A few weeks ago, Armie Hammer told the story about how he asked The Man from U.N.C.L.E. screenwriter Lionel Wigram to write a sequel to the 2015 film that underperformed at the box office, but has found a new life over the last few months thanks to cable and streaming. Now, when I brought this up to Guy Ritchie (who directed the 2015 film and is currently promoting King Arthur: Legend of the Sword), I expected him to have a fairly good idea of what was happening in that department. Instead, he looked genuinely confused and couldn’t understand why anyone would want to see a sequel to a movie that underperformed like The Man From U.N.C.L.E. did. What follows is me trying to explain to Ritche, who really did love The Man From U.N.C.L.E, that his movie has gained a lot of popularity over the last few months and has a dedicated fan base. And honestly, I’m not convinced he believed me.
Ritchie’s King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is not what you’d expect from a King Arthur movie. Starring Charlie Hunnam as Arthur, it’s a film that takes the general premise of the early years of King Arthur and gives it that Guy Ritchie twist. There are multiple scenes with heavy, quirky dialogue and a couple of interesting ways to present exposition. (In one scene, Arthur tells a story in flashback, but is constantly interrupted, which creates a frenzy of a flashback scene; in another, Arthur takes us through a hypothetical situation, only it’s acted out in front of us in a strange, meta way.) In other words: This is very much a Guy Ritchie King Arthur movie.
Ahead, Ritchie explains what he wanted out of a King Arthur movie. He also gives us a hint of what we might see out of his upcoming live-action Aladdin film. And, yes, I do my best to convince him that a The Man From U.N.C.L.E movie is a good idea.
There’s a lot in this movie I didn’t expect to see in King Arthur movie.
I mean, we were just looking at the amount of King Arthur movies. There haven’t been that many, you know? There isn’t a definitive King Arthur movie. I mean, probably Excalibur is the most known, I would have thought. But so yeah, you feel as though you might be familiar with it, but you’re not really. The only thing that I’ve seen is Excalibur. I haven’t seen any other King Arthur movies.
We’ve read the books. We have those images in our head.
Yes, that’s true. There’s a bit of that creeping around.
And I don’t remember a scene – like the quirky one where Arthur tells a story with flashbacks and is interrupted and keeps starting over – in the books.
Right. Well, what I was interested in was capturing the essence of what I thought the narrative was. [A rooftop party outside the hotel window catches Ritchie’s attention.] Look at all these people with their clothes off! Is it warm enough out there to take all your clothes off?
It’s very hot outside.
Is it really? How funny. It’s like there’s some kind of porn shoot going on on top of that roof going on over there.
Yeah, they’re having fun. We’re working.
Very funny. So, yeah, but what I wanted to capture was the essence. So, the story, for me, has both an esoteric aspect and more conventional aspect. And if you can marry those two successfully, then you succeeded. So I like the idea that it’s a story about a man’s inner struggles with himself, and he starts off completely dependent and then ends up being completely independent.
Early on we meet Arthur as a young boy, but then you literally fast forward through all those years. And we still get the gist: He was picked on, then he learns to fight. I was so relieved I didn’t have to watch that for 20 minutes.
Well, I feel the same way as you. Because you want to know how he got to where he got to, right? But do you want all the shoe leather? Do you want to lay all that pipe? But frankly, yeah, beat, beat, beat – got it. Thanks. And rather, you’re relieved that you didn’t have to live through that experience, because you know where you’re going, so can we just get to where we’re going.
That scene started and I was like, “Here we go.” By the end I was smiling.
[Laughs.] It’s a relief, isn’t it?
There’s also no hint of a love story, which is rare for a movie like this.
There is a terrible danger, particularly in the Arthurian legend, of getting bogged down into too many famous characters – and we were liberated from that by just going this is about a kid retaking his throne and he’s got to pull a sword out of a stone in the interim. I mean, congestion is a big problem in narrative, right? And so, wherever you find congestion, find an efficient way of getting through it. So it just didn’t lend itself to time for a bit of romance. We were dealing with a bit of bromance her and there. But yeah, I think we’ll leave the romance to a latter, another incarnation.
Your last few movies have taken dormant properties and given them fresh takes. The Man from U.N.C.L.E. has had a resurgence since it came out in 2015…
Has it? I didn’t know that.
I think a lot of people didn’t see it in theaters but discovered it on cable or streaming.
