New name, new life, new physique – Aaron Taylor-Johnson isn’t the kid we met in Kick-Ass. Ahead of the sequel, Lee Coan talks fatherhood and fighting with a reborn actor
The Kick-Ass 2 comic is a violent thing. There is torture and people murdered for fun, a dog is beheaded, a key character strung up, beaten and hanged. As I sit waiting to talk to Aaron Taylor-Johnson on the set of its big-screen adaptation, I can see buckets of fake blood, saws, rope, axes, bats with spikes on them. They seem ready for absolute brutality. Most worryingly, to my left is a blood-stained dog cage minus a dog. A collar lies on the floor below a photo of the man I wait to interview. God, they couldn’t. They wouldn’t. They shouldn’t. Where’s the superhero branch of the RSPCA when you need them?
“Mr Taylor-Johnson is on his way,” I’m told as an extra clutching a mace is ushered away. At this point, the film is two-thirds done, in six months’ time one of its stars will dissociate himself from the film due to its carnage and, to some extent, the Sandy Hook shooting.
“In all good conscience I cannot support that level of violence,” Jim Carrey will announce via Twitter.
“Sh*t’s brutal man,” adds fellow star Christopher Mintz-Plasse when we speak.
“It’s definitely darker than the first film,” Chloë Grace Moretz, AKA Hit-Girl, chips in.
There can only really be one opening question for Aaron Taylor-Johnson, who suddenly is being ushered toward us in his infamous green onesie, fresh from a fight, mask in hand, sweat on brow. Before anything else, please tell us that nobody actually beheads a real-life dog in this film…
NO DOGS DIE
“Sh*t, no,” he says, “but you can play on those sort of things. We touch on it. The comic is brutal, and the movie is very, very close to the comic this time. Having said that, I remember reading some kiddy-killing stuff, and that’s gone. We can’t do that. And then, there’s the bit where the dog gets his head cut off. We get around it – nobody wants to see that sh*t at the cinema.”
By getting around it, Taylor-Johnson means the dog-killing supervillain (Mother Russia) asks Mintz-Plasse’s character (The Motherf*cker) if he wants her to “do” the pooch. He responds by saying, “God, no. I’m not that f*cked up,” before ordering the beheading of a man instead. It’s funny, it’s dark, it’s very Kick-Ass.
“Man, it is dark,” Taylor-Johnson laughs. “Legs, heads, body parts come off and sh*t. You've been here, seen some of the action, the violence. It’s f*cking violent. But it’s important in making this movie feel real, and that’s the point of Kick Ass, isn’t it? If you decide to become a superhero, you are going to get stabbed and it is going to be horrible. When you get stabbed in this movie, you don’t get back up, pull the knife out and fight like in other superhero movies. You go to hospital, there’s a good chance you will die. Then once you are dead, you don’t come back. That’s it. Game over.”
Taylor-Johnson has a good point. There is no glorification here, and it would be a shame if the violence, and some of the more twisted plot points, start to overshadow everything that is so good about it, much in the way Hit-Girl dropping the C-bomb dominated everything surrounding the first film. “The swearing was such a big thing first time round,” says Taylor-Johnson, “sometimes I worry that this time people are going to spend the film going, ‘Come on, when is she going to say c*nt again?’ There is a little surprise in there regarding all that, but hopefully there’s so much packed into this film that people are not going to come out of the cinema going, ‘I just wish she’d said c*nt,’”
As well as hoping that audiences look beyond the comic expletives, Taylor-Johnson also hopes they watch the film through less nefarious means. “I just hope people really like the movie, and actually go to watch it this time,” he adds. “The first one became this kind of cult thing, it did all right at the box office, but, largely, people just illegally downloaded it. Hopefully those people enjoyed it enough that they’ll go to a cinema and pay actual money to watch it this time round.”
The frantic nature of the day’s shoot means that, without warning, Taylor-Johnson is suddenly taken away from me almost as quickly as he arrived. Moretz’s stunt double has been injured, so instead they have to shoot something involving Taylor-Johnson punching Mintz-Plasse in front of a dead shark (nicknamed “Thatcher” by the crew). Obviously.
