Tom Hiddleston, who plays the former British SAS black ops officer Captain James Conrad in Kong: Skull Island, talks about his character and the experience of shooting this entertaining and powerful movie.
About the movie…
In 1973, former British Special Air Service Captain James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) is hired by government agent Bill Randa (John Goodman) to guide an expedition to map out an uncharted island in the Pacific Ocean known as “Skull Island”. Randa also recruits the Sky Devils helicopter squadron led by Lieutenant Colonel Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) to escort them to the island, and the group is soon joined by pacifist photojournalist Mason Weaver (Brie Larson), who believes the scientific expedition to be a cover for a crooked military operation and plans to expose it.
Cinema Buzz: What appealed to you about being a part of Kong: Skull Island?
Hiddleston: That it was an opportunity to be in the kind of adventure film I loved as a kid, with a character that is iconic.
Cinema Buzz: Which King Kong movie has impressed you the most until now?
Hiddleston: The 1933 original movie. It’s the one I remember the most.
Cinema Buzz: Your character is quite a complex man. How do you see him?
Hiddleston: I think that at the beginning of the film he is lost. I did some research into the training and traditions of the British SAS, and the more I studied the subject the better I understood how most Special Forces operatives are driven towards the extreme. So, I believe Conrad is one of those men. He is highly skilled and resourceful, and even though it may seem that he takes the job for the money, his motivations are deeper. Weaver, Brie Larson’s character, innately sees that in him. This movie is a big spectacle that is grounded by complex characters.
Cinema Buzz: And how did you manage to act opposite a towering 100-foot ape that was not really there?
Hiddleston: Well, once you’ve picked an eye line that reads as believable, the rest is pure imagination…
Cinema Buzz: What was it like to ride one of those helicopters that appear in the film?
Hiddleston: Truly extraordinary! Whenever people ask me about this shoot, I admit that the experience of flying in a helicopter was one of my most extraordinary memories. I’ll never forget how Brie and I went up on a Huey with no doors on it, strapped into our seats, for an afternoon. We flew out from Hawaii into the horizon over the Pacific, on a late October as the sun was going down, and it was really breathtaking.
Cinema Buzz: In your opinion, how important was it to shoot Kong: Skull Island on location in Vietnam, Australia and Hawaii?
Hiddleston: I think it was very focusing for all of us to be in those real environments, as there was already so much that we were required to imagine. For actors, there is something special about being on location in an unfamiliar place that makes us get to know each other and connect better. Still, it was a long time to be away, and every location had different challenges; but that’s the thrill and privilege about doing what we do – getting a unique perspective on new places. I believe that, particularly in Australia and Vietnam, I had an experience that I definitely wouldn’t have had as a tourist. You are just embedded in the country in a different way.
Cinema Buzz: Kong is a protector of this island and its inhabitants we truly empathize with, as opposed to other characters in the story. But when you think of memorable villains in the history of cinema, which ones jump to your mind?
Hiddleston: The ones that first come to my mind are Darth Vader and the Joker; but then there are the Shakespearian ones too, like Iago – who is fascinating. Pages and pages have been written about Iago’s enigmatic motivations in Othello. Why does this man hate everybody so much that he wants to destroy their lives? And when in the end he is asked precisely that question, his response is: “What you know, you know. From this time forth I never will speak word.” So, every time I see another actor play that part I understand they have to make that decision, which I think is physiologically interesting.
Cinema Buzz: Some actors end up taking the leap into direction at some point in the career. Is that on your mind?
Hiddleston: I am very respectful of the work it takes to direct a film and the responsibility you have to absorb to be that kind of a leader. But I will admit that the older I get the more fascinated I am by the visual composition of a film, as opposed to my own performance. Sometimes I go to the monitors, look at the shot and even kind of wish I wasn’t in it. I just think it’s interesting to see how you guide the eye of the audience with the camera. It’s something I one day would love to do.