A strict set of rules must be followed when talking about Kong: Skull Island.
1. Please don’t reveal the fate of any of the characters, including Kong – especially Kong.
2. Please avoid specifics about the other creatures in the film, particularly the Skullcrawlers. However, please feel free to allude to villain creatures that exist on Skull Island, particularly Kong’s nemesis – the terrifying, rapacious beast that killed his ancestors and made him the last of his kind.
3. Please avoid taking on the politics or grim realities of the Vietnam War (napalm, mass human losses). If pressed, please treat the subject with sensitivity but deflect to the film itself, i.e. look and feel, thematic resonance, period military mindset and techniques, etc.
4. Please avoid comparisons to Apocalypse Now. If asked directly, please underscore that Kong: Skull Island is a big, epic monster movie while noting that Coppola and ‘70s cinema are a huge influence on today’s filmmakers.
5. Please avoid discussing the film’s budget or any financial details of the production. If pressed to comment on reported numbers or speculation, please deflect, i.e. “I honestly don’t have any information on that; that would be a question for the studio.”
6. Please avoid specifics on how Kong is being created, e.g. motion capture techniques and Andy Serkis’s involvement/lack of involvement in the film. It’s fine to note that he will be a digital character but please focus on bringing Kong to life at such an epic scale and level of ferocity.
7. Please do not position the film as an “origin story.” Instead, please emphasize that this film will reveal one of Kong’s most important battles—for his rightful place as the king of Skull Island (“how Kong became King”).
8. In general, please avoid criticizing other films or directors in relation to Kong: Skull Island or referencing previous films, such as the ‘70s King Kong or Peter Jackson’s 2005 film. The legacy we are connecting to is the 1933 original, so please feel free to discuss that film and the cultural phenomenon it birthed. Peter Jackson’s version was a wonderful telling, but Kong: Skull Island is a vastly different take on the character and mythos.
9. Please avoid specifics about the music or specific tracks that will be on the soundtrack. It’s okay to talk about the incredible opportunity for an amazing soundtrack offered by this landmark era in music.
10. Please avoid mentioning specific films as either a prequel or a sequel to Kong: Skull Island and any speculation on where the story goes next. If asked about the wider “MonsterVerse,” please feel free to acknowledge that this film continues to explore a new era of this shared universe.
11. If questioned about how Kong and Godzilla would match up in a fight – given that Kong is 100 ft-tall and Godzilla is closer to 350 ft-tall – okay to tease the exciting possibilities of such a battle.
12. Also please reference that the Kong we meet on Skull Island is an adolescent and “still has some growing to do.”
Set in 1973, Kong: Skull Island follows a team of explorers that is brought together to venture onto an uncharted island in the Pacific. Obviously, the team is completely unaware that they’re entering the domain of the mythic Kong.
Kong: Skull Island’s human star, Tom Hiddleston, plays Captain James Conrad, the leader of the fateful expedition. In November, I had the chance to talk to Hiddleston about the beauty and the horror of Skull Island and the relationship between man and monster.
DG: How difficult was it for you, as an actor, to have to continually imagine the existence of a digitally-created character like Kong throughout the filming process?
TH: It’s like playing tennis on half a court. You hit the ball back, and it doesn’t come back to you, in terms of trying to imagine the visual effects that will appear in the finished film. It requires a lot of emotional and physical stamina. When we made the film, I would stare at different points-at hills, at the tallest trees, up in the sky-and pretend that I was looking at Kong and the other creatures in the film.
DG: How did you first become involved with Kong: Skull Island?
TH: I was filming Crimson Peak in Canada in 2014, when producer Thomas Tull, one of the partners in the production company Legendary Pictures, took me aside and told me that they were going to do another Kong film. Thomas told me that they wanted to make the kind of Kong film we all grew up on, referring to the classic 1933 original. He told me that the Kong in this film would exist in the real world. He said there would be other creatures in the film, and explorers, and villains, and he said he wanted me to be the hero. Then he asked me, ‘Are you interested?’
