DCSIMG

Aaron Taylor-Johnson on Kick-Ass 2 and 50 Shades

Aaron Taylor-Johnson. Picture: Getty Images

Aaron Taylor-Johnson. Picture: Getty Images

Bruce Wayne has the Bat Signal, Peter Parker has his spider senses, but for the weedy wannabes and punky DIY vigilantes of 2010’s anarchic superhero send-up Kick-Ass, social networking sites were the communication tools of choice when it came to co-ordinating their crime-fighting antics. It’s ironic, then, that as the first comic book saga to really embrace new media on the big screen, the forthcoming Kick-Ass 2 looked briefly as if it might be undone by a single tweet.

When the sequel’s star Jim Carrey took to Twitter in June to belatedly announce that he could no longer “in all good conscience” support a film with “that level of violence” in the wake of Sandy Hook, he ensured that last December’s tragic school shootings in Connecticut would be linked in the public mind to Kick-Ass 2 for the foreseeable future, despite one having nothing to do with the other.

“He had a change of heart,” shrugs Aaron Taylor-Johnson, the young Brit actor who returns as the film’s titular wetsuit-clad crusader. “I totally respect what he was saying. It was terrible what happened; no-one can understand that or explain what that’s about. But my memory of Jim on set was that he was just super-enthusiastic and full of incredible raw energy. He created his character from the comic book and even paid for his own prosthetics to look more like him because he was such a fan of it and was a fan of the first film.”

Sitting in a hotel room in London a little over six weeks after Carrey’s tweet, Taylor-Johnson may squirm a little as he diligently disentangles the film from real life tragedy, but he’s more than up to the task of putting the hysteria already swirling around the film’s violence in perspective. “It’s a comic book, it’s a fictional piece,” he says, likening the tone to a Tarantino film. “I mean, they’re dressed in gimp masks and superhero outfits and that’s what’s so funny about it. I don’t think it promotes violence at all.”

Perversely, Carrey’s decision to distance himself from the film may yet work to its advantage. According to Mark Millar, the Scottish creator of the Kick-Ass comic on which the films are based, Universal (the studio releasing Kick-Ass 2), worked out that Carrey’s decision not to publicise the film has actually generated around $30 million worth of free publicity.

“That’s more than our advertising budget,” he says. “We’re a $30m movie, which is a fraction of what Iron Man or any of those movies cost, but all the news shows were talking about it for three days, so our visibility was enormous.”

This kind of heat is hardly new when it comes to Kick-Ass though. Thanks to the presence of a C-bomb-dropping 11-year-old assassin called Hit Girl (played by Chloë Grace Moretz), the first film proved so hot to handle at the concept stage that director Matthew Vaughn had to finance it independently before Hollywood would bite.

The gamble paid off. Kick-Ass cost $28m to make, grossed almost $100m at the global box-office and then another $140m on DVD and Blu-ray. Even factoring in marketing costs, that was a decent-sized hit.

Still, Taylor-Johnson wasn’t sure they’d ever do another one.

“Matthew was like, ‘I can’t see how I can make it into a sequel. It should be a stand-alone film’,” remembers the actor of early talk surrounding Kick-Ass 2, which sees his character, this time being trained by Hit Girl (Moretz), joining an amusingly low-rent Avengers-style team of wannabe heroes called Justice Forever (led by Carrey’s Col Stars and Stripes), and taking on Christopher Mintz-Plasse, who also returns from the first film, but in the guise of a new gimp-masked super-villain charmingly named the Motherf*****.

“All of the options on us ran out as well, so I was like, well, we’re definitely not doing a sequel then. And then, out of the blue, Jeff Wadlow [the new film’s director] delivered this screenplay and Matthew was like: ‘See what you think…”

This, however, was bit of a ruse. “We always knew we were going to do the sequel, we just didn’t tell the actors,” says Millar, who conceived the comics as a trilogy.

The plan, it turns out, was to let anticipation build before announcing a sequel in order to get a better deal out of the studio. If Taylor-Johnson wasn’t party to this Machiavellian strategy, though, he was very much aware of the way Kick-Ass was becoming embedded in popular culture. “It was, like, the second most [illegally] downloaded movie ever after Avatar. That’s f****** mad. So it felt nice that we were making a sequel that people were kind of geared up and ready to see.”

