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Layer Cake - I wanted the violence to be realistic, because I think Lock, Stock and Snatch did a kind of cartoon aspect to it



Feature by: Jack Foley

WHEN Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels director, Guy Ritchie, passed up on the opportunity of making new British gangster flick, Layer Cake, it seemed like an opportunity that was too good to resist for producer, Matthew Vaughn.

Having read and enjoyed JJ Connolly's complex crime novel, Vaughn finally had the chance to realise a long-held ambition and get behind the camera for a change.

"The only daunting thing was making the decision to direct, and thinking am I ready to bare myself to the world?" he explained, at a recent London press conference for the film.

"But when Guy decided not to direct it, the idea of handing it over to somebody else didn't really add up in my mind. I thought, they'd probably screw it up, so I'd rather screw it up myself."

The film that results is far better than anyone would have dared to initially predict, given that it strives to get away from the flashy jump-editing and cartoon-like violence of the Lock, Stock movies, in favour of something more character-driven and cinematic.

Indeed, far from taking Guy Ritchie as his source of inspiration, Vaughn decided to look further afield, at directors such as Michael Mann and Brian De Palma to achieve the sort of feel he was seeking.

"Visually, Brian De Palma moves the camera in a very, very beautiful manner, and I think Mann makes sure of the lighting; I mean, LA is probably one of the ugliest cities in the world, and Heat made LA look beautiful.

"So I thought we should be able to beat the look of Heat, because we've got London, and it's such a beautiful city, so let's photograph it in a way that it deserves.

"So, stylistically, they were the two biggest influences, and I also think they understand the balance between style over content, whereas I think other film-makers go more for being stylish and forget to tell the story first and then underpin it."

Ensuring that this balance was found was something that was key to securing the talents of his excellent cast, most notably Daniel Craig, who plays the nameless central character, and who Vaughn knew instantly was the perfect choice.

"I actually liked the idea of him for Snatch, but Daniel's the sort of actor, I've never seen give a bad performance, which, as a director, is quite a promising start," he explained.

"And Daniel had... it's a very brave actor who is prepared to do what looks like nothing on screen.

"There are times when everyone else is being quite colourful around you, and there are some actors who think, 'screw this', and start showing off, and Daniel didn't - well not on camera. And that worked.

"When I met him, I just knew he would be perfect for the role. It's an instinctive thing, when you meet someone; I've always known, as a producer and director, probably within the first 30 seconds of meeting someone, whether they have got the part.

"Normally, when you get them to read, it's just a confirmation, and Daniel didn't even have to read for it."

For Craig, the role represents the opportunity to reach out to a wider audience as a leading man, especially in light of his strong support turns in films such as Road To Perdition (as Paul Newman's son) and, to a lesser extent, Tomb Raider.

And he has been earning rave reviews as a result.

Asked whether he preferred working on 'small' films such as Layer Cake, in Britain, to bigger movies, such as Tomb Raider, in America, Craig replied by stating that he always uses the same criteria when deciding on anything.

"I prefer working on good jobs. That's the only criteria I have.

"I mean, yes, my heart's here, I do feel that I'm connected with not only the UK, but Europe and European film-making, because there's a true independent spirit. It's usually because of the lack of money but you do have more choices.

"But a job's a job and I would take a job in America for the same reason that I would take a job here.

"If I read the script and I like it, and I like the director, then there's no argument."

While both Craig and Vaughn are justifiably proud of Layer Cake, and the acclaim it has subsequently received, they have also been taken by surprise at some of the reactions to it.

The cool vibe surrounding some of its characters, for instance, wasn't something they initially set out to achieve, while the violence was never intended to be a talking point.

Tackling the first point, in particular, Vaughn stated: "This whole notion that Daniel is trying to be cool doesn't really fit.

"You are what you are, and if people find that is cool, then it's just a perception and nothing else. If you make a film thinking, 'I'm going to make a cool film', then you're not.

"But if people are kind enough to be calling it cool, then thank you, but that wasn't the aim."

Craig agrees, adding: "We discussed the look, and what I was wearing was very important, but we wanted to try and keep it as subtle as possible.

"I mean, the fact that I had a couple of very nice suits made and was wearing very nice shirts, as soon as you put stuff like that on, you tend to hold yourself differently. But I didn't go out to make him cool. If he is, then that's a by-product."

As for the violence, which includes a particularly savage beating to the strains of Duran Duran's Ordinary World, and a rather horrifying death by iron, Vaughn maintains that it is in keeping with the tone of the movie, and isn't designed to trigger any copycat reactions.

"I wanted the violence to be realistic, because I think Lock, Stock and Snatch did a kind of cartoon aspect to it, where it was there but it was, dare I say it, fun.

"I wanted this to have more of a conscience, and for it to fit in with the movie and, again, be part of the story, not a talking point.

"Obviously it is, but I don't think this is the sort of film that kids will watch thinking 'oh, violence is cool, let's get an iron on a chest' - at least I hope that doesn't happen - but I think other films glamourise it in a way which does maybe bring about bad reactions or results.

"It was a conscious decision not to make a gory film, and we've got the 15 certificate as well, which is a new feeling for me."

One feeling that Vaughn is hoping to get more used to, however, is the sense of satisfaction and enjoyment that comes from directing.

And he hopes that the success of Layer Cake will pave the way for future projects.

"I thoroughly enjoyed it. It's a stepping stone in terms of the films I want to make, which are big-action, proper movies. So, hopefully, this is just the beginning."

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