DG: How would you describe Skull Island?
TH: The most dangerous places are the most beautiful. Skull Island is a beautiful but mysterious place that’s full of terror and wonder. Man has never been there before, and there’s a sense that man doesn’t belong there. The film is about awe and wonder and unknown terror.
DG: How would you describe Conrad, and is there a relationship between the character’s name and Joseph Conrad’s novel Heart of Darkness?
TH: Conrad’s Heart of Darkness explored the mind of man, and the themes in the book-man’s hubris and the extremes that exist in nature-are present in the film. Conrad is a former SAS officer who brings a tremendous amount of cynicism to this mission. Conrad specializes in jungle survival, and he’s experienced the most extreme forms of nature. He thinks they’re all going to die, and he actually starts listing the ways in which they’re all going to die on this mission. What happens in the film is that Kong reawakens his sense of awe and wonder.
DG: Kong: Skull Island takes place in 1973. Why is that specific point in time relevant to the story?
TH: It’s a perfect time because it’s a time period in which it would be possible to discover an uncharted island in the Pacific. It’s believable that Skull Island could have gone undiscovered until 1973, when NASA’s satellite program, Landsat, began to map the world from space, which is how the island is discovered in the film. This is a time that was defined by corruption and cynicism and the misuse of power. Richard Nixon ended the Vietnam War. The Watergate scandal was still unfolding. It’s a relatable point in time.
DG: What did director Jordan Vogt-Roberts bring to this film that was unique from other directors who might’ve attempted this?
TH: Jordan brought an unshakable belief to the film, which meant a return to an old school type of filmmaking. Jordan wanted to go to the ends of the earth, like David Attenborough did on the television series Planet Earth. We filmed in real environments, real jungles. There were no air conditioned, bug-free tents on this film. When we were in Australia, on the Gold Coast, a health safety officer warned us that the black snakes, the spiders, and even some of the plants could kill us. We filmed in the rainforest in Queensland, and we filmed around the lakes and swamps in Vietnam, where the mountains rise up out of the ground like skyscrapers. In Oahu, we were in the valleys, surrounded by breathtaking mountain vistas and Huey helicopters. The look of the film is very colorful and projects a sense of beauty and majesty. There are lots of fluorescent colors on the island-lots of blues and bright greens and oranges. Kong is the god of this natural world.
DG: How would you describe the relationship between Conrad and Mason Weaver, the character played by Brie Larson?
TH: Conrad and Weaver are outsiders who are united by their skepticism. They’re both very skeptical of the stated reasons for them being there. They don’t trust the character played by John Goodman, who says he only wants to map the planet but clearly has ulterior motives. The human characters are all, to varying degrees, broken, lonely people. Some of them see Kong as just a threat, while others, like Conrad, come around to the idea that Kong is more of a savior.
DG: How would you describe the dynamic that exists between Conrad and Preston Packard, the character played by Samuel L. Jackson, the leader of the Sky Devils helicopter squadron?
TH: Packard is the commander in the sky, and Conrad is the commander on the ground. This is a disparate group of explorers and soldiers that have arrived on this island. Packard’s first priority is to protect the lives of his men, and when his men are threatened, he becomes vengeful. The different priorities that develop in our characters throughout the film put us in conflict with each other.
DG: When you were pretending to be looking at Kong for all of those months, what did you feel and imagine?
TH: What I imagined, based on the script and the conceptual artwork, was that Kong was an emblem of the power of nature. This is definitely what I’ve seen in the film. Kong’s the defender of the island and nature. You can see the native intelligence when you look into his eyes, and you can also see how lonely he is. He’s lonely at the top of the food chain. His ancestors have all been killed, and he’s the last of his kind. His eyes reflect tragedy. When I looked up at him, when I was staring up toward a hill or a tree during the filming, I was terrified at first, and then I felt an overwhelming sense of humility and awe. Then I thought, ‘I’m looking at a god.’