Tom Hiddleston may specialize in malicious mischief as Marvel's Norse trickster god Loki, but now he’s playing a full-fledged action hero – and going up against someone even bigger than Chris Hemsworth – in “Kong: Skull Island.”
The actor, who recently collected a Golden Globe for his turn as an ex-solider turned hotel employee in the espionage potboiler “The Night Manager,” plays another military man in this project. Vietnam War-era Capt. James Conrad is part of an all-star ensemble (which includes past and future Marvel stars Samuel L. Jackson and Brie Larson) that arrives at the enigmatic jungle island that houses any number of prehistoric anomalies, not the least of which is the colossal 100-foot-tall gorilla known as King Kong.
Hiddleston admits that he jumped at the chance to appear in another high-profile blockbuster with pulpy, pop culture roots – but came at it from as intellectual an approach as a physical one, as he revealed when CBR joined him for a roundtable chat.
On the irresistible appeal of co-starring with King Kong:
Tom Hiddleston: As it was pitched to me, it was a big adventure film that in lots of ways was quite old-fashioned but with a very fresh context, a completely original story and characters. Truly I think there's a part of all of us that wonders how we would survive on an island untouched by man. Even better how would we survive on an island untouched by man and inhabited by King Kong? I've always loved that character. I think he's almost like a modern day myth, an icon of the cinema.
On the equal standing his character James Conrad shares with Brie Larson’s Mason Weaver:
I loved working with Brie. I remember very early on, both of us were kind of singing from the same hymn sheet about how some of these films can work if you reinterpret myths. There's something about cinema that's [bred] with myth. Both Conrad and Weaver are iconoclasts. They question the status quo and they are loners I think to some extent and that's appealing. Many of the other characters are in service of the United States Military. Conrad is British SAS and Weaver is a photojournalist so in the crew they occupy a questioning, independent viewpoint.
As we were developing the character; I loved the idea that, specifically in counterpoint to Sam Jackson's character, you have two highly skilled military commanders: Colonel Packard is a commander in the sky. Captain Conrad is a commander on the ground with huge capabilities in reconnaissance, the recovery of lost soldiers, jungle warfare.
And they diverge in opinion and Conrad can disagree with Packard without being insubordinate. That was important that you had these two equally skilled, experienced characters that can have a difference of opinion about what to do next without somehow starting a mutiny.
On what he learned by his consultations with real-life military personnel:
I truly think any preparation you do only helps add dimension and complexity to the work. The character as written on the page is a blueprint for a human being. That kind of research adds to it. There were things that came about as a result of the research I did, discovering that the British SAS had a jungle warfare school in Malaya in the late 60's because they were so highly regarded for their skills and they trained other combat groups in what they knew – I hasten to add that I have no idea of the true physical and psychological challenges of being a professional solider!
My preparation is only out of respect in representing their courage and their bravery. 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 the challenges that these kinds of soldiers face every day.
On the joys of immersing himself in research:
I loved reading around this film, even though my job is to turn up, pick the tallest tree and imagine that I'm staring into the face of Kong. But I read Michael Herr's Dispatches again, a seminal work on the Vietnam War, and I read this book The Tracker by Tom Brown, Jr., about a man who grew up in the pine barrens of New Jersey and learned how to track animals from his best friend's father who was a Native American tracker.
I loved the physical training, I loved choreographing the action sequences, as well as thinking about the theme of the power of nature and the arrogance of man thinking that nature is in our control, when actually it's the other way around. All of it coalesces into an experience I found really satisfying and with each project there's always something like that in there.
Everything you do is always about imagination. Whether I'm pretending to look out the window of 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.
On playing the hero versus playing colorful villains like Loki:
They are both different. They both express different parts of me. Simply, there's less time in hair and makeup for playing Conrad. The difference between a hero and a villain is actually 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. It's always about the choices that people make that determine who they become.
I think there’s some fatal flaw in Loki’s makeup that will never change. I think from playing it successively, consciously, he probably wants to change but I think he knows he can’t. I don’t know what that’s about, but if you’re a human being, I would prescribe a course of therapy, but he’s a Norse god: he represents something mercurial, fickle and changeable.
The whole point of Loki is that you must never trust him, because he’s always going to change his mind, because there’s something in him, the god of mischief, (which) is delighted by chaos. Most human beings are terrified of chaos.
Debuting in theaters on March 10, “Kong: Skull Island” is a production of Legendary Pictures directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts and starring Brie Larson, Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, John Goodman and Jing Tian.