Sequels and the Secret Service: An Interview with Jane Goldman

Kingsman: The Golden Circle

Tucked away in Ham Yard Hotel, two minutes away from the hustle and bustle of Piccadilly Circus, a somewhat secret agency is hard at work promoting the latest action spy film — Kingsman: The Golden Circle. This sequel sees hero Gary ‘Egsy’ Unwin working internationally with American group The Statesman to bring down a criminal mastermind.

The woman responsible for bringing Egsy back to the big screen is the incomparable Jane Goldman, famed for her work on such films as X-Men: First Class and Stardust. The Nopebook were lucky enough to sit down with her to talk about this next chapter of the comic book series turned successful film.

Goldman is exactly as amazing as you’d imagine. Radiating a friendly smile, with soft pink curls and adorned in rocker clothing (a rock star, indeed, in the writing world), Jane Goldman is perhaps one of the most creative and delightful people I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting. After offering each other many different seats, a polite British custom, we sat down to talk about her latest film.

“It was really exciting to go back into it. It was a blank slate too; this film isn’t based on any source material so we could go wild and let our imaginations go free.”

Fresh off the divisive yet successful Victorian murder mystery The Limehouse Golem (which was an incredible film that I whole heartedly loved and have no shame in telling her so), Goldman is excited about bringing another chapter to the Kingsman story.

“This is my first ever sequel I’ve worked on,” she says, regarding her acclaimed work. Though other films she has worked on with director Matthew Vaughn have had sequels, such as Kick-Ass 2 and the X-Men Series, Goldman hasn’t been attached to write. For Goldman, continuing on from the vastly successful first outing of The Secret Service is certainly thrilling. “I got so attached to Egsy and the other characters, so it was really exciting to go back into it. It was a blank slate too; this film isn’t based on any source material so we could go wild and let our imaginations go free.”

For her first sequel, Goldman really revs up the action. In fact, in the first twenty minutes, she and Vaughn blow up a hefty portion of the Kingman agency. “I feel what makes Kingsman ‘Kingsman’ is the unexpected,” she insists, which is true. After all, in the first outing they kill off Colin Firth’s character Harry Hart with a shocking and seemingly fatal headshot. “The things that happen in the Kingsman story are unexpected, which is why I was interested in doing it. We also wanted a reason to branch out and meet other characters. But it was still quite upsetting to write.”

“We didn’t want it to be flippant and we wanted to show that Firth’s death had impact, instead of ‘oh no, actually he is fine.’ It was important to us that it would become part of the story.”

Even those ardent in keeping the world of The Golden Circle secret until first watch will know that Firth and his character Hart are returning. “We wrestled a long time on how best to do it. We didn’t want it to be flippant and we wanted to show that his death had impact, instead of ‘oh no, actually he is fine.’ It was important to us that it would become part of the story. We hadn’t actually planned on doing a sequel, otherwise we wouldn’t have painted ourselves into that corner,” Goldman laughs.

Colin Firth in Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014)

Colin Firth in Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014)

There was a lot of debate on whether or not they should reveal Harry’s return, with herself and Vaughn arguing they wanted it to be a surprise. “We thought it would’ve been more fun if the audience didn’t know he was coming back, seeing it through Egsy’s eyes. But I think the marketing department felt it was more important to have Colin promoting it. And I can see why.”

True, whilst the idea of it being a secret is tantalising, knowing Firth was returning has hyped people up for the sequel. “And hopefully finding out his story would be encouraging,” Goldman says, especially as Hart is a completely new character following the trauma. “It’s interesting to have that impact and gravity.”

“Taking warmth, nurturing, and a motherly nature and turning it into intimidation and making a scary villain… they’re traits you associate with something safe and I hope that throws you off balance.”

The new adversary the Kingsman come face to face with is Julianne Moore’s deluded Poppy, a drug-lord with a a scheme to enslave the entire world. Goldman has had a history of bringing female villains to the big screen, such as Giselle in The Secret Service and Lamia in Stardust. “I don’t think there is a different approach to female villains than male ones, avoiding gender stereotypes,” Goldman says about fleshing out Poppy and her world. “You know, in some weird ways, I think for Poppy the female villain stereotypes are more intimidating than if she were aggressive or good at fighting. I think it’s possible to command loads of people and rule with fear but have stereotypically female traits.”

Poppy is certainly menacing. In her first scene, she orders one of her newest employees to mince a man which she rewards by cooking him a meal from the meat. All the while having a wholesome and pleasant smile. “That seemed fun to me. Taking warmth, nurturing, and a motherly nature and turning it into intimidation and making a scary villain.”

