From director Jordan Vogt-Roberts, Kong: Skull Island re-imagines the origins of the powerful and mighty King Kong, while a diverse team of scientists, soldiers and adventurers land on an uncharted island in the Pacific, very quickly discovering that it is as dangerous as it is beautiful. As the team sets out to explore the terrain, they must fight for their own survival in a place they never should have stepped foot into. The film stars Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, Brie Larson, John Goodman, Toby Kebbell, Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell and John C. Reilly.
At the film’s press day, co-stars Brie Larson and John Goodman spoke at a roundtable interview about the challenges of this shoot, always trying to figure out just what Kong would look like and how he would behave, preparing for this role, taking tons of photos on set, and the experience of shooting in Vietnam. Larson also talked about why it was important to her that this character not be your typical Kong heroine, her hope that Captain Marvel will be another great example of a different and unique female character, and directing Sam Jackson in Unicorn Store.
Question: Brie, because there was so much CGI in this film, what was your most difficult scene to shoot?
BRIE LARSON: I feel like it’s less about a particular scene and more about the experience, as a whole. It was running in an obstacle course, for 10 hours a day, every day. There was a lot of movement in this film. I think there’s only one scene, where we’re standing still and talking. You see us walk through a scene and maybe it’s 30 seconds in the movie, but that means it was probably the whole day of us climbing up the hill or running through that boneyard. It was really taxing on the body, in a way that I had never experienced before. I’ve experienced mental drain. I had never gotten to that point where you’re really pushing yourself to the limit, and it’s amazing what your body can do. It was fun!
Is it mentally grueling to always try to figure out where the monster is and how big he is, at all times?
LARSON: You have really weird conversations with your director that are very different than other films. With other films, you’re playing off of another person, and you’re talking about it like, “Well, they said it this way, so that made me react in this way. How can we change that dynamic?” With this, you’re starting from a complete unknown, so when a creature pops up, you have to go, “Well, what does it look like? What do its eyes look like? Does it look like it’s going to eat me, or that it’s going to be nice to me? How close is it to me? How tall is it? What kind of animal can we describe it like?” There are all of these unknowns that you’re just not used to dealing with because it’s all imaginary. It’s not like we had video to see it. You just have to be on the same page. There were tennis balls, but then it’s like, “Well, what is the tennis ball? Is it a mean tennis ball, or is it a nice tennis ball?”
JOHN GOODMAN: It’s something I’ve been doing since before I was a professional. I did plays in a church basement, and you had to use your imagination. That’s where I live, every day, anyway. You just ask things like, “How much water is in its mouth? What’s in there? What’s it smell like? How bad is it gonna hurt when he steps on me?”
LARSON: It’s fun!
Brie, how did you prepare for this role?
LARSON: I trained. Legendary got me a trainer, so I started training. I had trained before, when I did Room, but it was a different kind of training. For Room, it was about trying to get myself wiry and small. For this, it was about actually bulking up. You sit differently in your body, when you have that kind of strength.
GOODMAN: She could kill a guy!
You play a photojournalist in this film. Are you a photographer, or did you have to learn about that?
LARSON: I used a Leica in the film, and I hadn’t personally used a Leica before, so I didn’t take photos with that ‘cause I didn’t know how that would turn out. Instead, I used my camera that I have, which is a Canon Ae1. I had taken photography classes, years ago, and had learned how to develop film, so I was excited to get into it again. I try to find some sort of meditative hobby to do on set, and it’s different for every film. There’s a lot of downtime, but I don’t like reading on set because it feels like you’re taking yourself out of your world, instead of being present. And then, you feel like you’re not ready to do whatever you have to do. I took a lot of pictures.
GOODMAN: I started taking pictures because she was taking so many pictures. I thought, “Hey, I better get hip!” But, I’ve stopped doing it.
LARSON: So, I started taking photos as a way to stay connected and keep my mind active. My camera bag got pretty heavy, by the end, because I wanted it to be legit. I had all of my extra lenses and film in my bag. I had wardrobe sew in all of these extra pockets, in case people did get the logic of how I had all of these rolls of film. Very quickly, I learned that the bag is really heavy and the cameras are really heavy, which is why training was so helpful. You’ve got 10 pounds of weight hanging around your neck. So, I started taking photos, and then I realized that I could not go take them to get developed because they were top secret behind-the-scenes photos. I reached out to Legendary and Warner Bros. and said, “What if we make this a thing, and I’ll take actual photos, as the character? I’ll do some that are behind-the-scenes, but mostly, you won’t see any of our crew. They’ll just be real photos.” And they were into it. We had our own secret back-and-forth, where I was sending them the rolls of film and they had their top secret lab that they were developing them in.
