Matthew Vaughn and the Mystery of the Real Author of Argylle

Director discusses "surreal" TikTok conspiracies

Director Matthew Vaughn and star Chip the Cat on the set of Argylle (Photo by Peter Mountain/Universal Pictures; Apple Original Films; and MARV)

It seems like the perfect cinematic prank: Make a movie about an author of spy thrillers, then release spy thrillers under the name of the fictional author. Little could Matthew Vaughn know that wheeze would make him the subject of a conspiracy theory, an experience he called “fun – in a weird way.”

Vaughn’s new hijinks espionage romp, Argylle (in theatres now), stars Bryce Dallas Howard as Elly Conway, the writer of the smash hit Argylle books who finds herself with the double trouble of being caught up in a real spy adventure and having horrible writer’s block for the sixth book. Meanwhile, in the real world, Elly Conway has just released her first Argylle book through Penguin/Random House.

So, the big mystery has been: Who is the real Elly Conway?

The book of the movie, or the movie of the book? The novel Argylle by Elly Conway, out now from Penguin Random House (Photo by Penguin Random House)
Today, The Telegraph revealed that it is the shared nom de plume of British-born mystery authors, Tammy Cohen and Terry Hayes. However, in the year since the book and the film were first announced, the internet sprung into action and lost (as it is wont to do) its ever-loving conspiracy-adoring mind. First, the prevailing theory was that Vaughn was Conway. That was the easy answer as he has cowritten many of his own films, including The Kingsman series and his entries into the X-Men franchise, but Vaughn quickly debunked that idea. Then it was Taylor Swift (because Conway wears cardigans), and J.K. Rowling (who writes spy novels under the pseudonym of Robert Galbraith).

Becoming the main character of conspiracy TikTok has been a headscratcher for Vaughn, who described the whole experience as “a surreal journey.” It’s lead to some complicated conversations with the publishers, who found that their tie-in novel was becoming a trending topic when they hadn’t planned to start marketing the book until a week after the film’s release. “They were going to piggyback off the movie,” Vaughn said, “but now the film’s piggybacking off the author. … I said, ‘Yes, isn’t it amazing for you guys, having so much noise about a book, but at the same time I can’t keep telling people Taylor Swift didn’t write it. It’s got to stop.’”

The film has also introduced him to the wild world of publishing. In all the wild spy antics, the biggest fantasy may be that Conway makes a very good living writing books. “It’s like being an actor,” said Vaughn. “There are some who make a fortune and some who work just as hard and the money doesn’t come. I’m shocked how little an amount of books you have to sell in England to get into the Top 10. I think it’s about twenty thousand. Twenty thousand? Wow.”

The whole author mystery has distracted a little from discussion of the film, which Vaughn described very simply as “good, fun escapism,” and in that way extremely timely. He explained, “Art’s normally a reflection to society and, if you’ve noticed, when the world’s happy and everyone’s making money and there are no wars, movies tend to be more serious.

“Sadly, the world’s got bleaker,” he added, “and I went, look, it’s really important that we can make a fun, escapist movie for these dark times … an action-comedy-romance-thrill-ride.”

That’s why Argylle plays with the classic spy tropes, while acknowledging that many of those conventions are inherently silly. Vaughn explained, “Roger Moore said it: James Bond’s the world’s worst spy because if you walk in a room and everyone knows your name and knows what your favorite drink is, that’s not how a spy should act. The person that walks in a room and leaves the room and no one knows they’ve even been in the room, that is the definition of a good spy, and I wanted to play with that.”

Not that he’ll never make a more serious or edgier film. After all, before superhero satirical Kick Ass and the wildly playful Kingsman films, he cut his teeth on brutal London crime drama Layer Cake. “I love serious spy movies,” he said, “and one day I would love to do a proper espionage movie.”

Argylle is in cinemas now. Read our review and find showtimes here.

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Matthew Vaughn, Argylle, Elly Conway

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