Rhys Ifans And Djimon Hounsou Discuss ‘The King’s Man’ And More

The long-awaited and highly anticipated action prequel, The King’s Man, has finally arrived.

Originally meant to land in theaters in late 2019, writer-director Matthew Vaughn gathered an impressive ensemble cast including Ralph Fiennes, Gemma Arterton, Rhys Ifans, and Djimon Hounsou and to tell the story of the inception of the Kingsmen organization.

I caught up with Ifans and Hounsou for a brief chat about the film, the latest entry into a franchise that has already grossed $835.3 million at the box office.

Simon Thompson: Whenever I talk to anybody in one of Matthew’s movies, they talk about his unique style. I asked Matthew what his unique style is, and he said it was basically not making boring movies. How would you describe his style?

Rhys Ifans: (Laughs) Matthew’s camera grammar is exquisite. How he frames things, his obsession with symmetry and breaking it, is incredible. He has both those things in equal measure. I think he has great classical symmetry, and it’s really present in this movie. A lot of The King’s Man was shot in classical spaces, in vast pieces of baroque architecture, that are crying out to be filmed symmetrically. Matthew’s also got a great sense of the camera’s dynamism and its dizzying kinetic qualities for an audience. As well as having a brain in his head, Matthew seems to have a camera that enables him to almost project what is in his head onto a big screen. He’s innately cinematic. He’s not a streaming director. It’s about big canvases, it’s about landscapes, and it’s about humans interacting within them. It’s operatic in a sense.

Djimon Hounsou: He has a fantastic sense of cinematic language and the way he approaches action scenes. It’s a character in itself to Matthew. He tends to want to exceed and outdo himself with each moment. The previous Kingsman movies were very successful, creatively and commercially, and we hoped that this one would be equally spectacular. Matthew’s got a fantastic sense of vision that we can work with.

Thompson: You inhabit both of your characters exceptionally in entirely different ways. What did you draw on to get you where you needed to be?

Ifans: In many ways, the writers have to serve history. It’s not the other way around. In my case, there was a wealth of material in terms of Rasputin, anecdotal and visual. My entry point for Rasputin was visual. If you look at photographs of Rasputin in the early days of photography, Rasputin seemed to have a sense of what the camera did more than any other player at that time. He seems to look through the lens and into the photographer. They’re compelling images. I think he was very aware of the power of his image beyond his immediate body. There are a wealth of wonderful cartoons from the Russian press and the wider European press at the time, depicting Rasputin as this looming figure, almost this puppet master that was in control of the Russian royal family. The Tsar and the Tsarina were often portrayed as puppets in his hands in this tangling satanic mass that was his beard. All these things feed into your interpretation and then anecdotal stuff, such as the fact that he ate like a dog. 


Thompson: Really?

Ifans: Yeah. People would gather to watch him eat because he wouldn’t use knives and forks. He’d have food in his beard the whole time. He stunk to high heaven, but he was still kind of attractive, hypnotic and, and loomed large over the Russian psyche. He still does. It’s all exciting stuff. When you marry that with Matthew Vaughn and the Kingsman franchise, they seem to be perfect bedfellows. Matthew does let you run with the ball. In my case, as a functionary in the script, Rasputin has to be like this oncoming weather system that is darkening the world of The King’s Men. He’s a weather system that must be extinguished for the story to proceed. That’s entirely what we played off, and sometimes, you got to turn it down to two, sometimes you got to crank it up to 11.

Hounsou: My character, Shola, is a completely different thing. Shola is an interesting person who befriended the Duke of Oxford early on. Obviously, with this organic connection, he followed him to Europe and became an instrumental part in creating the first intelligence agency. The whole thing was a lot of fun, but it came with a degree of pain. There is a specific scene that Rhys and I share, it’s an iconic scene in the film, and that was extremely painful, literally.

Thompson: As a Swansea boy, I couldn’t not ask Rhys about that Twin Town sequel we’ve been promised for so long. What’s happening with that? Can we hurry that up?

Ifans: I know, I know. We’ve had difficulties with it because a studio owns the characters and the story, so it’s because of legalities that we’re not able to enjoy the illegalities of the characters in Twin Town. I’m praying for it. I’m hoping and praying that one day it will emerge again. 

The King’s Man is in theaters now.

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