Were you guys fans of monster movies, growing up?
GOODMAN: I had a Revell model of King Kong, when I was a child. I had all of the Universal models – Frankenstein, the Wolfman, the Phantom of the Opera.
Have you seen the old King Kong and Godzilla films?
GOODMAN: No, just the one [Jessica Lange] did, and the first one, which was iconic to me. And I saw Mighty Joe Young, which was by the same people. That was the coolest. I saw that in a theater.
John, your character has motivations that make him more sympathetic than characters like this usually are. Did you find that about him?
GOODMAN: I thought he was a dick with ears. The more I worked on the guy, the less I liked him. Ain’t that something?! No. He was easy to play.
Brie, was not playing the classic Kong heroine an attraction to this particular project?
LARSON: Yeah, I think that’s one of the reasons why I did this.
GOODMAN: For the heroine?
LARSON: No. It was to turn this allegory on its head, a little bit. We’re in a different time right now, and I think we’re ready to see a different type of female hero. What’s interesting about Weaver is that she’s strong and she’s tough, but she’s sensitive. That’s her strength. She’s using her heart and her humanity to actually save all of them, in the end. It doesn’t take all of this running around, brute force, explosions and guns. It just took having the simplest connection. That’s what saved their lives. I think that’s an incredible message.
Will you be able to carry that over into playing Captain Marvel in the Marvel Cinematic Universe?
LARSON: For me, I believe that just seeing women be strong and tough is not answering the question of what a female hero looks like. Women have their own set of skills that are worth exploring and seeing on screen. I feel like it’s too easy to just say, “We’ll just change the name of this male character to a female, but have her do all the same things that a male does.” I don’t believe in that. I think there’s something else. I think there’s more to women than that. Mason (in Kong: Skull Island) is a great example of that, and Captain Marvel will be another great example of that and of exploring deeper how women lead and how that is different and unique.
How was the experience of shooting in Vietnam?
GOODMAN: I loved it! It was totally exotic to me. First of all, we were camped out in downtown Hanoi. The hotel was very Westernized, but getting out and just getting lost, I dug the people, the smells and the food. It was just unbelievable.
LARSON: And the people are really, really nice.
GOODMAN: To go to work, we’d have to take water shuttles that the women would paddle with their feet for us. They have some great caves, too. It was just beautiful.
LARSON: Once we were in Vietnam, I feel like we traveled every three days, or every week. We got to see a lot of different areas within Vietnam. The food was so good. You can eat anything you want there, and it’s perfectly fine. It’s all about the freshness of the ingredients. The food is so clean. They can’t mask the flavor because it’s about the purity of the flavor, so I was eating anything I could get my hands on. I went on a food tour, and they took us around. I also bought a lot of stuff. I had to buy another suitcase for all the stuff that I brought back, and I still wish I would have bought more. I also bought a bunch of stuff as gifts.
What was the best thing you guys got to do, during this shoot?
LARSON: We held baby koalas.
GOODMAN: We went to a kangaroo petting zoo.
LARSON: It was an animal sanctuary, not a kangaroo petting zoo. It was much nicer than that. I did these things called Brie-kends, where we’d plan these weekends of fun. I’m not really a Friday night, “Let’s go to a club person!” I’m like a “It’s Friday night, let’s go play laser tag!” person. So, that’s what we’d do. I rent out a laser tag place, at 8 o’clock on a Saturday.
Brie, what do you remember about your Oscar win?
LARSON: I don’t remember it.
Where do you keep your Oscar?
LARSON: That’s a secret!
What do you have coming up next?
LARSON: I just directed a film that Sam Jackson is in, called Unicorn Store. I’m editing that right now.
Do you get the same passion with all of the aspects of this business that you’ve tried?
LARSON: I think they all just feed each other. They’re all in conversation with each other. I like feeling a little off-balance, so I like switching to different things so that I never get too comfortable with any one thing. You can get really bad habits. As an actor, I think you can get really bad habits, if you do the same thing, every day. You can get stuck in a rut. So, I like jumping between genres, and then taking a break and learning something new. I like feeling like I’m still learning.
Kong: Skull Island opens in theaters on March 10th.