Having trained hard for the first film, did you find the action sequences in The Golden Circle easier?
I found them different. The training was physically taxing. There was an awful amount of stuff I trained for and then ended up not doing. Matthew creates the master plan and then changes his mind all the time. And that’s one of the things I find exhilarating because very often you arrive thinking you’re doing one thing but he gets an idea and you find you’re doing something else. The reason I go with that quite calmly is because it’s usually better. Afterwards you think, ‘Thank God he had the balls to say, “We’re not shooting this at all day today, I’ve got a better idea.”’ And that’s a difficult thing to do when time is money. But it is frustrating if you’ve trained for three months for a fight sequence and then he says, ‘Actually, I don’t think we’re going to use that one. I think something else should happen here.’ The chances are you’ll do another fight sequence that you haven’t trained for. Also, losing a fight on screen is more difficult than winning a fight. I’ve had to learn that. You’re falling down and your head is snapping back when you’re punched. There’s quite a lot to master if you’re going to lose a fight. Working with Taron was different as well. On the first film it was mostly just me and a bunch of professional stuntmen, while this time we had two actors collaborating.
Even though your character was seemingly shot dead in the first film, was there much talk at the time about you coming back for the second movie?
There was a lot of talk while I was doing it that I definitely wouldn’t be [coming back]. And yet I blindly assumed I would have to be. It’s pure denial, really — just because I am enjoying myself and because I think my character is great then everyone else must share that opinion and how could they possibly do without me? But I don’t think that would’ve saved me unless it had been a good idea in someone else’s mind. I think I was in some denial about being dead in the first place.
How has the dynamic between Eggsy and Harry shifted in this movie?
I think Eggsy has to mentor Harry quite a lot in this film; it’s almost a role-reversal. Harry is put through all sorts of torments. They’ve changed the dynamic completely this time. And I think that if you are going to do a sequel and go into that perilous territory of going round again, you have to do it differently and you have to surprise people a bit. People think they want the same film again but they don’t, so you’re working with that paradox. If you’re going to bring someone back from the dead then you’ve got to earn it, really.
As an actor, is this film even more rewarding than the first? We see different sides of Harry this time around…
It did have different rewards as an actor this time. The first time it was the physical stuff that was the real challenge. I’d never done anything like that and it was very, very intense. If you’re going to start doing a bit of exercise and getting into shape you’d think it might be quite nice to start off with a yoga mat. But this was a baptism of fire — three hours a day for six months with people who are properly good at it. And you’re over 50 and have never done it before. That was the first big challenge and in the first film I’d got all that done. All my action scenes were shot first and then I was off in my suit around the place for the rest of the film. This time I had different character stuff to deal with and it was all stuff that hadn’t occurred to me the first time around. All the tasks were pretty different.
You were integral to bring Julianne Moore onto the movie. How did that come to be?
She is an old friend, and I’m a huge fan. And for me that was dream casting. I didn’t have to push very hard; I think she was at the top of Matthew [Vaughn]’s list. Matthew didn't know her. I did. He was asking me what she’s like to work with, is she nice. I could give him very favourable answers on all of that and said, ‘Let me know when you’re ready to pull the trigger and I’ll get in touch.’ That’s what happened. I didn’t have to do much lobbying. I just had to wait for Matthew to decide how he was going to cast the film generally. I then wrote to Julianne and said, ‘Stand by. Something is coming your way and I hope you can come and join us.’
Tell me a bit about the villains in the Kingsman films; we can almost understand what they’re trying to do, it’s just that they’re doing it in a very pernicious way…
I think that’s a very good point — that their motives are not easy to pass judgment upon. In the first film it’s about environmentalism; in this one it’s about drugs. It makes it quite difficult for us to have an attitude to it all, and I think that’s quite clever. Not that I’m an expert, but from my point of view as an audience member, if you want to make a good villain give them some complexity and give them something that you like. This is why the villains we all remember are appealing in some way. You might detest what they do, you may be horrified, but there’s some magnetism that makes them dangerous. Sam Jackson [in the first film] and Julianne both have that. Julianne is as sexy as anything, so you’re being lured all the time, and then suddenly repulsed and terrified by what she does to people. And then there are the issues. I remember talking to Taron [Egerton, his co-star] about drug policy and how this film deals with that. I wasn’t quite sure what the film was saying about all that. It’s a real talking point. And I think that’s true of the first film as well. An awful lot of what Sam Jackson says I’d be saying too, if it didn't involve massacring two-thirds of the world’s population!