'Kingsman': How Two Composers Revived the Secret Service's Musical Sound

Jaap Buitendijk
'Kingsman: The Secret Service'

Says composer Matthew Margeson: "There were lots of discussions on whether we were British-sounding enough. We tried lots of things in the early stages."

The gentleman spy is back in Kingsman: The Secret Service, and for their ballet-like fight sequences, they're equipped with a slew of gadgets, bespoke suits, and a lush score that's reminiscent of the classic spy franchises that the film references onscreen.

Composers Henry Jackman (Captain America: The Winter Solider, Captain Phillips) and Matthew Margeson  (X-Men: First Class, Kick-Ass) teamed up again for the Matthew Vaughn film, which stars Colin Firth as an agent of the independent international organization that challenges Samuel L. Jackson as Valentine, a tech billionaire and philanthropist with a plan to solve the world's environmental crisis.

"Our first couple musical ideas and sketches were a bit too serious for the mood that Matthew was going for," Margeson tells The Hollywood Reporter of the score, now available via La-La Land Records. "He kept reminding us that we always need to be having fun while watching the movie. He wanted the film to always make you smile, no matter what was happening." Also a topic between the director and the composing duo: "There were lots of discussions on whether we were British-sounding enough."

Listen: "Manners Maketh Man"

The Hollywood Reporter spoke with Margeson about modernizing the Secret Service's sound, characterizing the villain's inherent paradox and evoking a particularly British vibe for the Valentine's Day release.

What direction did Matthew Vaughn give you two for approaching the score?

Our first couple musical ideas and sketches were a bit too serious for the mood that Matthew was going for. He liked our initial themes, but I think even though the tunes were working, we first presented them in a way that was rather dark. He kept reminding us that we always need to be having fun while watching the movie. He wanted the film to always make you smile, no matter what was happening. Once we were able to crack the right encasement of these musical ideas, we were able to really throw the writing process into fifth gear and oddly enough, the whole "having fun" idea gave us license to really be bold in some of the sonic and textural experiments.

Listen: "The Medallion"

Like the script, how does the score nod to classic spy films?

There was never any question that we were making, to a good extent, an espionage film. We were very conscious of paying our respects to the genre, while at the same time really trying to make it our own. I think there are really specific moments in the film, visually and narratively, that are more of a head nod than others, so it was fairly easy to decide where to sprinkle the spy aesthetic. As far as influences, Henry and I made it a point not to go and listen to any spy films before tackling this score. I think this helped us to create our own take on the genre.

Was the aim to make the score particularly British in any way?

There were lots of discussions on whether we were British-sounding enough. We tried lots of things in early stages. Ultimately, I think what happens, is at the start, both the story and the music are very British-sounding. As the movie progresses, and as Eggsy comes into his own, you have license to start breaking some of the compositional and sonic rules, just as Eggsy becomes a somewhat different and unconventional example of a Kingsman.

Listen: "Drinks With Valentine"

How did you come up with Valentine's unique sound?

Again, when Henry and I starting plunking out notes for Valentine, we initially thought that maybe his music could be very serious and kind of play against the character's childish nature. He’s always wearing a baseball cap sideways, has a lisp — he is a very animated character. Matthew definitely wanted some sort of tech element to remind us that Valentine is a cell phone tech mogul. We started experimenting with all sorts of analog synths and recording phone sounds — dial tones, busy signals, anything that we could try to capture that component of his character.  I’ll admit — we ended up with some really weird stuff, which just so happened to work perfectly for him.

What was the most difficult section to score?

We very quickly realized that the whole end of the film had to work as one piece of music, and not stop and start with each scene. The third act is one massive ticking clock, and you have to pick and choose your story points very carefully to "up the ante." We did a lot of chasing our tails towards the end, and constantly had to watch, re-watch, and tweak long sections of the music. We needed it to feel like one big build, while having small hills of excitement along the way.  It was quite a lesson in self-discipline, knowing you can’t be musically too big and explosive at one moment, because you have an even bigger opportunity eight minutes later.

Email: Ashley.Lee@THR.com
Twitter: @cashleelee

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