Samuel L. Jackson Talks Kong: Skull Island

In the ’70s-set Kong: Skull Island, Samuel L. Jackson plays a hard-as-nails sergeant who is unaware that he and his team are crossing into the domain of monsters, including the mythic Kong. We had a chance to chat with Jackson about the role, his experiences during the shoot, and more, including a small teaser about what’s coming up for his alter ego Nick Fury.

Dread Central: You really seemed to embody the whole Vietnam War in one character.

Samuel L. Jackson: I had a really wonderful kinship with the military advisor who was around, a couple of them were Vietnam vets which was great. So understanding and having lived through that particular era gave me a whole other way of looking at it or approaching it, so when you say the war wasn’t lost, it was abandoned, it has another sort of resonance for that character and hopefully people listening to it, watching him and how he reacts to it and the reverence he has for his men when he accepts that mission, which is supposed to be this little babysitting drop off mission and what happens when his men get killed and he starts trying to figure out a way to exact revenge for those men and save the ones that are left.

Hopefully that is based in some reality that people can look at and feel and understand because like I said to most people, pretty much everyone on the film, you’ve got great actors here, you’ve got John Goodman, you’ve got Tom, Brie, Cory, everybody, that as good as we can be, the film’s no good unless the big ape and the other things are fantastic and amazing. We ask the questions all the time, sometimes we got good answers, sometimes not so good, ok, how big is it, or where is it, or how fast is it so sometimes we have good answers to those questions sometimes not so much.

DC: Were the moments captured in Vietnam shot there?

SJ: None of that stuff was in Vietnam, all that Seventies stuff you saw we did in Hawaii. Vietnam is awesome but that dock scene in Vietnam, where everybody is getting on the boat and whatever, that’s actually John Wayne Airport, that’s not even part of the original shoot. Vietnam is great, Hawaii’s cool, Hawaii was basically us doing all that trekking through the high grass and the bamboo forest and all that stuff and Jurassic Park. We had to stop shooting sometimes when tour buses went by, it was like, where are the Velociraptors, who are those people? We did that, the Gold Coast was another sort of terrain, we did a lot of walking with the streams and the rivers, all that stuff was interesting in a sort of way. A couple times there we had to stop shooting, yell cut, as five kangaroos came hopping by, there are not supposed to be any kangaroos on Skull Island.

Vietnam was kind of majestic and spectral and awesome and we got out into the real countryside, where we did most of the stuff out there, with the handprints on the mountainside, you could see why an invading force would have a problem with any kind of conflict. If you weren’t born there and didn’t have any business there, didn’t have a spiritual connection to the land that was there, you wouldn’t be able to handle that terrain. But that was a really, really cool and wonderful place to be. Some of the locations we were in, the military advisors would say well, three clicks that way and you’d be in Laos, if you go over this hill right here, and we also still had those people who go out into the terrain to make sure there’s no live ordinance still out there. People are still stepping on mines and exploding bombs in Vietnam, there’s a lot of them.

DC: Were you a fan of the Kong/Godzilla monster movies growing up?

SJ: Really? C’mon, for real? Yeah, forever. I’ve always been a ‘big teeth chasing you’ fan, so I’ve always loved King Kong, Godzilla, Mothra, whatever was there to chase you, whatever was there to chase you and make you afraid, it was great. I’m still doing films that I went to see when I was a kid or wished that I could have been in, I think I’m finally going to do The Blob, but I’m not the Steve McQueen character, I’m in it as a victim.

DC: Is there a political aspect of Apocalypse Now in Kong?

SJ: I didn’t see it but I was in the middle of doing it. I don’t know what was in Jordan’s mind or somebody else’s mind. There was a costume that I rejected that was very Apocalypse Now and I’m sure somebody wanted to play Flight of the Valkyries while those helicopters were up there but somebody found some better music that fit the time just as well. I could see it and I get it but hopefully the camaraderie and the visuals that you get, the stuff that Justin has on his helmet, informed some of it… that reminds you of Apocalypse or Platoon, you can get a Platoon influence from that but mostly I just wanted to make sure that… I’ve worked with these military advisors on a couple of films and representing soldiers in an honest and earnest way is really important because of what they do and the sacrifices they make so that when you’re in certain formations or doing certain things, I know cinematically sometimes people want you to do certain things that look awesome, but I don’t want to look stupid to people who have done that job so I’ll say no we can’t do that, these guys have to be over here and do that or we can’t walk in a formation like this because if something comes everybody dies and you’ll get pushback because people are talking about the cinema but the guys that are standing there that have done the job before are looking at you and going like no, so that’s important to me.

DC: What were you looking at during ‘face off’ with Kong, since he’s all CG?

SJ: A mirror. There’s nothing there, we ask that question all the time, where is it, how big is it, how fast is it and you get varying answers, depending upon who you ask. If you ask that person they’ll tell you one thing, if you ask the special effects guy he’ll tell you one thing, you ask the visual effects guy, who’s supposed to have the real idea, he’ll tell you another thing so it’s just that, and sometimes it’s just about the perspective of the camera, it has nothing to do with that thing being there or green screen or anything else, it’s how you want to be perceived when it happens and I guess when that first scene was conceived, there was another animatronic for it but in my mind, if I’m sitting in a helicopter in an open doorway and this thing starts knocking my helicopters out of the air, I’m a badass theoretically, so I just grab hold of the thing and step outside the helicopter and look at it, and if I can go face to face with nothing between me and the antagonist then that’s what is should be and that’s how I felt. That’s how I would want to see the movie if I was sitting there and I think about that a lot, I think about being an audience member, I think about you as an audience member in terms of what’s the most dynamic thing that will make this particular scene work in this moment, and that’s me and Kong face to face with nothing between us but air and opportunity.