It is certainly more terrifying.

“They’re traits you associate with something safe and I hope that throws you off balance,” Jane muses on her masterful villain. “She is clearly a formidable character and it was exciting to explore doing that, rather than the usual icy cold ways of villains.”

Julienne Moore in Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017)

Julianne Moore in Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017)

Having an Academy award winner bringing Poppy to life must’ve been fantastic. “I adore Julianne Moore. We were so so so lucky to get her, and I’m still pinching myself. I wanted to work with her for a while and I adore her.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle is yet another project of Goldman’s with director/screenwriter Matthew Vaughn, and it has become a happy relationship. “It’s been almost 12 years since we first met and we now have this short hand. He is one of my dearest friends and someone I am so comfortable with him.”  With so many films they partnered on, there must have been a favourite but Goldman insists it is impossible to pick. “I have a soft-spot for X-Men: First Class but I loved working on Kick-Ass. I was there every day on set and the cast were just lovely.”

“There’s a side to me that is into extremely absurdist humour and action. But I love things that are creepy; psychological horror or straight up horror and gore.”

Goldman’s filmography is an intriguing mix of films. One side, she dabbles in comic book movies such as Kick-Ass and Kingsman, on the other, she explores the more macabre and gothic such as The Woman in Black and Miss Peregrine’s Home of Peculiar Children. “I don’t have a favourite, I really love doing them both,” the writer says with clear passion for these genres. “I mean, I definitely have a side to me that is into extremely absurdist humour and action. But I love things that are creepy; psychological horror or straight up horror and gore. I think it is just different sides to me.”

Her work has revolved largely around male protagonists, such as Egsy, and Goldman mentions how much she enjoys looking at films from a male perspective. “They are other to me and, in some way, exploring characters who are different to me has a type of appeal.”  To have a woman write these characters must have an importance, and Goldman believes that equality is the way forward. “It is important in any industry to have an equal balance of men and woman and eventually we’ll get there.”

The talk turns to her history of screenwriting, a career that started on television with Baddiel’s Syndrome and on the big screen with Neil Gaiman adaptation Stardust.

“It’s really about giving someone a chance to see your work. There is always a demand for someone who has an ability.”

“Getting into screenwriting is very similar to any skill based industry, like professional sport or industry or action,” Goldman says, speaking of her career and imparting tips on how anyone, especially woman, could follow her path. “It’s really about giving someone a chance to see your work. There is always a demand for someone who has an ability. Screenwriting competitions are really useful because people who are judging are part of the industry. Plus it’s a good thing to contact an agent with ‘I just won this competition, do you want to represent me?’  It’s a good thing that showcases your work and gets it out there. That’s probably the best way.”

Jane herself started off in journalism, working for a multitude of magazines including Total Guitar, Game Zone, and The Times. Screenwriting would follow, but it wasn’t the aim of the Hugo Award winning writer. “I had actually vowed to avoid screenwriting,” she says, speaking of horrific experiences friends have told her. “They were miserable, having spent so long working on projects that never got made or wound up having their work torn apart, just not having a good experience. And I thought that wasn’t for me.”

How come?

“I’m all about the easy life. I mean, not that I’m lazy, but to me, the most important thing is waking up and looking forward to doing what you do. I always just followed whatever I thought was a pleasurable way to work. I never thought I’d get paid for doing what I love. It was the same for journalism. I worked on computer game magazines and guitar magazines, things that I enjoyed. Plus, the idea of having to parade around and do pitches as someone who is shy and anxious didn’t appeal to me,” she laughs, somewhat echoing a sentiment of a lot of writers. “So it all happened a lot later at 35.”

“I can honestly say that this is the happiest I have ever been in a job.”

Goldman is definitely an icon in many respects. Most people believe that if you haven’t broken through the industry by 35 you’d never make it. “God no,” she enthusiastically detracts. “For me, I hadn’t tried but it was nice that it happened that way. I’ve written books, fiction and non-fiction, TV and journalism. I can honestly say that this is the happiest I have ever been in a job.”

You can tell. Goldman has a beaming smile and a gratitude that radiates. As I leave, a skip in my step after meeting a hero of mine, I am thankful that interesting, creative, and lovely people such as Goldman continue to make riveting movies such as Kingsman and the terrific The Limehouse Golem… which I’m off to watch a fourth time.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle is in cinemas 20th September 2017

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