Matthew Vaughn: The director's cut

Until now, he's been happy doing the deals and raking in the money - playing second fiddle to his business partner, Guy Ritchie, and his supermodel wife, Claudia Schiffer. Now he's put his name up in lights as the director of the new British gangster flick. Can he have his Layer Cake and eat it?

Matthew Vaughn can now lay claim to being both the money and the talent. As a film producer his sharp business brain steered him through the reefs of independent UK film-making with his partner, Guy Ritchie, to turn their debut collaboration, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, into a popular commercial success. Given the way it was funded and that they both had a great deal riding on the outcome, they did pretty well in netting £9m apiece.

Matthew Vaughn can now lay claim to being both the money and the talent. As a film producer his sharp business brain steered him through the reefs of independent UK film-making with his partner, Guy Ritchie, to turn their debut collaboration, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, into a popular commercial success. Given the way it was funded and that they both had a great deal riding on the outcome, they did pretty well in netting £9m apiece.

Now Vaughn has tried his hand behind the camera as director of Layer Cake, a gangster movie aiming at a depiction of London similar to that promoted by The Long Good Friday. It's a big, flash, shiny movie, more polished than either Lock, Stock... or the follow-up Snatch, but times have changed; things have moved on. For London, for movies. And for Vaughn.

For one thing, Vaughn isn't really Matthew Vaughn any longer. His official name is Matthew de Vere Drummond, a fact that he discovered in 2002 when his supposed father, the actor Robert Vaughn, produced evidence from an LA patrimony court case in the 1980s proving that he was not and could not be Matthew's father. Vaughn's mother is Kathy Ceaton, who had been in a relationship with Robert Vaughn at the time of Matthew's conception and birth, although the relationship was foundering, and Matthew grew up believing Robert Vaughn to be his father.

With somewhat hideous timing, the 70-year-old actor delivered his bombshell just before Matthew's wedding to the German model Claudia Schiffer. Clearly concerned that his bride-to-be ought to know who she was marrying, Vaughn questioned Ceaton who finally revealed that Matthew's biological father was George Albert Harley Drummond (aka George de Vere Drummond) a minor British aristocrat who is godson to the late King George VI. Sadly for Schiffer, she is not to be Countess of Oxford, as Matthew's illegitimacy, among other genealogical complications, disqualifies him from inheriting the earldom of Oxford and Mortimer.

Never mind. Vaughn is not doing too badly. Aside from the nice little earners of his first two Ritchie films - a record rather spoilt by their third collaboration, Swept Away, which broke several records for awfulness - Vaughn is married to one of the most beautiful women on the planet and is about to become a father for the second time. And with his directorial debut gathering reasonably polite notices and an immodest amount of publicity, he is already in the frame for helming the next James Bond movie, a task that would probably suit his brand of widescreen flash no end.

Born in Beverly Hills, California, in 1971, Vaughn was educated at Stowe and University College London. He admits to being a shameless popcorn movie-goer - the directors who always make his lists are Spielberg, Ridley Scott, Brian de Palma and Michael Mann.

Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark were his earliest influences; Brian de Palma movies and Michael Mann's thrillers are his later role models. Shortly before he started shooting Layer Cake, he made the cast and crew sit down and watch Michael Mann's LA thriller Heat.

"I asked a lot of people why British films look so bad," he has said. "And they say it's the bad light. It is grey and flat. But I didn't believe that. What I don't get about England is that we have brilliant film-makers. We have brilliant technicians; we have proven, with James Bond and Harry Potter, that we can do the big stuff. Every year there are one or two small films that do well, and this mess of people who just want to get their film made. There are not many people who are making films that could be a commercial success."

It is, of course, comments like this that have not endeared him to the British film community which has a tendency to take itself rather seriously. When he and Ritchie set up SKA Films their intention was to make the kind of movies that entertained them. In spite of an earlier attempt to produce with Innocent Sleep - a film that came and went without undue fuss - Vaughn was itching to have another go. When Ritchie brought him his script for Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels he grasped the opportunity.

It wasn't an easy ride. Lock, Stock... was turned down by several institutions including Miramax, and it wasn't until Vaughn managed to secure equity funding from Stephen Marks, founder of French Connection, that he managed to get it made. The final bit of money came from Trudie Styler, aka Mrs Sting, and in return a grateful Vaughn cast Sting in the film.

For a while he was happy to be the puppet master, the shadowy money man who could facilitate his friend's more flamboyant cinematic showmanship. Indeed, this is how they presented themselves. While Ritchie was giving movie-goers a good kicking with his mockney gangster movies Vaughn was in the shadows urging him on. Together they were chalkstripe and cheese - Ritchie the surly geezer, while Vaughn was the quiet, subtly dangerous presence, invariably at interviews to ensure things went smoothly. Both are wary of the press and of potential public intrusion, yet both have married high-profile women who can only serve to increase the paparazzi quotient.

And you only have to watch him interviewed on the red carpet with Schiffer on his arm to see how uncomfortable he is. He rarely smiles, seems ill at ease, always looking for the exit. Such is the contrast between him and his outgoing wife that some wags refer to him as Mr Schiffer. Yet he clearly has the mind and temperament for producing. As his friends have pointed out, his success in the business derives from the fact that "he has the ability to talk a load of bollocks".

Creative partnerships have a tendency to become strained, however, and none more so than those in the film business. In spite of being friends - Vaughn was best man when Ritchie married Madonna - they have had major disagreements. The notorious Swept Away almost brought them to blows. Ritchie wanted Madonna in the role of the heiress trapped on an island with her chauffeur while Vaughn preferred Penelope Cruz. Ritchie believed that Vaughn was implying that Madge wasn't up to the job. In fact, he was taking the line of a producer which was simply that Cruz would sell the movie more easily to investors. Ritchie got his way, however, with the result that we have seen.

Clearly, Vaughn's got the chops to continue producing movies in the UK, a terrifyingly difficult thing to do even with a successful track record. And while he produced Layer Cake, having acquired the rights from its author J J Connolly after meeting him on a train to Belgium, the opportunity to direct the movie has given him a taste for the creative side. In the four years it took to develop Layer Cake, Guy Ritchie pulled out of directing the film and Vaughn was reluctant to give it to anyone else.

"I had put so much effort into it that I wasn't willing to let it go," he said. "I thought, I am not going to run around town and find some director who will start doing things I wouldn't want. I knew every shot of this movie. Why go through the hell of giving it to someone else?"

In the closed and jealously protective world that is the British film industry, Vaughn and Ritchie are still regarded as rogue upstarts, cinematic spivs who got lucky. But now that Vaughn has shown himself capable of being both the money and the talent, his detractors are going to have to start taking him seriously. Goodbye Mr Schiffer. Hello Mr de Vere Drummond.

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