DC: What was the most difficult CGI scene to shoot?

SJ: The most difficult scene to shoot was the last scene, where he comes out of the lake and falls, right there in front of us, because as many times as we asked the questions, how big is he, where is he, it’s like ok, this is the one time where we’re actually close enough to touch this thing and in a real world, a logical world, a person like Packard, once he falls and hits the ground and he’s knocked out, I would have gotten a rocket launcher or something and walked over there and put one through his eye, or both eyes, because that’s who Packard is but in the world of movies you have to monologue and do shit. It’s difficult because when you ask that question at that point, somebody really has to have a logical answer for you, about how big is he, because there’s his head, his head is right there on the ground and we’re standing there by his head, so you want to know for real how big is he and if he’s not dead and he’s breathing, if I walk up on him my clothes should move because he’s breathing and shit and asking these questions, sometimes logically people hadn’t thought about that, thought that out, am I the only motherfucker who thought of this, and nobody can give you the right answer and then you become ok, I’m not going to kill him anyway so fuck it and it becomes a whole other kind of thing but it works on screen when people see, people are used to heroes and the bad guys monologuing instead of killing the motherfucker they’re supposed to kill. That’s why I love John Wick, it’s like shoot them in the face, the arm, in this everyone gets shot in the head, you don’t have to worry about them coming back at you, one in the face, he’s done.

DC: Some actors say fear enhances their performances in scary or intense movies like this… is that your experience?

SJ: Well sometimes I’m afraid that the person running the show is going to make me look stupid but other than that, no. I mean, movie sets are supposed to be a safe space to invade and explore and do all kinds of things and be ok when it’s over, that’s why people cry and do this and do that and die and come back. No, fear is not part of the acting equation for me, I know how to pretend to be afraid and be fearful or to give a character a reason or an insecurity that allows him to be afraid of certain things or to face certain kinds of things, that’s just part of the joy of being able to explore the human condition.

DC: You put across a very believable performance in Kong

SJ: Thank you. Well you know for me, it’s important that I do things that make sense to an audience, that make sense to me and for me this is my sort of homage to Gregory Peck, Ahab, King Kong as the white whale, I want to kill him, I’ve got to have, die you damn whale, all of that but to have someone who does have a heart, who loves his men, who becomes unhinged because of the improbability and impossibility of the task, who does believe wholeheartedly that man has been on this planet for a long time and there have always been things on this planet that are bigger, stronger, faster but we have one thing they don’t have, that’s ingenuity. We came up with spears, we came up with bows and arrows, we came up with bullets, we came up with bombs so there’s a way we can win. So when people say this is the only thing between us and the destruction of humanity, if we kill this thing and those other things, well if we kill this thing we’ll kill the others too, because that’s what we’ve always done and you’ve got to wholeheartedly buy into that and sell it and hopefully that’s what I did.

DC: You work so much…

SJ: It’s because I love acting. It’s a passion, writers get up and write, painters get up and paint, if I can get up and act every day I’d be happy, it would be a wonderful thing. When I was a young actor in New York I was always doing a play, auditioning for a play or reading plays for people who were trying to get them put up so acting is a real, real kind of passion for me, it’s something I want to do. People are like, why aren’t you directing yet, it’s not something I want to do.

DC: What can you tell us about Nick Fury in Infinity War?

SJ: I haven’t seen it, I haven’t heard that, I keep asking the same question, how big is it, how fast is it, where is it, am I in Infinity War? When do I start, or the important question they haven’t asked either. [We assume he means payment negotiations…]

Warner Bros. Pictures and Legendary Pictures’ Kong: Skull Island reimagines the origin of the mythic Kong in a compelling, original adventure from director Jordan Vogt-Roberts.

Kong: Skull Island stars Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, Brie Larson, John Goodman, and John C. Reilly. The international ensemble cast also includes Tian Jing, Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell, John Ortiz, Thomas Mann, Shea Whigham, Toby Kebbell, and Eugene Cordero.

Vogt-Roberts directs the film from a screenplay by Max Borenstein, John Gatins, Dan Gilroy, and Derek Connolly. To fully immerse audiences in the mysterious Skull Island, the director, cast, and filmmaking team filmed across three continents over six months, capturing its primordial landscapes on Oahu, Hawaii; on Australia’s Gold Coast; and finally in Vietnam, where filming took place across multiple locations, some of which have never before been seen on film.

Kong: Skull Island will be released worldwide in 2D, 3D in select theaters, and IMAX beginning March 10, 2017, from Warner Bros. Pictures, a Warner Bros. Entertainment Company.

A diverse team of scientists, soldiers, and adventurers unite to explore a mythical, uncharted island in the Pacific, as dangerous as it is beautiful. Cut off from everything they know, the team ventures into the domain of the mighty Kong, igniting the ultimate battle between man and nature. As their mission of discovery becomes one of survival, they must fight to escape a primal Eden in which humanity does not belong.

Kong Skull Island


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