Matthew Vaughn, producer of Guy Ritchie’s first three movies, is young, rich, successful and married to Claudia Schiffer.
No wonder some people are waiting for him to fall flat on his face with his directing debut “Layer Cake.”
But his ill-wishers will be disappointed. Although Vaughn, who in person is disarmingly without airs, hadn’t even looked down a camera before the first day of shooting, “Layer Cake” is several cuts above your average Britflick.
A twisty London crime thriller about a drug-dealer (Daniel Craig) trying to escape from the underworld, it has enough class and ambition to woo the critics, and enough sex, violence and ’80s music to go down nicely with a vat of popcorn on a Friday night.
Sony, which bankrolled the $7 million movie under its old deal with Vaughn and Ritchie’s SKA Films, certainly thinks so. It’s putting $3.6 million behind the U.K. release in October, and has offered Vaughn a first-look deal as a director and producer through his new company MARV.
“Layer Cake” was originally developed for Ritchie, as a return to his gangster roots after the disaster of “Swept Away.” But when Ritchie had second thoughts, Vaughn, bored of producing, saw his chance to direct.
Assuming that Sony would say no, he rallied some of his investors from “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.” He did the storyboards, found the locations, picked half the cast — and then realized that he had never actually asked Sony to pass. The studio promptly greenlit the movie.
“I was in the most awkward situation where I had raised the money twice,” Vaughn says. “Back then I would have preferred to go with my investors. The thing that gave Guy the biggest advantage with ‘Lock, Stock’ was that he didn’t have a studio telling him what to do. I thought, if I fuck up, I would prefer it to be my fuck-up.”
But as it turned out, Sony gave him all the rope he wanted. He even sneaked in one big surprise — an unhappy ending that wasn’t in the script, the shooting schedule or even the rushes. Sony execs only found out in the first rough cut.
Vaughn also won the argument to retain the deliberately convoluted plotting of the pic’s second act. “I made a promise to the writer not to dumb it down,” he says. The result is an intense, personal movie, loaded with angst and dread, totally unlike Ritchie’s flashy cartoon capers.
There’s no U.S. date yet, but Vaughn would be happy with a modest Sony Classics release. “I’m convinced there will be enough profit from Europe, Australia and particularly Japan that you could lose it all on a big American release,” he says.
With he and Ritchie going their separate ways for now, “Layer Cake” will push Vaughn into the spotlight. It’s not a prospect he relishes, wary of becoming tabloid fodder.
“I always tried to keep my head down,” he says. “But now I’ve put a fucking big target in the middle of my forehead. I said to Sony I didn’t want to do press, but they said, Matthew, if you were the producer of a director who said that, what would you say?”
He’s already had one painful experience a couple of years back, when a newspaper revealed that his father was not the actor Robert Vaughn, as he had grown up believing, but the English aristo George De Vere Drummond. He has now taken his real father’s name, but professionally he remains Vaughn — “it took me long enough to get people to return my calls to change it now.” The name MARV (his old initials) memorializes that previous identity.
So what’s next? “I haven’t got a clue,” he confesses. Sony is dangling a deal, but his investors are still in the wings. He’d like to build a company, but first wants to continue his apprenticeship as a director. He has looked at 70 projects, but nothing has sparked. One thing’s for certain: After “Layer Cake,” Vaughn isn’t short of options.