Jason Mitchell & Toby Kebbell on the Crazy Experience of Making ‘Kong: Skull Island’

     March 8, 2017

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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 Toby Kebbell and Jason Mitchell spoke at a roundtable interview about how exciting it is to be in a big monster movie, working with so much CG, the challenges of learning to pilot a helicopter, getting to be a part of a week-long workshop to get to know their characters and each other prior to shooting, what they learned from working with Samuel L. Jackson and John Goodman, and what a fight between Kong and Godzilla might look like. 

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Image via Warner Bros.

Question: How exciting is it to be in a big monster movie?

JASON MITCHELL: There are a couple of things that are at the top of the film world. This is probably the #1 top thing. You can’t top Kong! It’s the best! Every movie that was ever made was just dope and so epic to see. When they sent this to me, it was easy for me to say, “Please make me a part of it! What do I have to do?!”

What was it like to have to work with nothing there for so much of the film?

TOBY KEBBELL: There was a fair percentage of it that was practical. We got to learn to fly helicopters. When you see that footage, you’re like, “Oh, that’s just a bunch of CG helicopters flying into a cloud!” But, we flew them. They trained us to fly. Getting your license is hard because the classroom work is incredibly intensive. It’s more difficult than flying a plane. You’re gliding, to somewhat of an extent. They trained us to come in and hover. 

MITCHELL: It was pretty crazy! I just thought it was a flight simulator, but they wanted us to be able to jump in the helicopter and make everything look real. They were like, “See those mountains? Take me to them!” And I was like, “All right, I’m ready for this!”

KEBBELL: You don’t look at the windshield. You look at the dials. All of the information is there, so you’re told. All of the gauges explain it. We had a Scotsman from the Royal Air Force teaching us. 

How long did it take you to learn how to do that?

KEBBELL: They gave us a week to come in to hover. It’s like juggling. At some point, you give up and you’re like, “I’m not going to be able to do this. I’m going to kill this guy that’s had a career in the military.” And then, you come in to hover and somehow you’re hovering. It’s muscle memory. 

MITCHELL: It’s so crazy how much finesse you have to have, though. It’s such a huge piece of machinery that you want to grab it and be strong with it, but it does everything you tell it to do. So, they put a pencil there and they tell you, “If you break this pencil, you’re going too hard.”

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Image via Warner Bros.

Did you guys get to spend any time together, before you started shooting?

KEBBELL: We did. We did a workshop beforehand. We spent a week, going every day, and we’d spend the day improving and creating our characters, and being paired and then grouped into fours. It was good. It was a really, really phenomenal experience. It was nice to have that. And then, you got crowned with Sam [Jackson] and John Ortiz, who is one of my favorite people. He’s such a good performer. 

Toby, you filled in some of Kong’s facial expressions, didn’t you?

KEBBELL: I filled in a few gaps, yeah. ILM created a digital character, and it was great to be asked by them to do that. I assisted in the digital performances.

What was it like for you guys to get to work with actors like Samuel L. Jackson and John Goodman?

MITCHELL: John Goodman has such a good way of breaking the ice. He’s so good at being himself. A lot of people aren’t really good at that. He knows that he’s a legend. He knows that he’s one of the greatest. When I met him, it was more about him letting me know that it’s cool. Sam, on the other hand, has got jokes for days. Sam is gonna fuck with you, as long as you let him. He’s my guy. Some of the locations, you couldn’t leave. You had to stay there. When we did some of the stuff in the rivers, there was nowhere to go. So, when they were doing these scenes, you could peak and be like, “Damn!” I’d be in video village, watching them. When Sam did his monologue about how man is king, I was just watching him like, “I see why they pay you what they pay you!” You don’t have to ask them any acting questions. They display it.

KEBBELL: The wonderful thing about Sam is that you see his movies, but that’s not him. When you really get to spend time with him, and we got some time together, I was blown away. One of my favorite films is Fresh. Boaz Yakin directed it, which is the reason I did Prince of Persia. I know I’m up here with some of the worst films in the world, but hear me out. Boaz Yakin wrote Prince of Persia. When I first read that, it was written by Boaz Yakin and Garsiv was an incredible role. It just changed. Somewhere along the line, it changed. These things happen. So, when I spoke to Sam, I was talking to him about Fresh. I was like, “That is an incredible movie!” And he was like, “You’ve seen that?!” He’s a very giving human beings. Meet your heroes got a bonus when I met him. He’s incredibly bright and he’s very literate. He has a vast knowledge. So, when you’re speaking to him, his references are obscure. Some of his references are incredibly obscure, and it takes some knowledge to catch them. 

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Image via Warner Bros.

Did you learn any acting tricks from him?

MITCHELL: Not really acting tricks, but life tricks and the way to live your life, especially on my trajectory. I didn’t really plan on fame. I never really factored that part into my life. And he’s somebody who coasts through it, so well. I would tell him, all the time, “I’m just working on my Sam walk.” He has a real way of being able to level the business with the art. To have somebody like that in your corner that you can just call up is dope.

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