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, actor Tom Hiddleston spoke at a roundtable interview about what attracted him to Kong: Skull Island, being included in the development of his character, his reaction the first time he saw King Kong as a child, his love of adventure movies, the experience of shooting in Vietnam, the real scary creatures they came across, and the film’s political edge. He also talked about how much he enjoyed working with director Taika Waititi on Thor: Ragnarok, and how he’s bringing his own sense of humor to the latest installment in the Marvel universe.
Question: Why were you intrigued by playing this man, in this movie?
TOM HIDDLESTON: On the set of Crimson Peak, in March of 2014, Thomas Tull came to visit and he said, “I want to talk to you about something.” I was very excited about the Godzilla picture that they had made, and was looking forward to seeing it. He said, “We’re also making Kong.” When you finish this film, come and see me. So, I went to visit him and he pitched Kong: Skull Island to me and said, “At the center of it, there is an adventurer, who’s a former soldier and is somebody who goes on a journey, and it’s full of action and adventure.” I’ve loved King Kong since I was a child, and to be in an iteration of the Kong myth was so exciting to me.
Was it the Jessica Lange movie, or the Fay Wray?
HIDDLESTON: The Fay Wray [movie]. And then, Thomas and (director) Jordan [Vogt-Roberts] and everybody at Legendary included me in developing the character, which was really thrilling. I wanted him to be someone who starts off in a world weary place, and his experiences on the island give him a new humility, in the face of the wonder and power of the natural world. I think that’s what Kong represents.
What did you think, the first time you saw King Kong, as a child, and what was it that excited you about him?
HIDDLESTON: I think children are excited by nature and by animals. The idea of Kong is just very exciting. He’s a big monkey. So, for a child, that’s a cool idea.
Were you a fan of monster movies, growing up?
HIDDLESTON: I loved adventure movies. I loved movies where people went on an adventure to an unknown land, an undiscovered country, or a new territory. I think there’s something, right at the center of storytelling, that people love about that. We’re all intrigued, in our civilized world that we live in, and curious about how we would get on, on an undiscovered island that is untouched by man. Stories like this play into that curiosity, in the audience.
What was it like to shoot some of this in Vietnam?
HIDDLESTON: Vietnam is absolutely breathtaking. I’ve never been to that part of the world before and it is an area of such natural beauty. I think the landscape of Vietnam became the central visual template for what Skull Island should look like. The Vietnamese people were so kind and hospitable and welcoming. We ate all of the food.
What was your favorite?
HIDDLESTON: There was a lot of duck. We were shooting in and around Hanoi, and the lakes of Ninh Binh and the valleys of Phong Nha, which is a completely unique landscape. I loved it.
You worked outside in all of the elements. Were there any real creatures that surprised or scared you?
HIDDLESTON: There were some in Australia. We saw a (deadly) brown snake in Australia. And I saw the webs of funnel-web spiders. Queensland has the highest concentration of dangerous animals in the world, but we loved it.
Of all the Kong movies, do you feel like this one has more of a political edge to it?
HIDDLESTON: Well, it’s set in 1973, and that era presents itself as an uneasy time. It was an uneasy time in Washington, and we’re all familiar with what that feels like. I think, actually, that it’s a really fascinating time in history because the development of modern technology and the photographs the satellites were taking from space were mapping the earth in a new way, making us feel like the globe we inhabit is much smaller than previously conceived of, in the human mind. The foreign policy of Western democracies was changing. There was a huge social justice movement. The 60s had completely changed how people conceived of their lives and their habits and their identities. That’s a very exciting space to put this story into. I think this film does raise questions about the nature of war, but also about the bravery and courage of soldiers. You have these soldiers who I think have had an experience that is unimaginable to most of us, and they already have a weight and a depth, and they’re still faced with these giant creatures and feel humbled in their presence.
You have some very intense moments in this, with Samuel L. Jackson. What’s it like to work with him?
HIDDLESTON: Sam is just a very fine actor, and he is a consummate professional. He and I worked together before, on Avengers. What’s really nice about moments like that is that we already have a rapport and a mutual respect. It’s fun. When you go toe-to-toe with an actor like Sam, that’s like playing tennis with Novak Djokovic. We enjoyed that. He’s a creature of the theater, as much as I am, so it was great to have some of those scenes, where we had some dialogue to sink our teeth into. So much of the engagement on a film like this is imagining the creatures that aren’t there. When you’re up against a real actor like Sam and you have some good dialogue to bat back and forth between you, that’s very exciting.