This piece was originally published during San Diego Comic-Con 2017.
Have you ever wondered what would happen if Giada De Laurentiis broke bad? I started to after an infamous appearance on Ellen where the Food Network host struggled to wrangle Nicole Kidman and Ellen DeGeneres during a cooking segment gone oh so wrong. As De Laurentiis tried her best to whip up some risotto balls and focaccia, DeGeneres and Kidman continually shaded her, refused to follow orders, and ultimately mocked her focaccia for being too tough. The audience laughed as De Laurentiis’s stock plummeted, and though she kept a smile plastered on her face, there was murder in her eyes.
Maybe De Laurentiis will find viewing Kingsman: The Golden Circle to be cathartic when it comes out this September. Fox teased the spy sequel at San Diego Comic-Con yesterday, and while co-star Halle Berry’s bourbon-soaked brio had audiences buzzing, I was even more taken with a few clips from the film, including a high-speed car chase with hero Eggsy (Taron Egerton) and, most delicious, the introduction of Julianne Moore’s new villain Poppy, a honey-voiced, hamburger-fixing crime boss that Moore plays like a demented Giada. Whatever she’s cooking up with this performance looks good enough to eat.
You get only the briefest glimpse of Moore’s baddie in the new Kingsman trailer, so let me fill you in on what we saw of her during the extensive sneak peek. Poppy is a drug baron who lives in a hidden jungle outpost she’s transformed into a sunny replica of 1950s Americana, adding a bowling alley, a salon, and a retro diner that serves as her headquarters. When we meet her in the clip, she’s in the middle of a sales pitch to one of her henchman and his friend, a brand-new bad guy who’d like to become part of her operation. Moore’s voice has the upbeat, overly familiar tenor of a television host, and as she beckons the two men over to the diner counter — pulling on a stylish apron as she moves across the set — she lets the axe fall even though her friendly demeanor never changes. Poppy tells the newcomer that if he wants to work for her, he must kill his friend in the next ten seconds.
“Put him in the mincer, ’kay?” she says.
As the henchman realizes his number is up, he tries to escape, but smiling Poppy summons two robot dogs named Benny and Jet to guard the exit of the diner. Perhaps she didn’t need to bother, since the new baddie leaps into action to punch his friend’s lights out, then maneuvers the doomed henchman into the churning, stainless-steel mincer. His legs kick as he goes in face-first, but his top half is spit out the other end as hamburger meat.
Well, Poppy is just delighted by her new goon’s drive and eagerness to please. “Go next door for your makeover!” she coos. (And truly, too few movies have Julianne Moore coaxing murderous thugs to get a makeover.) Once the man has returned from a teeth-sanding, fingerprint-scrambling salon session, he finds that Poppy has scooped his friend’s remains into a patty, grilled it with some seasoning on top, and is now offering it to him between two buns as a beautifully plated human hamburger. Eating it will be the last test of his loyalty, and if he spits it out like Nicole Kidman did with that focaccia, he might as well leap into the mincer next.
Moore is clearly having a ball with this role, just as Samuel L. Jackson did in the first Kingsman with his lisping mass murderer. “We wouldn’t even think about doing a sequel unless we had a great bad guy,” co-writer Jane Goldman told me after the panel. When she and director Matthew Vaughn were brainstorming for the sequel, they knew they wanted a drug-lord foe that Eggsy could go toe-to-toe with, but they didn’t even think to make her a woman until Goldman misinterpreted one of Vaughn’s white-board scrawls. “Matthew had written ‘Poppy,’ as in heroin flowers, and I said, ‘Oh, are you thinking of a female villain?’”
Though “Poppy” isn’t the most intimidating name a bad guy could possess — it’s not exactly “Doctor Doom” — Goldman and Vaughn decided to lean into it, playing up Poppy’s performative femininity and mining her perfect veneer for chills. “You don’t have to have masculine traits to be terrifying,” said Goldman “She runs a business where absolutely everyone is terrified of her, but she doesn’t have to be militaristic and tough.”
In the footage we saw, Moore’s Poppy never got upset or modulated her voice, keeping that Giada smile on at all times even when ordering a hit. Whether you’re running a drug empire or a cooking show, you can’t lose your cool, suggested Goldman. “Like in Devil Wears Prada,” where Meryl Streep’s Miranda Priestly spoke in a hushed whisper that nevertheless intimidated everyone around her, “it’s such a fascinating dynamic, because all of those allegedly feminine traits that are associated with gentleness can, with the right person, be quite menacing.”
And by investigating those qualities, Moore had the crew members of Kingsman quaking in their boots every time she spoke in a happy sing-song. “As Poppy, people were quite terrified of her on set,” said Goldman. “And she’s the loveliest, most gentle woman!”