“Chloë’s stunt double split her head completely apart,” says Taylor-Johnson after returning hours later. “Flew across a room, smashed herself into a cocktail bar. Man, she hit her head and just collapsed. Blood everywhere, but I hear she’s going to be OK. Knowing Chloë, I am sure she would have wanted to do the scene herself without a double. And they encourage you to do as much as possible because they don't want to have to use the back of someone’s head. She’s like me – ‘f*ck it, please throw me through a glass table’ – but this just shows you that you have to be careful sometimes or the whole shoot can get held back for weeks.”
As he speaks, the top half of Taylor-Johnson’s Kick-Ass suit is off. It is ridiculous how buff he has become. The once scraggly boy has pecs, neck muscles, guns that could open even the most stubborn of jars. “In the comic, Dave stays a scrawny dude,” Taylor-Johnson says, “but then Hit-Girl starts the training and he decides if he's going to do this, he had better do it properly. If there is a third movie, I’ll be the size of Tom Hardy. They’re gonna make me into a gorilla, mate.”
On screen, there is a Rocky-punching-meat-style montage to deal with all this, but off it Taylor-Johnson has used jujitsu to get into this shape. “I don’t think fighting comes naturally to me. I love the fight scenes – who wouldn’t? – but I have needed this great stunt team behind me, who have made me into this fighter. I boxed, but jujitsu was my big thing. That is one thing from this experience that’ll hopefully stay with me forever – I’m totally hooked on that now. It’s a really interesting sport.”
On top of the psychical transformation we have seen in Taylor-Johnson since the first film, the 23-year-old has got married, changed his name, had two children, starred as a drug dealer in an Oliver Stone film (last year’s Savages) and played a 19th-century Russian count (in Anna Karenina). Off screen as much as on it, he’s coming of age and branching out.
“Yeah, I definitely have a new outlook on life,” he says. “Kids, family, it changes everything because you just want to be at home with them. I’ve slowed down a lot more and taken a look at my options. It’s been better for my career because I turn things down more, and really look at the few roles I take on. I only do things that are really, really worth doing, because they have to be to get me away from my kids.”
Taylor-Johnson says that as his career has got bigger, he has tried to keep his life as normal as possible, because “people come and pick you up in cars, they get you rooms in amazing hotels, they make you look and feel good, that’s their job. Then there are these other people who are just there to tell you that you’re great all the time. It is easy to start to believe it. You need that grounding, and for me that’s my family.”
I ask him how hard it is to achieve a normal family life as his Hollywood stock rises. “If you want all that you can still have it,” he says. “My day-to-day thing is getting up, having breakfast with my kids, the school run, then the nursery run, and then Tumble Tots. It’s not what most men my age do, let alone actors, but I really don’t give a sh*t about those people. It’s what I love doing, and how I want to live my life. I want to enjoy spending time with my kids. I don’t really go out and socialise with anyone else other than my little group. It’s all there for me, everything I need. I much prefer being in our little bubble than any other kind of life I could be living.”
As people with ear-pieces flock around suggesting that our time appears to be coming to an end, it’s obvious why Taylor-Johnson is such hot property right now (Godzilla and a role as mutant Quicksilver in The Avengers: Age Of Ultron in the pipeline, rumours of Kick-Ass 3). Even after a hard day of violence, he’s easy, warm company. Basically, he has matured hugely from a kid once renowned for being, well, a spiky little so-and-so.
“People ask if Carrey has given me any career advice,” he tells me. “It’s not like you can sit around and go, ‘Hey Jim, give me some advice.’ What you get from him is the realisation that the actors who work consistently at the top are people who are always passionate about what they do, and work f*cking hard at it. Also, these people are always a delight to be around.”
It’s worth pointing out that this conversation took place before Carrey’s change of heart towards the film. But the point he’s making stands. Keep annoying those around you and the work will dry up.
“You have to work hard, and work well with people,” he says. “Nobody wants to hire the arsehole who gave the director, the co-stars, the press, whoever, a sh*t time. And I’d say that goes with everything, not just acting. Work hard, and don’t be an arsehole.”
Work hard, don’t be an arsehole, and don’t behead any dogs in your films. As life philosophies go, it’s something we can all aspire to.
Kick-Ass 2 is at cinemas nationwide now
(Image: All Star)