Set Visit: Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson & Sam Jackson talk Kong: Skull Island
When it comes to set visits, it's not uncommon to see one, maybe two scenes being shot. As far KONG goes, we saw a total of 4, which is very impressive considering how busy this production is. In order to see the first scene in action, we had to travel through some serious jungle. I can tell you firsthand that sneakers were not the best choice for hiking. That aside, it was a great experience just to traverse the muddy path on the way to set. You completely buy into the fact you're on Skull Island with just the commute alone. Fortunately for us, there was more to look at than just mud and trees; there was also a Sam Jackson.
THE CHAPMAN SITUATION
In this first scene we were witness to, Sam Jackson sat in the midst of this jungle, radio in-hand. At this point in the story, Jackson's men have been split up and his character is trying to reach Jack Chapman, the man in charge of the other group. "Fox Leader to Chapman", he calls out, trying to exchange co-ordinates. It's not long before a scream is heard (some guy yelling off camera, much to my amusement). Jackson calls out, "Jack!!!" There is no response. A soldier approaches, questioning what's going on. Jackson states that, "There's enough C4 in Chapman's C-stallion to blow this thing to kingdom come." The soldier begins to question Chapman's status, but Jackson grabs him and pulls him close. "Not a word of this to the other men. You understand?" "Sir?", the soldier asks in fear. Jackson moves to inspire. "Listen, I need 'em strong. This will destroy their morale. I need 'em strong so we can put this beast down." The soldier questions his motives, asking, "We're going to kill it? Shouldn't we be heading back to the beach?" It's clear that Jackson's resolve is strong, as he proclaims that, "We are not leaving this island while that ape's still breathing. Got me?" Before things get any more tense, another soldier approaches asking, "What's the hold up?" Jackson releases the first soldier, who states, "Nothing. Keep moving.", and they leave.
When it comes to Samuel L. Jackson as an actor, you know what to expect, and that's never a bad thing. If there's a soldier who you would believe could take down King Kong, it would be Sam Jackson. The scene we saw showed some of his character's humanity, but also how adamant he was that he would destroy this creature. It was fitting, in this case, that are first cast interview be with the man who dare stand up to the mighty ape.
INTERVIEW WITH SAMUEL L. JACKSON
Regarding his character:
"He's black. He's tall. He's old. He's been in the army a long time - he's a lifer. He believes in his men and their lives. The sanctity of God and country. It's a drive. It's very akin to Ahab and the whale. At a certain point you've gotta to stand up to this thing that's done so much destruction to you and your people. He has this idea that this thing is not what's going to save humanity, because that's what everyone else's idea is. This is the thing that's standing between us and these other things that are a threat to humanity. We've evolved to the point that we're the line in the sand, ya know? This thing's not the line in the sand, we are. And if us, in our infinite advance technology and mental state, can't stop a mindless gigantic ape, then our evolution has been for naught, so that's part of where he is in that particular place. He does have to exact some measure of revenge for the people that he's lost, because that's just the nature of how we operate. Eye for an eye."
Acting with CG creatures:
"I guess I've been practicing to do this pretty much my whole life. You go to a movie like this when you're a kid - you go to a Godzilla movie, you go see Mothra, you go see all those things and I'm an only child so I've spent a lot of time in my room fighting things that weren't there anyway and I just ask somebody how big is it, how fast is it, where is it and I'm good!"
How KONG: SKULL ISLAND will stand apart from other movies of its kind:
"I actually do think that the fact that we're on location and not in a studio...I mean, I shot THE LEGEND OF TARZAN almost 2 years ago and we did all that in an air-conditioned bug-free jungle, so this is totally different. We're out in the elements. You can actually see that and not think the difference will be very palpable to an audience, the fact that we're actually out here doing stuff. I think the scope of what this island actually is and this particular place when we encounter various things, people will be as surprised as I was when I was reading about it or when you're there, you're in the midst of something and you realize this is not what that is. This is something else."
