Tom Hiddleston Conquers Kong: Skull Island
By: Lynn Barker
In Kong: Skull Island, popular actor Tom Hiddleston (Avengers films, Thor movies and spooky Crimson Peak) plays Captain James Conrad, a military adventurer on the trail of giant ape Kong. He is pitted against the Samuel L. Jackson character Packard who thinks only Mankind has a right to rule on Earth and to heck with any giant animals.
In real life, Tom loves and supports Earth’s environment and her animals and had a blast in the various jungle and isolated locales while filming the movie. He even learned to surf in Hawaii. He talks about using his actor’s imagination in all his roles and catches us up on his popular Avengers character Loki. Check it out!
Q: I like this movie because of the message: American soldiers didn’t respect nature and dropped a bomb in the past and Kong comes after the humans. How do you feel about nature and respecting our planet?
- Tom: I think there is a theme in Kong: Skull Island about the power and majesty of the natural world and I think a healthy connection with the natural world actually makes us more human. Right now, I personally feel that people feel very reassured by nature because it makes us feel small and that’s a good thing for human beings and for society. I love that most recent series “Planet Earth” by the BBC and where you see images of lion and buffalo, lynxes or giraffes in the wild and people take huge comfort in nature.
Q: Agreed. Most of the actors told us that the reason they wanted to do this movie was to chase and be chased by King Kong. How about you?
- Tom: (He laughs) Yeah. As it was pitched to me, it was a big adventure film that, in lots of ways was quite old-fashioned but with a completely original story and characters. I think there’s a part of all of us that wonders how we would survive on an island untouched by Man. Even better, an island untouched by Man and inhabited by King Kong. I’ve always loved that character. He’s like a modern-day myth, an icon of the cinema.
Q: Conrad has an interesting relationship with the Mason (Weaver) character played by Brie Larson. They are coworkers and don’t become lovers. How did you feel about that and how was working with Brie?
- Tom: I loved working with Brie. I remember very, very early on, both of us singing from the same hymn-sheet that some of these films can work if you reinterpret myths. Both Conrad and Weaver question the status quo and they are learners, I think, to some extent and that’s appealing. He is British SAS (Special Ari Service) and she is a photojournalist so they have more of an independent viewpoint. Many of the other characters are in service of the United States military.
Q: Talk more about your character Conrad vs. the Samuel L. Jackson character.
- Tom: I loved the idea that you have two highly-skilled military commanders. Colonel Packard (Sam Jackson’s character) is a commander in the sky, Captain Conrad is a commander on the ground, hugely capable in reconnaissance, the recovery of lost soldiers, jungle warfare, and they diverge in opinion and Conrad can disagree with Packard without being insubordinate and that was important that you have these two equally-skilled, experienced characters who can have a difference of opinion about what to do next without somehow starting a mutiny.
Q: So did you spend a lot of time admiring the scenery while on the shoot?
- Tom: Yeah. We were taken to some of the most breathtaking places on this planet. I think you can tangibly feel that the cast have been placed into natural environments which have their own atmosphere and ecosystem. We went to Oahu in Hawaii, to Queensland in Australia and northern Vietnam around Hanoi and Phong Nha. In the rainforest in Australia they have their own dangerous plants, beautiful birds, snakes, spiders and there’s something about being in those environments which helps us.
Q: Did you get to explore on your own a little bit and have your own adventures while shooting the film?
- Tom: Yes. Thanksgiving 2015, as a British citizen who doesn’t celebrate Thanksgiving, I had nowhere to go and I stayed in Hawaii and I learned to surf which is a beautiful place to do it. The waves are very gentle there and the ocean is very warm so that’s how I spent my Thanksgiving. I’d never surfed before.
Q: How long did it take you to get up on the board?
- Tom: I was up on the first day but that’s probably something to do with the Hawaiian waves, nothing due to me and there were sea turtles out there which is always lovely.
Q: I heard that you sought out SAS and military men to research for this part. Do you always over-prepare for a role even if it’s for a big blockbuster?
- Tom: I think it’s my job. I truly think any preparation you do only helps and adds dimension and complexity to the work. The character, as written on the page, is just a blueprint for a human being. There were changes that came about as a result of the research I did. I trained with a former Navy Seal and two former British Royal Marines simply because the physical discipline of having to be in that kind of shape was useful. It makes you feel different because you start to understand the demands and challenges that these soldiers face every day.
Q: You do big blockbusters and some smaller indie films as well. Do you prefer one or the other?
- Tom: It’s interesting. I think there is a greater difference for an audience than for actors.
- When a new project comes along, I want to know that the experience is going to be challenging and exciting. Part of me is going to be drawn to doing something new and also the satisfaction of intellectual curiosity. Even though my job is to turn up, pick the tallest tree and imagine I’m staring into the face of Kong, I read this book “The Tracker” by Tom Brown Jr. about a man who grew up in the pine barons in New Jersey and learned how to track animals from his best friend’s father who was a Native American tracker.
Q: What else did you love about making this film?
- Tom: I loved the physical training and choreographing the action sequences as well as thinking about the theme of the power of nature and the ironies of Man thinking that nature is in our control when actually it’s the other way around. With each project, there’s always something like that in there. Whether I’m pretending to look out a window on the 25th floor of a high rise building or I’m in the jungle looking into the face of Kong, neither of those things is true and the job is to imagine it and to fuel an engine of make believe so that when you watch the film, you believe it.
Q: About playing a villain like Loki and a hero in this type of movie, which is more challenging and enjoyable for you?
- Tom: They’re both different and they both express different parts of me. Simply, there is less time in hair and make-up for playing Conrad. The difference between a hero and a villain is that they just make different choices. Loki could be a hero if he made better choices and Conrad would be a villain if he made different choices.
Q: At this point where is Loki mentally etc.?
- Tom: I think there is some fatal flaw in his make-up that will never change. (I’ve learned) from playing him successively now, consciously, he probably wants to change but I think he knows he can’t. If he were a human being, I would prescribe a course of therapy but he’s a Norse god who is mercurial and fickle and changeable. You can never trust him because he’s always going to change his mind. There is something in him, call it mischief, that is delighted by chaos whereas most human beings are actually terrified by chaos.
See Kong: Skull Island in theaters Friday, March 10th!
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