Matthew Vaughn

NEW YORK — He launched his career as a producer with Guy Ritchie's "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels" and "Snatch," but the tale behind Matthew Vaughn's directorial debut, "Layer Cake," which opens in New York and Los Angeles on Friday, reads...

NEW YORK — He launched his career as a producer with Guy Ritchie’s “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” and “Snatch,” but the tale behind Matthew Vaughn’s directorial debut, “Layer Cake,” which opens in New York and Los Angeles on Friday, reads more like a romantic comedy than a cheeky, gun-heavy gangster flick.

“It’s such a ridiculous story,” he says, settling into a suite at the Regency. “Stephen Marks, who was my first investor in “Lock, Stock’ rang up saying, “I’ve just read this book, “Layer Cake,’ I think it would make a great movie.'” Vaughn told Marks, the chairman of clothing retailer French Connection, to send it over, but that he wouldn’t be able to take a look until after a weekend trip to Brussels for an England-Germany soccer match. His seatmate on the train ride there was none other than the books’ author, J.J. Connolly.

So Vaughn read the novel, about a discreet, almost-retired drug dealer who gets sucked into one last high-stakes job, and decided to go ahead and produce a film based on it. When Ritchie’s schedule conflicted with shooting dates, Vaughn had two options — wait two years until Ritchie was free, or hire another director. He went for a third option: He hired himself.

“There’s such a mystique of bulls–t about what directors do that I thought, “You know what, maybe I should do it and prove to the world that directing is not as hard as everyone says it is,'” says Vaughn, who adds that the job is really about surrounding yourself with people who can communicate your vision.

For “Layer Cake,” which stars Daniel Craig and cost $7.3 million to make, he didn’t stray far from the British gangster genre Ritchie made famous. His style, however, is sleeker than Ritchie’s, with a more streamlined look and realistic action. Vaughn sees differences, too: “Guy is very into sort of the wham, bam approach. I think I’m more concerned with telling a good story in a way that the camera supports it instead of distracts you from it.”

Beverly Hills-born, Britain-bred Vaughn, 34, got his start in film during his late teens. While living in Los Angeles during his gap year, he bussed tables at the Hard Rock Cafe and managed to get a job as an errand boy on the set of “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.” He then produced a short called “The Innocent Sleep” and met future collaborator Ritchie at an oyster bar in 1995.

This story first appeared in the May 12, 2005 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

To secure the $1.7 million Ritchie and Vaughn needed to make “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” Vaughn convinced wealthy contacts such as Trudie Styler, Steve Tisch and Peter Morton (Vaughn’s godfather) to invest. The film went on to gross $64 million in Britain alone.

Vaughn is currently writing a “new-wave” spy film with “Trainspotting” scribe John Hodge, and developing a fairy tale called “Stardust.” And his sophomore directorial effort is a big leap up the budget stakes. Vaughn says it’s “highly, highly likely” he’ll direct “X-Men 3.”

Vaughn’s success as a producer has turned him into a star of the British film world and he became further bait for the tabloids after he married Claudia Schiffer. The couple lives near Cambridge with their two children, Caspar, two, and Clementine, six months. Cohesive family unit notwithstanding, Vaughn’s own parentage has proved to be the subject of column inches and much confusion. Though he grew up believing his absentee father was the actor Robert Vaughn, he found out just days before his wedding to Schiffer that he was, in fact, the product of an affair between his mother and the English aristocrat George De Vere Drummond.

“If someone made a movie about my life right now, they would say, “This guy’s got a strange life,'” he says, adding: “A great life, but a strange life. I keep touching wood.”

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