Every great action hero needs an ideal villain to make the good vs. evil dynamics work well. In the upcoming highly stylized non-stop action film “Kingsman: The Secret Service,” Samuel Jackson plays the villain role to the hilt as Richmond Valentine, a tech billionaire and disillusioned eco-campaigner whose desire to save the earth at any cost has led him to devise a scheme that will have devastating consequences for everyone.
After Valentine is the Kingsman – an elite group of operatives working outside of the government. Martial in style, they are an altruistic unit that gets things done. “They’re the good guys,” says Colin Firth, who plays Harry, whose Kingsman name is Galahad, named after the Arthurian legend. “We’re living in an age in which we’re very suspicious of our institutions and our governments. Whatever trust we’ve once had has been undermined, so I think it’s interesting to explore the idea that there is an organization with pure motives. One not compromised by the politics and bureaucracy of these institutions. The Kingsmen are the modern-day Knights of the Round Table.” With Harry is newly-recruited spy Eggsy, played by newcomer Taron Egerton. Harry feels responsible for the death of Eggsy’s father, and that he owes the man a debt. When a Kingsman agent is killed, the organization looks for a new recruit. Explains Firth: “When Harry sees that his fallen comrade’s son, Eggsy, is on a fast track to disaster in the way he’s growing up, Harry rises to the challenge of seeing if he can save the boy. That’s partly guilt, but he wants to see if he can mold Eggsy into Kingsman material. He says quite explicitly that being a gentleman has nothing to do with accents or upbringing; it’s something one learns and proves in one’s behavior.”
A voracious comic-book fan, Samuel L. Jackson had already read the books by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons where the film was based when he heard Vaughn was interested in him for the part of Valentine. “The Kingsmen were different kinds of gentleman spies,” he reflects. “I thought the concept was great and I always thought it would make a wonderful film.”
Jackson loved Vaughn and Goldman’s script, and says he immediately understood Valentine’s motivations. “The really crazy thing was that it totally made sense,” he laughs. “The film is full of great visual images, and I felt a thrill taking the ride.”
Valentine’s logic posits that the global population has swelled to uncontrollable levels, so it requires culling. His deadly plan is to produce SIM cards that he will distribute freely around the world, and which will both stimulate aggression and reduce inhibition. They’ll literally cause people to tear each other apart, save for a select few chosen for their intelligence, power and beauty. With protective chips implanted into the heads of these elite, Valentine has rounded them up and transported them to his secret base.
Jackson describes Valentine as a moral, pragmatic man. “He understands that you have to make certain choices in order for things to work, and in order for the world to succeed, sacrifices must be made, and somebody has to be willing to make them.”
Argues Firth: “Valentine is genocidal! He’s a mass murderer and a psychopath. He may have the greater good in his mind but if that involves the death of millions of people, that ideology is unlikely to be shared by the rest of humanity.” Still, he understands why Jackson found a reason for Valentine’s actions. “I think it’s perfectly appropriate that Sam doesn’t see his character as a villain. As actors our job is to inhabit our characters, and you have to see them the way they see themselves – but with my own character’s subjectivity, Valentine is a villain in the classic Bond tradition.”
Agrees Jackson: “We’re playing this cat-and-mouse game, where Harry pretends not to know who Valentine is and Valentine pretends not to know who Harry is, until they actually sit down and say it. Game on; let’s see who comes out victorious.”
“Kingsman: The Secret Service” opens February 18 in theatres nationwide from 20th Century Fox to be distributed by Warner Bros.