If there’s any actor in Hollywood that might just be able to steal the screen from a heavyweight like King Kong, it’s Samuel L. Jackson.
More than just a powerful and prolific actor who’s been top-billed in everything from uber-blockbuster franchise films (“Jurassic Park,” “Die Hard With a Vengeance,” the “Star Wars” prequels and as Marvel’s Nick Fury), zeitgeist-creating and culture-changing movies (“Pulp Fiction,” “The Incredibles”), cult classics (“Unbreakable”) and just plain out-there popcorn movies (“Snakes On a Plane”), Jackson is also the highest-grossing actor of all time.
But even so, Jackson concedes, he’s just fine standing in the shadows of cinema’s most famous giant primate. In fact, that’s just what he signed on to do, as he revealed during a roundtable conversation with CBR and other media.
On what, after his lengthy, genre-crossing film resume, was the freshest aspect for him this time around:
Samuel L. Jackson: Me in a King Kong movie! Something I've been wanting to do since I was a kid and I saw the first one, and it's like, “Wow, this will be fun!” You go home with your friends and you pretend that big thing's out there and you're all running from it or fighting it or whatever. So a lot of times that's it!
It's one of those movies I would have gone to see when I was a kid, or one of those movies I always wished I could be in! So yeah, I did it! It's like the same reason I'm probably going to end up doing “The Blob” – one of my favorite movies when I was a kid.
On his character’s reluctance to leave the war in Vietnam behind:
The sense of saying “We didn't lose this war; we abandoned it” is his attitude about it. He's a warrior it's not like he hasn't been in combat in other instances or once he got home that particular war was over but there's always a war some where to send somebody. That's why some guys become mercenaries or guys join SEAL teams and still do covert actions.
This particular instance for him having had all these men who had survived whatever they had been through in Vietnam and having one last op that was supposed to be kind of safe anyway: a babysitting job take these guys, drop them off, they go look at whatever they look at, you take them back home, and everyone goes back home safe. He ends up in another kind of situation where he starts losing his guys and he had been lied to about what the mission was.
Had he known that was the mission he might have been better prepared, to be ready for whatever is out there. Which sends him into what in my mind became “Ahab mode.” Kong became my white whale. I had to exact some kind of revenge for all the men that I lost out there. It's a personal thing. Him being the kind of person he was having a warrior mentality and a survivor.
It takes him to that place where man has been on this planet for how long? There's always been things that are bigger, stronger, faster and with teeth, but we survive. We find a way to defeat those things because we have ingenuity, and that's what will happen this time also. So when they say he's the only thing between humanity and these other things out here, he's like “We'll kill that and take care of those things, too. One at a time, but we're going to do that.”
On exactly how much the A-list cast matters in relation to Kong’s star turn:
You have great actors here: you got me, John Goodman, Brie [Larson], Tom [Hiddleston], Shea [Whigam] – you got all these great actors that are there, and we're fodder more than anything else. Fortunately for us we all didn't just get eaten or killed immediately or whatever but we're fodder so the movie's basically about the big ape…So if they do those well then you have a successful movie. No matter how good we are – we could be doing Academy Award-winning performances, whatever that is, but it's not about that. It's about those things.
You want the humans to be engaging and you want to care about them but you're there to see the big things. When you go there to see this movie you're there for the teeth, the scariness, the strangeness, the awesomeness of what those things are. So we were constantly asking the question when we're out there: "Well how big is it?", "Where is it?", "How fast is it?". Those were the questions and we got different answers, but to be honest he's way bigger than anybody ever told us he was!
We'd be like "How big is he? And where is he?" "Well he's right there" "But how big is he? How far up is he?" "Top of that tree" "That's not big enough" "Okay, well, multiply the tree by three." "That's not big enough.” I'm one of those pragmatic people, so I'd say "If he's that big, where does he sleep on this island that we can't see?" Or if he takes a crap we should be able to see it or smell it no matter where we are on this island we can find him because he's that big.” I mean, he's huge!
On the globetrotting nature of the production:
I've been in Hawaii, shot in Hawaii; I've been in Australia, shot in Australia – but never in the Gold Coast; Vietnam – very different awesome, interesting, and gorgeous. One of the reasons to take the job was because we were going so many places. It's like "This is great! How many days do I have off in Hawaii so I can go golf?" I lived right around the corner from one of the best snorkeling spots in Hawaii so that had its advantage. Gold Coast, not so much.
Vietnam was wonderful. Once we got out into the countryside it was incredible. Gives you a different understanding of what the conflict was and how difficult it probably was or being with the military advisers. In some locations they would say if you walk 3 clicks that way you'll be in Laos. We still had people out there going around and clearing unexploded ordinance in some locations. They were out there clearing ground for us because we did a lot of walking!
On how the actors came together as a troupe during filming:
Actors tend to band together in an interesting sort of way. I've known Tom for a long time. Brie and I got along immediately because she was in the midst of her whirlwind collecting every award on the planet thing, so we'd laugh about that – she'd like bounce and out go to an award show and come back and bounce out and come back, so we laughed about that.
Jason [Mitchell] and Corey [Hawkins] I'd run into on the circuit while they were doing that whole “Straight Outta Compton” tour. And we were always messing with Corey because he got that “24: Legacy” job while we were shooting, so all of a sudden we started calling him “Black Bauer.” I've known John and John C. [Reilly] for a while – John C. and I did Paul Thomas Anderson's first movie years ago. I had great relationships with the actors. Actors always get along because we kind of understand what we're doing, why we're doing it, and how it's happening. We know how to work around things.
Military advisers on the film – I'd actually done a couple of films with them before, so I understand how they want to be depicted and the preciseness of what soldiers should be. We were very concerned with the practicality of what we were doing. Even though people are there to watch the big monsters and watch the big things you still want them to look at the human beings like they have some kind of sense and there are some compassion for them from the audience members that are watching so you can attach to them in some kind of way.
I know my character's crazy in an interesting sort of way. He loses his mind and he puts everybody's life in jeopardy and people have to back away from him and he becomes an island in the midst of all of that. I had to commit myself to that in the way that I know how to commit myself to that in terms of all the films I've done and the respect I have for an audience member who's going to be sitting there watching me. I do things that are practical. I do things that I want to see myself do on screen.
On how some audience members may find his character scarier than the giant monsters:
Good! That means I did my part! I did what I was supposed to do. I hope that when people see Packard they see a guy who loved his men, a guy who is determined, who is overcome with rage, and loses his cognitive thought process because of it – but he still knows how to fight.