Spies who make you laugh

Sophie Cookson makes her big-screen debut in Kingsman: The Secret Service.

The 24-year-old English actress learnt early on that when you are Samuel L. Jackson, you are given the room you need to make risky acting choices.

"I didn't have any scenes with him. When I watched the trailer, I had no idea he had a lisp. I was completely unaware of that. I thought, 'What is he doing?'" she says, laughing.

Cookson, speaking to Life! on the telephone, plays Roxy, one of a group of trainees vying for a spot in a secret spy agency. Jackson is Valentine, a billionaire philanthropist the agency suspects is trying to take over the world. The film opens here tomorrow.

Jackson improvised the lisp one day at a table reading of the script, says Cookson, who started her career just two years ago on British television.

"It's an incredibly good choice. Everyone loves those baddies who have a difficulty they've overcome. It makes him more fallible as a character, less domineering and evil, more human," she says.

It is no coincidence that Kingsman features a villain with a physical trademark. In the older James Bond movies, evildoers sported odd body characteristics - Scaramanga (The Man With The Golden Gun, 1974) sported a third nipple, while Ernst Blofeld's (You Only Live Twice, 1967) large facial scar was his trademark.

Audiences today laugh at the old Bond films, instead of with them, because of their cheesy, politically incorrect style. Daniel Craig, who plays the current Bond, in a 2012 interview blamed the mockery heaped on the spy genre by the Austin Powers movies for the sombre tone of the newer films.

Director and co-writer Matthew Vaughn (Kick-Ass, 2010), working from the graphic novel The Secret Service by Dave Gibbons and Mark Millar, wants to bring the sexy - and the camp - back to the spy genre. Cookson says: "Bond has become dark and serious. Matthew is a fan of the Bond that had a more fun feel to it and he's brought a bit of the camp back. It's something a whole generation has missed."

Another young television actor making a break in films is Taron Egerton, 25. He plays Gary "Eggsy" Unwin, a street hoodlum recruited by senior spy Harry Hart (Colin Firth). Like Cookson, Egerton thinks it is high time frivolity made a return to the secret agent genre. He says: "There's a gap in the market for spy films that are more realistic and more fun."

And part of the realism is the violence. In the M18-rated picture, there are shootings, stabbings and exploding heads aplenty, more than in a typical James Bond movie. The large helpings of death and maiming will come as a surprise to those expecting kid-friendly entertainment, but Egerton thinks the bloodshed is justified by the story.

'There are definitely some ultraviolent elements, but I know that Matthew very consciously didn't want it to be gory. For example, when someone is killed, there's not a huge splash of blood," he says.

"You need to see that the secret agents are lethal weapons, capable of doing extraordinary things and that is how they are keeping the world safe."

Kingsman: The Secret Service opens in Singapore tomorrow.