From the team behind the camera (director Matthew Vaughn, screenwriter Jane Goldman and comic book creator/tween c-bomb facilitator Mark Millar), to the acting royalty in front of it (Colin Firth and an enjoyably sweary Michael Caine), Kingsman is a very British affair. However, if we assume that the homegrown filmmakers allowed themselves room for one lead American, then they have chosen very, very wisely.
Speaking with a sufferin’ succotash lisp and clearly having the time of his life, Samuel L Jackson plays malevolent tech billionaire Richmond Valentine – a snapback-loving, Big Mac-eating sadist who is the chief antagonist to the secret cabal of British super-spies. He is the fly in the sophisticated ointment, so who better than Jackson to give his outsider’s take on the state of the modern British gentleman?
What do you think is the main difference between British men and American men?
Sense of style. There’s a sense of individuality British guys have. You don’t go, ‘I wanna look like this guy, I wanna be identified with this group’; you want your own look. If you go to Savile Row, you want your own style of suit. Even if you’re a hipster or a punk or whatever, you still have your own individual hipster or punk style. Americans could learn a lot from British guys about how not to be a lemming. Americans will see something hip, and then they all do it. Everyone starts wearing their pants off their ass, their hat to the side. Come on.
You lived off Kings Road in the Eighties. In terms of British style, that must have been quite an eye-opening experience…
Totally, because prior to that my only view of British life was through Bond films [laughs]. I used to go to Portobello Road and buy oversized tuxedo shirts. That was my ‘individual’ thing. They sold them dyed in all colours – purple, pink, blue, yellow – and I wore them over T-shirts. They looked like big-ass night shirts. I’d roll up the sleeves, or sometimes just cut them off. That’s the one thing I got out of Britain in the Eighties – grabbing something that’s yours. Separating yourself from the pack. There are different definitions of masculinity in Britain. The American guy’s masculinity is just tough, alpha male. But in Britain, you have the powerful guys with their suits, shiny shoes, bowlers, umbrellas. But you also have the soccer hooligans. I don’t know if those guys are still present.
Not as present as they used to be, but you can still find them…
I used to run into those guys on the train on Saturdays. The only fight I ever had in London was on a train with some of those guys.
Me and my friend were on the train – just two black guys sitting there – next to this drunk guy who was f*cking passed out. These other guys get on, and I guess the drunk guy must have had the wrong colour scarf on, because they grab him and start kicking his ass. Then they looked at me and my friend, like, “You don’t like it? We’ll f*ck you up, too!” My friend’s like, “Man, we’re from f*cking New York,” and they go, “Oh, you’re Americans? We’re sorry, we’re sorry.” It was all about football, see, and we didn’t have any team allegiance.
So, you didn’t get hurt?
No, not at all. We did punch three or four of them, though [laughs].
I like the idea of football hooligans saying, “We’re sorry”…
Well, that’s it; all you guys are so proper. You have manners. You beg people’s pardon. You say “I’m sorry” a lot more than the majority of people in this world.
Are there things you still miss about Britain?
I walk more, when I’m here. I was driving the other day and I found myself missing London because I wasn’t as visually stimulated. I’d leave my apartment in London every day, hit the street and see 500 people in a block. I don’t see 500 people in a month [in LA] unless I’m, like, counting cars.
Do you think American men are tougher than British men?
It depends on the movies you watch. I’ve always been an international film fan, so I knew about Michael Caine being a tough guy back in the day. And The Long Good Friday, The Krays – I knew about all that stuff. Then there’s the James Bond-style tough guy; Sean [Connery] was the epitome of that.
You must admit Brits don’t swear as well as Americans, though.
Well, we use ‘motherf*cker’ better than you guys, for sure. But you have some interesting stuff. ‘Bollocks’ is good. I like ‘bollocks’. As a word [laughs]. ‘Sh*te’ is OK. Not quite as good as ‘sh*t’. But ‘motherf*cker’ is good because you can use it for different things. A ‘motherf*cker’ can be a friend, something you hate, something good.
Humour is something that often divides Brits and Americans. Do you ‘get’ British comedy?
I love British humour. I’ve always loved Monty Python, Little Britain, all that stuff. If you ask most Americans [about British comedy], they’ll go, “Ah, yeah, Benny Hill’s hilarious.” That’s their definition of British humour.
You mentioned Michael Caine earlier – you’re friends with him. What’s he like?
Michael’s just a guy to me. I grew up watching The Man Who Would Be King and Alfie, so it never occurred to me I’d ever meet him and end up in social situations with him. He’s so much fun. Quite profane, too.
He may be the most impersonated man on the planet. Can you do a decent impression of him?
Nah. I saw Kevin Spacey ‘doing’ Michael the other day, actually, and he was great.
Kingsman: The Secret Service hits cinemas January 29