Regarding the film's theme:
"We live in a world that we control a little too much and when we get rid of one thing, it allows another thing to proliferate and we put things out of balance. And how we do that and what the consequences of us doing those things are...will definitely speak to that."
Alright . . . right now I'm going to tell you how freaking cool this set is. It's called The Boneyard and it's pretty self-explanatory in its name. At some point in the story, our heroes will come across a vast area with all sorts of bones buried. We're talking dinosaur bones, human bones, and even bones that look eerily reminiscent to the 1930s Kong (an Easter Egg, of sorts). Imagine something like the elephant graveyard from THE LION KING, except embedded in between some Hawaiian mountains, and you've got the right idea. The really cool thing about this set is that it could have easily been built on a stage, in order for production to more easily manipulate/control the environment. The fact is that they actually build this thing in Hawaii and that just sells it. It will be digitally extended for the film, I'm sure, but standing there and seeing these MASSIVE bones just buried everywhere was a sight. As far as the scene being shot there, well, they wouldn't give us many details. However, looking at some of the playback, it appeared very reminiscent of the scene from PREDATOR where the soldiers are just firing everything they have in a single direction. As to what they were shooting at . . . I'm afraid we'll have to wait until next year to find out!
TOM HIDDLESTON AND BRIE LARSON ENCOUNTER KONG
Not all scenes you witness being shot are long and filled with dialogue. In the case of this one, Tom Hiddleston and Brie Larson are running form something, Kong appears in front of them and they both duck together. That's it. There were variations of this shot. Sometimes they would duck away from the camera or duck towards it. In one take, the director had Hiddleston put his arm protectively over Larson as they ducked. However, when watching these two before and after the take, it was obvious that they were having a lot of fun and that they had great chemistry together! They would run in place to get each other psyched for the scene. Sometimes Brie Larson would playfully pose for the camera, inciting whistling from members of the crew, which prompted Hiddleston to say, "One of you are really good at that!" Hiddleston would even talk to Larson about their characters and what had transpired in the previous scene, just to help them both get in the mindset. It was a fascinating process to watch and if you ever wondered how devoted these two actors are when the cameras aren't rolling, the answer is, "Completely."
Our interview with Brie Larson was the shortest on the set of SKULL ISLAND, barely passing the 10-minute mark. It's not a lot of time to get to know your actor or get a lot of information, but the one thing that was really obvious is that she was really excited to be there, filming this type of movie, and REALLY excited to finally talk about it! Even thought it was just with some journalists she didn't know! Right off the bat she joked with us about selling a timeshare in that location, where mud is always underneath your feet and there is no cell phone reception, but we quickly moved into KONG territory and what she thought about her character. However, I really hope the sense of fun and the laughs we all shared comes across in these brief highlights!
INTERVIEW WITH BRIE LARSON
On her character:
"I play a woman, to start. I play a journalist, a photographer, who ends up joining this cast of characters. I have my own sort of motive as to why I'm here. That's the interesting thing about this movie - a group of misfits coming from different angles looking at the same thing. And you get to see many different views in regards to nature and how we should handle it, or be dealt with from many different perspectives. I come in as kind of a background person, one who's just here to take photos and as it progresses I have to get a little bit more hands-on."
Why she was drawn to this film:
"The huge part of it is what the story is and I really love big movies but my favorite ones were the ones that have real structure and backbone to them. It's not just a group of people fighting for some sort of abstract thing that's gonna save the world. There's some meaning behind it, and something that - we can enjoy it as we're in the theater but then as we walk out we go, 'Wow, there was something much deeper at play here. There's something that connects me to my life.' It's the reason why I love and I've always loved STAR WARS so much, is it's so rooted in myth. It's so rooted in the mental process of the brain and it helps us to deal with these abstract things that are happening in our brain to make us feel less alone. To do a movie like this, to sign on when it's really, really tough. It's really hard to make any movie but a movie like this requires a lot of physical work and a good attitude every day and so it needs to be something that's worth fighting for every day and I feel like this is because the actual structure of the story itself, the meaning behind all of this."
