Colin Firth on delivering the “pure escapism” we used to get from James Bond

The Kingsman: The Secret Service actor on the spy thrillers that shaped his imagination and why he's an unlikely choice for punching, fighting secret agent Harry Hart

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Colin Firth’s preferred way of doing interviews these days is to be paired up with a co-star or director. It helps deflect some of the attention, avoids too much personal probing and ensures that the current project is the focus of enquiry.

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Today his cohort is the acclaimed British director Matthew Vaughn (Stardust, Kick-Ass, X-Men: First Class), the location is Claridge’s hotel in London’s Mayfair and our chosen topic is Kingsman: The Secret Service, an action film that pits gentleman spy Harry Hart (Firth) and his working-class trainee “Eggsy” Unwin (Taron Egerton) against potential world dominator Richmond Valentine (Samuel L Jackson).

Kingsman is a supercharged adventure that is both homage to the great British tradition of spy thrillers and an attempt to fill the gap that Vaughn believes opened up when James Bond became more reflective, vulnerable and serious.

At the premiere, Mark Millar, author of the comic-book series on which the film was based, said: “When I was a kid I watched James Bond and really wanted to be him. Now you watch James Bond and he’s crying in the shower.”

As Millar embarked on his book at Vaughn’s instigation (Millar also wrote the graphic novel Kick-Ass), this seems to have been the idea behind the idea. “I could bore you to death with this because I did a lot of research before I wrote the script,” Vaughan explains.

“Traditionally, Bond movies reflected box-office success in other genres. Star Wars led to Moonraker. The Bourne Identity led to Pierce Brosnan being thrown off and in came Daniel Craig to do the Bourne version of Bond. I think the Bonds are great and Daniel is great, but you don’t come out of Bond movies with a smile on your face like you did when we were kids.” 

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Firth agrees but is more measured in his response. “The idea that the hero is soul-searching and has a trauma in his childhood probably interests people, but at the same time I think they miss that deeply unruffleable world of pure escapism that appeals to our fantasies. Matthew references the stuff we grew up with where there was playfulness, perhaps a hint of camp and certainly irony. It was a space where we could just abandon ourselves to playful improbability.”