FORGET the McConaissance, this year it’s all about the Vaughnaissance. For years, Vince Vaughn was the goofy poster boy/man for Hollywood studio comedies such as Wedding Crashers, The Break-Up and Old School. But like his True Detective predecessor Matthew McConaughey before him, he’s finally busting out of that cheeseball rut and turning to the dark side.
‘I had gotten to a place where I wanted to shift towards things that were kind of different,’ he says, attempting to fold his frame into a relaxed position behind a small hotel room coffee table without knocking his tea over — no mean feat when you’re 6ft 5in tall. ‘That move sort of started with True Detective and Hacksaw Ridge [the recent Oscar-nominated war drama], then this came to me and it’s just the best thing I have ever read.’
He’s referring to Brawl In Cell Block 99, a deliriously violent grindhouse flick that casts him as a former addict with rage issues who exacts extreme punishment on those who stand between him and his family.
‘I read the script and thought, “this is crazy”,’ he says, ‘because you are normally taught in screenwriting classes that a hero needs that “save the cat” moment — something that will make you love them no matter what.’
Vaughn’s character, it’s safe to say, saves no cats. Indeed, he is involved in extended fight scenes that proved ‘very’ challenging for the 47-year-old.
‘I had boxed when I was younger, and wrestled competitively, but nothing prepared me for this,’ he says. ‘Everyone got nicked and bumped and hit and poked in the eye. But it was worth it. I still do ju-jitsu but mainly as something fun to do with my daughter [with wife Kyla Weber he’s a dad to Locklyn, six, and Vernon, four] and for its philosophical place in my life.’
In one scene Vaughn has to tear apart a car with his hands. Was that fun?
‘I just tried to put myself in a state where I wanted to just f*** something up,’ he says. ‘I know that feeling from being younger. There are people who just want to act cool and they are quite boring. More fascinating are people who are trying not to lose their cool. My character doesn’t want to hurt people. It just gets to a point where his anger explodes and it’s not fun, it’s just a sick feeling of pain.’
The role also involved Vaughn becoming a skinhead…
‘I don’t see him as a skinhead but he is definitely bald,’ he corrects, as if steering any discussion away from the far right. I’d been politely informed that politics (and anything else contentious, including Harvey Weinstein) are off the table. Which is interesting: Vaughn is something of an anachronism in an overwhelmingly liberal Hollywood. He was caught looking stony-faced at Meryl Streep’s anti-Trump speech at the Golden Globes. He notably sat next to Mel Gibson — he of the drunken anti-Semitic comments made to an arresting officer in 2006 — who was his director on Hacksaw Ridge and a man he considers a friend.
He and Gibson are starring in the follow-up to Brawl In Cell Block 99, the equally pulpy titled Dragged Across Concrete. So is he aiming to continue in this action vein and inherit the Gibson mantle?
‘It’s definitely fun to play a guy who has to do what he has to do and not apologise for it,’ he says. ‘I don’t know if I have a plan but I certainly hope I get to work with [director S Craig] Zahler again. I am hungry for films like the ones he is making.’
As Vaughn gets up to unfold himself, I notice a paperback Zahler left behind — a copy of Jane Eyre. You can see the tagline now, I joke: ‘Vince Vaughn is Jane Eyre.’
‘You never know!’ he laughs. Now that would certainly be a turn-up for the Vaughnaissance.
Brawl In Cell Block 99’s director S Craig Zahler talks violence, creative control and why he wanted to work with Vince Vaughn
Brawl In Cell Block 99 is being called ‘the most violent film of the year’. Are you proud of that?
Actually I saw it referred to somewhere as ‘the most violent movie of the century’. ‘Violent’ is great, ‘shocking’ is great – all that stuff is enjoyable. But what means the most to me is that people have emotional experiences with regard to the piece as a whole and recognize how deep the dramatic work is.
Were any scenes so extreme you were forced to cut?
No, I am in a fortunate position where I still have creative control. I went into this after making Bone Tomahawk [his acclaimed 18-certificate horror Western], which did well critically and financially and I had final cut. In Cell Block 99 we shot every scene in my script. Some moments of violence were almost like magic tricks because we were doing all this practically on set. It wasn’t a case of ‘oh, we will fix this in post-production’ because we didn’t use CGI.
Why did you cast Vince Vaughn as a badass?
There are certainly more obvious people to go to for this movie than Vince Vaughn. But I have been on the Vince Vaughn fan train since Swingers. I’ve seen him do a bunch of different stuff and I saw that no matter where he landed he has a consistency. Also, Vince has a natural imposing quality, and not just because he’s so tall, but in his bearing. The reality is that if I saw him in the street I wouldn’t think ‘that guy is a comedian’.
Brawl In Cell Block 99 is out in cinemas and available for download from Friday
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