Regarding her character's relationship with Kong:
"I think that there is a beautiful thing because of the - I think there's so much myth in this and part of myth is masculine and feminine - that anima and animus. So because of her feminine energy I feel like she is a little further ahead in having an interest and respect for nature and immediately clocks that this is not about man overcoming this creature but working with it and really begins to appreciate it. So through that I think that she has a closer, more loving and intimate relationship with Kong than those who are just bulldozing into it."
Sean Wist: "So, love scene?"
Brie Larson: "Definitely!" [laughs]
THE JUNGLE CHASE
The last jungle scene we were witness to was actually one of my favorite sites to behold. There are many ways to light a night scene and a lot of the time, films will just shoot during the day and digitally alter it to look like night (it rarely works). Thankfully, this was not the case here. A giant balloon filled with lights drifted just below the treetops, while a giant crane provided a light source ABOVE the trees. The effect of this was rays of light just shooting past the thousands of tree leaves. It was really something and added a touch of majesty to the evening.
The scene itself followed a group including Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, John C. Reilly, and a few others running from an unseen danger. Halfway in the scene, Larson turns around to take a few pictures with her camera. Hiddleston runs by, grabs her by the waste and pulls her away, yelling, "Not right now!" There wasn't too much variation in the number of takes I saw, but I did catch Hiddleston singing Chumbawumba's Tubthumping with the cast before a take. The man is just an endless source of passion, commitment, and energy. That will no doubt come across in the interview we fortunate enough to do with the man.
INTERVIEW WITH TOM HIDDLESTON
On his character:
"I play Captain James Conrad, who is a SAS Special Operative who has been training American and Cambodians in jungle survival technique. He's a survivalist. He's a tracker. He's the guy you send in to find missing persons if a plane or a helicopter has crashed in the jungle because he has this special tracking ability. It's interesting 'cause if you dig around in the history of the Vietnam conflict on public record there was no British military involvement in the war, but there were people in Cambodia, specifically the British SAS who were training people. They had a jungle warfare school in Malaysia. It's just something when we were conceiving the film we were trying to find what specific history the character could have and we thought that would be interesting. The reason he's on the boat [to Skull Island] is he's sort of seen so much and been through so much and he's hanging around, and he's not sure where he's going next. Bill Rander who works for Monarch for the US government comes to find him in a back alley somewhere and he says, 'We need you on this mission.' He says, 'What's the mission?' He says, 'We're making a map of an island in the south Pacific and we need someone with survival skills. We need someone with your ability.' And he's like, 'That sounds sufficiently shady!' He's a man without a mission. He doesn't have a direction. I think there's probably a question mark in his soul too, of like 'Where do I go now? What do I do now?' He has this unique skill set within the group as someone who is indispensable in terms of their survival in the jungle, distinct from the group because he's British and therefore he doesn't have the same spiritual shadow of the Vietnam conflict and also someone who's awe and wonder will be awakened by everything he sees."
Regarding his interest in Kong:
"Human beings need to be reminded of how small they are in the scale of the world and the universe. King Kong is one of the biggest movie stars in a hundred years of cinema and he's always served to remind people in the story and audiences that there are things about our world that are bigger than us that we don't understand. Conrad comes to embody that humility which really appealed to me. "By the way, it's so much fun! Like, I'm having the best time! It's an amazing gang. There was a day, about two weeks ago, when the entire troop, about 15 of us, were trekking across, over these ridges and we stop at the top of this ridge and look down into a bone yard. I was at the front of this line, and then we all stopped and filed out and I was next to Brie Larson, Thomas Mann, John Goodman, John C. Reilly, Samuel L. Jackson, Jason Mitchell, Corey Hawkins...and I was like, 'This is a gang!'"