Now 23, Taylor-Johnson was still a teenager himself when he shot the first film back in 2008. Was it strange going back given how much is life has changed since then. “It was odd to play an adolescent high-school kid when I’m married and have, essentially, four kids,” he confirms.

He’s referring to the two daughters and two stepdaughters he now has with his wife Sam Taylor-Johnson, the visual artist turned film-maker whom he married after she directed him in the John Lennon biopic Nowhere Boy (which he made immediately following Kick-Ass). “The challenge was to create that character and get into that headspace, and you know what? His journey is to go from being a kid to a young man, so, you know…”

In his own career, Taylor-Johnson hasn’t had much trouble graduating to grown-up roles. As a child actor he may have been briefly pigeon-holed as teen idol after appearing in Brit flick Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging, but after playing Kick-Ass, John Lennon and Count Vronsky opposite Keira Knightley’s Anna Karenina last year, he’s escaped the vagaries of typecasting and is now in the enviable position of being a sought-after leading man for credible film-makers.

To this end, he’s just wrapped principal photography on a new, character-driven version of Godzilla opposite Bryan Cranston and Juliette Binoche for Monsters director Gareth Edwards (“I’m a huge fan of him and I’m excited to see how he’s going to put that together”).

He’s also been having meetings with Joss Whedon about playing the character of Quicksilver in the next Avengers movie. (As he points out, though, before going into great detail about the character, “It’s not official yet”.)

One director he’s willing to rule out working with for the moment, though, is his wife. With Taylor-Johnson hired to direct the film of 50 Shades of Grey, he states that, no, he hasn’t read EL James’s books and no, he’s not in the running to play its sexually voracious title character. “I know and Sam knows that I’m definitely not Christian Grey. That film is all about casting. It’s just a really nice break for me to be able to step back and support her doing something for a little while.”

Would he like to work with her again though? “Oh, no question, but this isn’t the right one. I’m super-happy for her. I think she’s got a wicked artistic vision on it, and I’m glad they’re going to go with it. And they’re lucky to have her also.”

Let the Twitter speculation end there.

Kick-Ass 2 (15) is released on Wednesday.

Bruce Wayne has the Bat Signal, Peter Parker has his spider senses, but for the weedy wannabes and punky DIY vigilantes of 2010’s anarchic superhero send-up Kick-Ass, social networking sites were the communication tools of choice when it came to co-ordinating their crime-fighting antics. It’s ironic, then, that as the first comic book saga to really embrace new media on the big screen, the forthcoming Kick-Ass 2 looked briefly as if it might be undone by a single tweet.

When the sequel’s star Jim Carrey took to Twitter in June to belatedly announce that he could no longer “in all good conscience” support a film with “that level of violence” in the wake of Sandy Hook, he ensured that last December’s tragic school shootings in Connecticut would be linked in the public mind to Kick-Ass 2 for the foreseeable future, despite one having nothing to do with the other.

“He had a change of heart,” shrugs Aaron Taylor-Johnson, the young Brit actor who returns as the film’s titular wetsuit-clad crusader. “I totally respect what he was saying. It was terrible what happened; no-one can understand that or explain what that’s about. But my memory of Jim on set was that he was just super-enthusiastic and full of incredible raw energy. He created his character from the comic book and even paid for his own prosthetics to look more like him because he was such a fan of it and was a fan of the first film.”

Sitting in a hotel room in London a little over six weeks after Carrey’s tweet, Taylor-Johnson may squirm a little as he diligently disentangles the film from real life tragedy, but he’s more than up to the task of putting the hysteria already swirling around the film’s violence in perspective. “It’s a comic book, it’s a fictional piece,” he says, likening the tone to a Tarantino film. “I mean, they’re dressed in gimp masks and superhero outfits and that’s what’s so funny about it. I don’t think it promotes violence at all.”

Perversely, Carrey’s decision to distance himself from the film may yet work to its advantage. According to Mark Millar, the Scottish creator of the Kick-Ass comic on which the films are based, Universal (the studio releasing Kick-Ass 2), worked out that Carrey’s decision not to publicise the film has actually generated around $30 million worth of free publicity.

