I couldn’t possibly comment
He may be keeping silent on whether he’ll play Christian Grey for his director wife, but Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s performance in Kick-Ass 2 will get everyone talking, says Jeff Dawson
(from The Sunday Times 28/7/13)
For someone who won rave reviews playing the brittle young John Lennon, Aaron Taylor-Johnson catches you unawares. In he saunters, beefed-up, thick-necked, with vein-popping forearms and a haircut one buzz shy of a No 1. He’s currently playing a US Navy lieutenant, he explains, spraying lead at Godzilla in the $100m-plus, 3D, all-destructive remake of the Japanese monster stomp due to hit the multiplexes next May.
Taylor-Johnson is an actor with a penchant for maverick, indie roles, so one assumes his involvement marks a new, dark, postmodern spin on the reptilian legend. It’s not your typical brainless summer blockbuster, he insists. “But obviously it’s got special effects, right. It’s a big monster movie. It really is trying to keep the original kind of feel.” Plus, there’s gunplay and stunt work. “One of the perks of the job.” If, as Lennon claimed, Elvis died when he joined the army, you can forgive the King an ironic and spectral chuckle.
Taylor-Johnson is a friendly enough chap, softly spoken, a tad on the serious side. A bit spaced-out, too, he apologises, having zipped back to London on a few days’ break from filming in Vancouver. He has two young children who are entirely unsympathetic to jet lag. “With kids, you’re up,” he sighs — the first glimpse into a private life that has grabbed more headlines than his professional one of late.
Nipping home has afforded him the opportunity to get his first peek at Kick-Ass 2, a film that, in spirit, seems diametrically opposed to the piece of blockbuster work he’s currently engaged in. The original Kick-Ass (2010) trampled all over the whole post-9/11 superhero/disaster genre like a man in a rubber lizard suit. To recap, Aaron Taylor-Johnson — or just plain Aaron Johnson as he was then — starred as Dave Lizewski, a teen nerd blessed with no superpowers whatsoever, who became an accidental caped crusader. Though the film is set in the familiar milieu of an American high school, the team of Brits behind it (the director Matthew Vaughn and screenwriter Jane Goldman, adapting the comic book by Mark Millar) lent proceedings a humorous, off-kilter sensibility — a little too off-kilter for the big studios, who balked at financing it, thanks to its gleeful embrace of violence and profanity. “I remember Matthew, at one point, said, ‘This could be one of the most expensive home movies ever made.’ ”
But, $96m at the box office later, and here we are: a sequel, something that was never actually in the blueprint. “We all backed away from doing it for quite a long time, Matthew included. He felt he had a cult film that stands alone.” The problem with most franchises, he adds, is that the next instalment is rushed out while the previous one is still on DVD. “Whereas this one,” he points out, “had four years for it to build up enough appreciation.”
And perhaps the howls of indignation levelled at the vigilante character Hit-Girl, played by Chloë Grace Moretz — 11 years old when filming began — both in terms of her screen-death yield and her preternatural potty mouth, will not be repeated. This time round, her character is training up Dave to be her fully fledged sidekick — “like Batman and Robin” — socking it to the supervillain Red Mist, reinvented as the Mother F***** (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), whose evil-o-meter has ratcheted up since the first outing.
If there’s a different director (Jeff Wadlow) and the not insignificant finger of Universal Pictures to punch in the financial Pin number, be assured, says Taylor-Johnson, part two does not pull its punches. “I’ve just seen it. It’s so violent.”
Apparently so, for in the finest Kick-Ass tradition, there is fresh controversy. Jim Carrey — who plays a Captain America-ish avenger named Colonel Stars and Stripes — recently disassociated himself from the project, stating that he regrets his participation in it in the light of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre. “My apologies to others involve [sic] with the film,” he tweeted. “I am not ashamed of it, but recent events have caused a change in my heart.”
Taylor-Johnson has nothing but good to say about Carrey. “What he brought to it is what Nicolas Cage brought to the first one: that kooky, odd humour, that darkness. He does the job brilliantly.” Whether Carrey’s remarks will hurt the film or, perversely, put more bums on seats, remains to be seen.
For Taylor-Johnson, who is only just 23, a lot has happened since the first Kick-Ass. There have been some big roles in some pretty big movies — the bouffant Count Vronsky opposite Keira Knightley’s Anna Karenina (“I play the typical blond”), a hippie marijuana cultivator in Oliver Stone’s Savages (“super-challenging”), not to mention his tour de force as the schoolboy John Winston Lennon in Nowhere Boy.
That film has a special significance for him, obviously. It’s the one on which he met his now wife, Sam Taylor-Wood, the visual artist/photographer turned director. Their union is still causing something of a stir, she being literally twice his age and with two children, one a teenager, from a previous marriage (they have since added two nippers of their own). He, on first impression, seems something of an old soul; she, by various accounts, comes in on the youthful end of the cougar spectrum, putting their virtual, collision-path age, you imagine, somewhere in the early thirties.