How KONG differs from other big-budget films:
"I've made big movies like this on sound stages surrounded by green screen where you supply everything with your imagination and the other day we were in that crater, in the valley of the volcano, and there's beautiful mountains on every side...blue sky...and nothing left to imagine. You're just there. Sam and I were saying, 'If you can't get excited for this, you can't get excited about anything.' This is as good as it gets in terms of big movie making."
On having great character moments in the midst of the visual effects:
"I've been attached to this film for a year and a half and I've been - Legendary and Jordan (director) have been incredibly generous in including me in the development of the story so I know it inside out and have had some agency in helping shape it. That's been the one thing I keep reminding people is when these films work, it's because there are extraordinary visual effects and cinema on this scale has to work as a spectacle with drama and wit and humor and life and dynamism. If there's no character, if there's no human drama...that's the different between the great ones and the okay ones. We've both really lobbied for great characters, great character conflict, every character has a journey. And I think that Jordan's masterstroke in his conception of the this story was post Vietnam 1972. It's completely new. We've never seen King Kong in that arena, and it gives every character somewhere to come from."
On his character's chemistry with Brie Larson's:
"[Conrad's] sort of a 70s hero. He's one of those lone cats. He's got edge. A lot of wit. That's partly why I wanted the character to be British. So that chemistry with Weaver (Brie Larson) would have that old Hollywood banter. There's a great chemistry. There's a great sort of back and forth about who gets to make decisions. She mocks him in the beginning for being opaque and mysterious. 'What's this tracking thing you've got going on?' When the shit hits the fan, Conrad reveals himself to be really handy in a tight spot, and she's really grateful for that...but she won't let him know! And she also has moments of great bravery and courage and action. That's what I love about it. There's never been a leading female character in a King Kong film like we have.
Whether or not he was a fan of Kong beforehand:
"Always. Right from the first one. I can't remember when I saw the first one, the '33 one. I remember seeing the Jeff Bridges, Jessica Lange, Charles Groden one when I was younger. I love the Peter Jackson's film. I'm a big fan of adventure cinema. Always have been. We want to make it something that's up there with the best adventure stories that the form has ever seen. Those are the films I grew up on. When Jordan and I met, we talked about aspiring to make something that was like, 'cause he and I are the same age, we talked about Raiders, we talked about Jurassic Park and those films take you, they just take you to a place and put you in a context and give you a great time. You just follow the story, you know?"
On tent pole films:
"I love the scale of films of this size. I'm a fan of them, myself. Even the ones I'm not in, I'm always there for opening weekend. Having made a few big movies, I think there's real scope for investment. You can tell big stories on a big scale and they can be about something. They're not just assemblages of visual effects. They really can mean something, and they do, I think. So I wanted to do that. And the character himself was so appealing because, I've played so many complex, antagonistic characters, or people who'd become antagonistic. The elephant in the room is Loki, he's not the hero of those films. He's a fantastic character and I loved playing him, but this was a different challenge. I also look like myself. My mom's gonna love it!"
Regarding Kong's transformation in the film:
"He goes from someone who's just a terrifying beast to an emblem of something more powerful than that. I think the way that ILM are going to create him and render him will be completely new. I think the scale will be greater. There's always that thing in other Kong films that I've scene where he seems huge on the island but it takes him a while to get up the Empire State. I mean, it's no secret that we're in the same universe as Godzilla. He's gonna be towering, and I think that'll be exciting too."
The fact of the matter is, it's impossible to tell how a film's going to turn out from a set-visit. You can watch the scenes and speak to the actors and all the optimism in the world isn't going to affect the outcome. However, you don't always get those people who have the passion and the commitment that this cast and crew does. From the concept art to the filmmakers to the actors, everyone had a clear idea of what they wanted to accomplish. Their hearts were absolutely in the right place and the studio is behind them 100%. That's as great a start as you could ever hope for. KONG: SKULL ISLAND went from a KONG V GODZILLA prequel to the adventure movie I never knew I wanted. I'll tell you what, though: I do want it, and I can't wait for it to get here!
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