitting in a fancy restaurant. If you’re going to dance with the devil, don’t complain about it.’

He and Schiffer are regularly tailed in LA but it’s something he’s become used to. ‘You get to know the paps and they know if you’re into it or you’re not. And you can stop and ask if they’ve got their shot and if they have you can move on. It’s when you go like this (covers his face with his hands) that they come after to get the photo. I only got annoyed once when they punched and kicked one of our nannies to get a picture of my kid who was six weeks old in the pram.’

The distinction he draws is between people who appear in front of the camera and those behind it, perhaps subtly acknowledging that it’s his marriage more than anything that causes that level of intrusion. ‘I don’t think I’m ever going to get that level of attention by myself, and I’m happy with that.’

The PR person has appeared over his shoulder and my audience is nearly over but for Vaughn the interview slog continues while the cold seems to have gotten worse. The tea on front of him has gone cold. ‘I think I might need something stronger’ he murmurs to no one in particular. ‘A Guinness maybe.’ And suddenly I feel I missed out by not coming at the end of the day. It’s always easier to talk after a few pints.

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~ by Donal Lynch on March 25, 2008.

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