Was there a symbiosis between life and art, I venture? Nowhere Boy, after all, was about a young man (Lennon) seeking love — besotted, moreover, with an older woman, his estranged birth mother, Julia. “Maybe, yeah, in retrospect, you can look at that and see it as that, for sure,” he muses. “It’s funny, I always think that with jobs, weirdly, you’re picking something you relate to in some respect. You embody that person, you live it, and you’ll start to see resemblances in both your worlds.”
Did his agent complain when he changed his name (he adopted her Taylor, she ditched her Wood for his Johnson)? What follows is a lengthy, meditative, soul-searching and actually rather sweet answer to what was only intended as a quip — all about his new stepdaughters and wanting to solidify the family and, anyway, why should the woman automatically be expected to adopt the man’s name? But as for film credits, industry profile and all that jazz... “I’m quite happy I can wipe all that shit away,” he laughs. “I don’t hold onto things, attachment-wise.”
Days after our interview, Mrs Taylor-Johnson makes news for herself with the announcement that she has landed the big one: anointed director of the big-screen version of EL James’s mummy-porn sensation, Fifty Shades of Grey. Inevitably, this news has led to speculation, as well as assertions from well-placed sources, that her hubby (along with every other young actor stud in Hollywood) will trouser up, or rather trouser down, as the story’s caddish woodsman, Christian Grey.
Officially, the film is nowhere near the casting stage. As yet, there’s not even a script. “He’s not pursuing the part and is not going to work this fall,” comes the brusque smackdown from his theatrical agency, William +Morris Endeavor, accompanied by an avowal from his publicist that “Aaron will be a supportive husband and father while Sam shoots her film”. But don’t expect his name to disappear as a rider in the media’s casting sweepstakes.
Taylor-Johnson’s path into acting was not typical. He hails from leafy High Wycombe, Bucks, with no showbiz genes in the family. He enjoyed acting as a hobby. “I was so manic at home, it was another activity I did after school to wear me out.” Dance and gymnastics became his thing. “I actually prefer movement to words,” he adds. “I struggle to find words for the way I feel.”
I’d read that he had an Ezekiel-like epiphany while watching Pulp Fiction, aged four — which, if nothing else, demonstrates a somewhat lax attitude on the part of his guardians towards the BBFC’s ratings system. “It came out when I was four,” he corrects (which only serves to make one feel old). Some mental arithmetic results in his recalculation that he was actually a more mature eight when he got round to catching it. “I remember seeing it with my sister,” he chuckles. “I was definitely very young, reciting lines from it.” But still.
Taylor-Johnson waxes lyrical about John Travolta, with whom he eventually got to work on Savages, a film about the two subjects dearest to Oliver Stone’s heart: drugs and war (albeit of the Tejano gang variety). I have met Stone. He’s bonkers, isn’t he? Taylor-Johnson smiles. “That’s an understatement.” He rates “people who are ambitious and bold and willing to take risks”, including Joe Wright, whose highly theatrical Anna Karenina divided critics. “If you’re not pushing boundaries, what’s the point?”
He later went to stage school and did commercials for clients such as McDonald’s and Persil, followed by assorted television gigs. His big break came as a teen heart-throb in Gurinder Chadha’s Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging, the director’s follow-up to Bride & Prejudice and Bend It Like Beckham, though unfortunately not curled with quite the same accuracy.
He became a bit fed up with the parts he was offered in its wake. “These One Direction-type kids — Kick-Ass came out of that role because I wanted to be the complete opposite. You know, a bit rashy and spotty” (as he gets when he shaves, he says, bless him). Among other young bucks, there was the cyber-bully of Chatroom and the bit-of-rough Irishman in Albert Nobbs, Glenn Close’s Edwardian cross-dressing drama. By the time John Lennon came twisting and shouting, though, it was bye-bye boyband, hey-hey rock’n’roll.
The preparation period was frantic. “I was learning how to play guitar during my lunch breaks while doing Kick-Ass.” But he pulled it off magnificently, earning stamps of approval from both Yoko Ono and Paul McCartney. The new cool status even got him picked as one of the new faces of Prada. Interestingly, though, no job has yet come close to bringing him the attention he still gets from the music video for REM’s Uberlin (more than 3m hits on YouTube), filmed by his wife, which has him performing an improvised dance down a London backstreet, something that was meant to have been hoofed by his “good friend” Michael Stipe, until he went all bashful. “He said, ‘Get Aaron to do it.’ ”
So, will he and Sam work together again? “Yeah, yeah, I mean, there’s a film called A Reliable Wife [from Robert Goolrick’s bestseller]. She’s in the process of casting that. And there are possibilities and other projects we are thinking of doing together. That would be my ideal.” Anything specific? He checks himself. “Not that I can talk about.” If Fifty Shades of Grey is among them, we shall have to wait and see.
Kick-Ass 2 opens on Aug 14
Kick-Ass 2 opens on Aug 14