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Director Matthew Vaughn talks new spy film ‘Argylle’ and casting his family’s adorable cat Chip

The British filmmaker says making the movie turned him into a loving ‘cat stepdad’

From left: Henry Cavill, Matthew Vaughn, Bryce Dallas Howard, Chip the Cat, and Claudia Schiffer attended a special "Argylle" experience on Jan. 22 in London.Antony Jones/Getty Images for Universal Pictures, Apple Original Films, and MARV

Director Matthew Vaughn’s new spy flick “Argylle” brims with some of Hollywood’s biggest names, but the star who’s getting the most headlines ahead of the film’s debut Friday is none other than Chip the cat.

Vaughn revealed in an interview with the Globe via Zoom Tuesday that the Scottish Fold was actually the second choice to play Alfie, the adorable companion of spy author Elly Conway (Bryce Dallas Howard), in “Argylle.” Vaughn had to enlist his family’s cat Chip after the first feline performer proved to be a difficult diva on set.

“It’s technically my daughter’s cat, but you get better headlines saying it’s my wife’s cat,” Vaughn joked, noting how Chip has earned a ton of attention thanks to the cat’s connection to his wife, Claudia Schiffer. “I went up to my daughter’s bedroom and said, ‘I’m going to borrow Chip for the next three months.’”

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Vaughn admitted he didn’t really think it through casting Chip, since that meant he had to pull double duties as director and “cat handler” throughout the project. But it ended up being a worthwhile experience that transformed Vaughn into a loving “cat stepdad.”

“It turned out to be the right thing to do because I’m a dog person, but I fell in love with cats by the end,” he said.

Chip as Alfie the cat in "Argylle."Universal Pictures, Apple Original Films, and Marv

Chip’s Alfie proves to be more than just an adorable furry face: Vaughn teases a “Rocky Balboa/Rambo” moment for the film’s feline character.

“Talk about weird search history,” Vaughn said. “We looked up cat attacks. Man, you don’t want to piss a cat off.”

“When they decide they’re gonna go for you, they go for you,” he added.

Vaughn’s pouncing, too — he hopes to shepherd a new franchise with “Argylle.” The film revolves around Conway (Bryce Dallas Howard), the author behind a hit spy-novel series, who gets caught up in the real world of espionage as the plots of her books start to come true.

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The filmmaker, best known for “Kick-Ass” (2010) and the “Kingsman” franchise, admitted he’s “very nervous” ahead of the film’s launch due to the challenges of getting audiences interested in original intellectual property.

“The world wants new IP, but I’m going to give you a little secret: The world ain’t gonna get new IP if they don’t go watch new IP,” Vaughn said.

The British filmmaker grew up watching movies like “Star Wars,” “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” and “Jurassic Park,” which were then “new, fresh things.” Vaughn wants studios to invest more marketing dollars behind new IP to give them a chance at becoming fan-favorite franchises.

“Big blockbusters, whether it’s ‘Harry Potter’ or ‘Jurassic’ or ‘Fast & Furious,’ they spend a fortune advertising it,” Vaughn said.

But, he added, ”whether it’s ‘Jurassic Park 20′ or ‘Harry Potter 10,’ the people who like it are coming. I don’t think you’re converting anyone new on the 10th installment.”

Henry Cavill (left) and John Cena in "Argylle."Universal Pictures, Apple Original Films, and MARV

“Argylle” is gaining attention for the marketing stunt behind its tie-in book, which is billed as being written by an “Elly Conway” (the same name as the movie’s protagonist), though it’s unclear if there’s even a real author behind the pseudonym.

While Vaughn and the film’s stars remain tight-lipped over the actual identity of the tie-in book’s author, what intrigued the director about bringing “Argylle” to the big screen was its “very meta” take on the spy genre. Henry Cavill plays the fictional agent, Argylle, the lead character in the novels written by Howard’s Conway, while Sam Rockwell plays Aidan, a bedraggled spy who comes to her rescue and brings her into the real world of espionage.

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“Our idea was: Imagine if J.K. Rowling, one day after becoming the biggest author in the world, meets a man who goes, ‘I’m a wizard,’” Vaughn said. “And he is a wizard and he has magic and says, ‘The good news is, you got a lot of it right. The bad news is, there is a Voldemort and he’s out there and he wants you dead. You’re coming with me.’”

“I loved the idea of doing that in the spy world,” he added.

Vaughn said he had a blast working with all of the stars in the film, which features Bryan Cranston, John Cena, Dua Lipa, Samuel L. Jackson, and Catherine O’Hara.

Bryce Dallas Howard in a scene from "Argylle."Peter Mountain/Associated Press

In addition to an “Argylle” sequel, Vaughn is working on a followup to 2017′s “Kingsman: The Golden Circle” and a reboot of “Kick-Ass.”

“I have screaming in my head: ‘Be careful what you wish for,’” Vaughn said. “There is a world and a universe that we have plotted out, but there’s only so much one man can do.”

As a longtime fan of spies of all stripes — whether it’s James Bond or Austin Powers — Vaughn believes espionage tales continue to pique audiences’ interests because of the genre’s relatability.

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“Deep down, we all believe anyone could be a spy,” Vaughn said. “So it’s sort of a hero that you can relate to and become. It’s hard to be Superman or Spider-Man. It’s not ever going to happen.”


Matt Juul can be reached at matthew.juul@globe.com.