Matthew Vaughn

Layer Cake

Interviewed by Jamie Russell

“My aspiration was to make Heat, but set in Britain ”

Matthew Vaughn never intended to be a director. The 33-year-old started his career as a producer with thriller The Innocent Sleep, starring Michael Gambon and Rupert Graves. He made his name on Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels and its follow-up Snatch. As the cash and plaudits piled in, he went on to produce Mean Machine and Mr/Mrs Ritchie's ill-fated flop Swept Away. Now, though, he's switched careers, making his directorial debut with Layer Cake, a cracking London-set crime movie starring Daniel Craig.

It was a chance meeting that got you involved with Layer Cake. Could you tell us a bit about it?

It was real serendipity. I met novelist JJ Connolly [who adapted his novel for the film] on a train to Belgium. This was about four years ago. It was literally the day before watching the England vs Germany match. It was really odd because I'd been told about this book that someone thought would make a really great movie, but I hadn't received it yet. So we're sitting on this train and I meet this guy who tells me he's a novelist. He turns out to be JJ Connolly and he tells me about this book of his called Layer Cake. I knew I'd heard the name somewhere, but I couldn't remember where. We got on really well and I told him to send me a copy of it when I got back. The day I got back it was waiting for me, but he hadn't sent it. It was the copy that my friend had promised me! What are the odds of that? You'd have more chance of winning the lottery!

You surrounded yourself with great actors for the shoot...

As a director, I cast actors who could act. I didn't have to draw performances out of anybody. It wasn't like I had to do a lot of work with them. There was one day where I had problems with an actor and it was enough to let me know that I was able to deal with that side of things if I needed to.

Daniel Craig's been making quite a name for himself. What is it you like about him? Is it his "ugly handsome" look?

Yes, he's definitely got that look. I think he's the British Steve McQueen. Not conventionally handsome but still handsome. Great eyes too - they're just like lasers beaming straight through you. And he's a brilliant actor. Which sounds ridiculous but so many times you see movie stars who just can't act. Some of the reviews are saying that Daniel's a hot new discovery - but that guy's done so many films, so much television and so much theatre that he's really learnt his craft. He's an expert at it. It's weird for Daniel because everyone who sees the film is telling him that this could be his breakout performance, the one that makes him a star. If it somehow doesn't, the studio's likely to think it's just not meant to be, which would be terrible. I hope it puts Daniel up in the stratosphere!

It's an interesting character for him to play, isn't it? This man with no name...

In the book he's just anonymous. But in the script it's really weird. We didn't want to give him a name, but you have to call him something in the script, so he became "XXXX". The last line of the book is the last line of the movie. The studio wanted to cut it, but I told them it was really important. The fact that he doesn't have a name is what makes him so different. He's Clint Eastwood, riding in on a horse, he doesn't give anything away. He's a chameleon.

Layer Cake's been described as a crime movie, not a gangster movie. Is that subtle difference important?

Oh yes, very much so! The problem is that every gangster film's been full of all this gore-blimey-cockney-mate-I'm-a-*******-hard-guy nonsense and that's what Layer Cake isn't. Lots of people in the test screenings complained that the drug dealers in the movie were middle class. But that's how life is! The idea that every drug dealer is a cockney or a scouser is just a cliché. My aspiration was to make Heat, but set in Britain. That was the goal.

After Lock, Stock... and Snatch you must have a real knowledge of gangsters...

Yeah, we certainly had lots of real life gangsters in those movies. What I took from meeting them was that they were all the most charming, well-mannered guys. While they didn't necessarily always do things by the book, I was always so impressed with them as people.

There are lots of stories about the mafia trying to muscle in on Hollywood productions. Have you ever experienced anything similar?

It's never happened to me. I'm as conservative as they come. They were probably hoping to meet a producer who'd be a bit like [adopts cockney accent] "Alright, I need a bit more money and I'll take it from anywhere". I was very careful to be polite to these guys but not get too involved with them. I mean, it's hard enough taking money from a film studio without getting mixed up in that kind of stuff! There was a moment on Lock, Stock... - when it collapsed after we ran out of finance - when I had a few weird meetings with some guys I was put in touch with. They were offering to put some money up front. But I turned them down because I realised: "If this film doesn't work, I'm probably going to end up at the bottom of the Thames..."