“That’s more than our advertising budget,” he says. “We’re a $30m movie, which is a fraction of what Iron Man or any of those movies cost, but all the news shows were talking about it for three days, so our visibility was enormous.”

This kind of heat is hardly new when it comes to Kick-Ass though. Thanks to the presence of a C-bomb-dropping 11-year-old assassin called Hit Girl (played by Chloë Grace Moretz), the first film proved so hot to handle at the concept stage that director Matthew Vaughn had to finance it independently before Hollywood would bite.

The gamble paid off. Kick-Ass cost $28m to make, grossed almost $100m at the global box-office and then another $140m on DVD and Blu-ray. Even factoring in marketing costs, that was a decent-sized hit.

Still, Taylor-Johnson wasn’t sure they’d ever do another one.

“Matthew was like, ‘I can’t see how I can make it into a sequel. It should be a stand-alone film’,” remembers the actor of early talk surrounding Kick-Ass 2, which sees his character, this time being trained by Hit Girl (Moretz), joining an amusingly low-rent Avengers-style team of wannabe heroes called Justice Forever (led by Carrey’s Col Stars and Stripes), and taking on Christopher Mintz-Plasse, who also returns from the first film, but in the guise of a new gimp-masked super-villain charmingly named the Motherf*****.

“All of the options on us ran out as well, so I was like, well, we’re definitely not doing a sequel then. And then, out of the blue, Jeff Wadlow [the new film’s director] delivered this screenplay and Matthew was like: ‘See what you think…”

This, however, was bit of a ruse. “We always knew we were going to do the sequel, we just didn’t tell the actors,” says Millar, who conceived the comics as a trilogy.

The plan, it turns out, was to let anticipation build before announcing a sequel in order to get a better deal out of the studio. If Taylor-Johnson wasn’t party to this Machiavellian strategy, though, he was very much aware of the way Kick-Ass was becoming embedded in popular culture. “It was, like, the second most [illegally] downloaded movie ever after Avatar. That’s f****** mad. So it felt nice that we were making a sequel that people were kind of geared up and ready to see.”

Now 23, Taylor-Johnson was still a teenager himself when he shot the first film back in 2008. Was it strange going back given how much is life has changed since then. “It was odd to play an adolescent high-school kid when I’m married and have, essentially, four kids,” he confirms.

He’s referring to the two daughters and two stepdaughters he now has with his wife Sam Taylor-Johnson, the visual artist turned film-maker whom he married after she directed him in the John Lennon biopic Nowhere Boy (which he made immediately following Kick-Ass). “The challenge was to create that character and get into that headspace, and you know what? His journey is to go from being a kid to a young man, so, you know…”

In his own career, Taylor-Johnson hasn’t had much trouble graduating to grown-up roles. As a child actor he may have been briefly pigeon-holed as teen idol after appearing in Brit flick Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging, but after playing Kick-Ass, John Lennon and Count Vronsky opposite Keira Knightley’s Anna Karenina last year, he’s escaped the vagaries of typecasting and is now in the enviable position of being a sought-after leading man for credible film-makers.

To this end, he’s just wrapped principal photography on a new, character-driven version of Godzilla opposite Bryan Cranston and Juliette Binoche for Monsters director Gareth Edwards (“I’m a huge fan of him and I’m excited to see how he’s going to put that together”).

He’s also been having meetings with Joss Whedon about playing the character of Quicksilver in the next Avengers movie. (As he points out, though, before going into great detail about the character, “It’s not official yet”.)

One director he’s willing to rule out working with for the moment, though, is his wife. With Taylor-Johnson hired to direct the film of 50 Shades of Grey, he states that, no, he hasn’t read EL James’s books and no, he’s not in the running to play its sexually voracious title character. “I know and Sam knows that I’m definitely not Christian Grey. That film is all about casting. It’s just a really nice break for me to be able to step back and support her doing something for a little while.”

Would he like to work with her again though? “Oh, no question, but this isn’t the right one. I’m super-happy for her. I think she’s got a wicked artistic vision on it, and I’m glad they’re going to go with it. And they’re lucky to have her also.”

Let the Twitter speculation end there.

• Kick-Ass 2 (15) is released on Wednesday.

 

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