Well, it was a weird thing, because I am of the generation that knew who The Man from U.N.C.L.E. was, and a fart in the wind got more traction – because The Man from U.N.C.L.E. just didn’t seem to mean anything to anyone.
Unless you saw the television show in its first run, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. wasn’t something in heavy reruns in the U.S., like say Gilligan’s Island.
I’m glad you told me that, by the way, because I would have no idea.
Well, people are talking about a sequel now.
I know. They are talking about a sequel, but I wasn’t sure if that was just flattery.
Well, Armie Hammer’s been talking about it.
By the way, tremendously fun movie to make.
It looks like it.
Yeah, it was.
It’s caught a second round of wind. It has a strong fan base.
Oh, good. I’m pleased to hear that.
How do you not know that?
I’ve got to tell you, I had no idea. I had no idea. And it was disappointing when it just sort of came and went, because I really like that movie.
Yeah, it’s in constant cable rotation now on HBO.
You should look into that.
I’m going to look into that.
There are big proponents in the film critic community who talk a lot about how great this movie is.
Do they really?
Angie Han from Mashable, she tweets about it like every day.
Really? [Ritchie’s publicist interjects, “Well, let’s get Angie Han in here.”]
I think she’s at a beer festival right now.
I love beer festivals. But, that’s really good to know. But I’ll tell you, I’d love to make another one of those.
Talk to Armie Hammer, he’s been the one drumming this up.
Really? Anyone that spent six weeks arseing around in Naples and Rome… That’s great. He’s lovely, old Armie. He’s really good in The Man from U.N.C.L.E., too.
Henry Cavill and Alicia Vikander are great, too.
We should re-release the movie.
Before Sherlock Holmes, I felt like I knew what a Guy Ritchie movie is, and now my opinion of that has changed completely over your last four movies.
You’ll have to go into that a bit more, if you don’t mind.
You used to make crime movies. You’re doing Aladdin next, so you’re kind of an enigma to me now.
Well, I was in danger of becoming comfortable in a genre. And when I did Sherlock, I found that I enjoyed doing that so much that I wanted to do something else that was completely different and a shift in genre. And then once I did U.N.C.L.E., and enjoyed that so much, I was motivated by my enthusiasm for Boorman’s Excalibur and I was committed to it, although I didn’t really know what I was doing. But I felt as though you’d find your way. And I’m enjoying this. They throw me in a room with lots of new toys to play with.
Like the scene in U.N.C.L.E. where Henry Cavill’s eating his dinner while Armie Hammer’s in the background on a speedboat that’s on fire.
Yeah, but you can imagine I had some resistance about that.
I imagine you did.
Cue, action. But, yeah, so things like that are great fun, and they’re fun for me as an artist. I mean, it’s fun trying to come up with what doesn’t feel like conventional ideas. And you want to be interesting. I want to be interested and I want to create interesting stuff. So by throwing myself into new genres – I mean, there’s things that I’m familiar with in Aladdin. You know, street guy and music.
You are a very brave to take on Aladdin. Movies like this have maybe more scrutiny on them than even superhero movies…
Yes, I know.
The fan base is waiting, “You better get this right.”
[Laughs.] I’m aware. I mean, challenges are challenges.
With Aladdin, what’s the line between staying close to the source material and making a Guy Ritchie movie?
Well, the truth is, it’s too early. So all that I know is that I’m excited. And as long as I’m excited, then enthusiasm follows. And once there’s enthusiasm, you’re off to the races.
And you do have have built-in enthusiasm with a large fan-base.
I’m aware of that. I’ve become aware of that in the last couple of days, actually.
Will there be a third Sherlock Holmes? The second one made half a billion dollars and it’s fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, but it wasn’t as enthusiastic as a response to the first one…
Really? I really love number two.
But there hasn’t been another one so people wonder if that’s it.
Well, apparently not, but we’ll wait and see. It seems like a whole list of sequels I’m going to do at the end of this little rendezvous that you and I have had.
Do The Man from U.N.C.L.E. 2 first.
Over Sherlock Holmes 3? Yes. People would be into it.
No, I’m not kidding.
Why doesn’t anyone tell me this?
I’m telling you.
Where the fuck were you a year ago?
Where the fuck was I? I interviewed Armie and Henry at Warner Bros. screening room.
I’m just happy that people have caught on to it, you know?
Well, I’m happy that you know that now.
Well, so am I.
You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.