Over the years, he’s battled the Avengers, a love-sick sister, and his fellow neighbors in a swanky apartment complex, but Tom Hiddleston has never faced anything in cinema quite like Skull Island’s most iconic resident, King Kong. This weekend, Kong: Skull Island arrives in theaters everywhere from Legendary and Warner Bros., and to commemorate the occasion, Daily Dead recently joined several journalists to speak with co-star Hiddleston during the film’s press day.

During the roundtable interview, Hiddleston discussed coming on board Kong: Skull Island, how he prepared for the role of ex-SAS (Special Air Service) Officer James Conrad, his experiences collaborating with co-star Brie Larson, and he even chatted a bit about Ben Wheatley’s High-Rise, which came out last spring.

Was the big appeal of Skull Island to get to be a part of a King Kong movie?

Tom Hiddleston: 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 very fresh context [and 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 we’d survive on an island untouched by man and inhabited by King Kong. I’ve always loved that character, and I think he’s like a modern-day myth, an icon of cinema.

Your character spends a lot of time traveling along with Brie [Larson’s character], and there’s a nice camaraderie between them in the film. How was it collaborating with her on this?

Tom Hiddleston: I loved working with Brie, and I remember very, very early on both of us kind of singing from the same hymn sheet about [the fact] that some [of] these films can work if you reinterpret myths, that, actually, [there is] something about cinema which is imbued with myth. Both Conrad and Weaver are iconoclasts, they question the status quo and they're loners, I think, to some extent. That’s appealing. Many of the other characters are in service of the United States military. Conrad is British SAS and Weaver is a photo journalist, so in the crew they occupy a questioning independent viewpoint.

How did you approach developing your character, and did you do any digging in the SAS at all?

Tom Hiddleston: I loved, as we were developing the character, that specifically he was a counterpoint to Sam Jackson’s character [Colonel Packard]. In this film, you have two highly-skilled military commanders. Colonel Packard is a commander in the sky, Captain Conrad is a commander on the ground—[who is] hugely capable in reconnaissance, the recovery of lost soldiers, jungle warfare—and they diverge in opinion once they get to the island. 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 it being about starting a mutiny.

I think it's my job to prepare, and I truly think any preparation you do only helps add dimension and complexity to your work. The character is written on the page as a blueprint for a human being, and 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 ’60s, because they were so highly regarded for their skills, and they trained other combat groups in what they knew.

I have no idea of the true physical and psychological challenges of being a professional soldier, though. 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 people, that these kinds of soldiers, face every day.

What's really interesting about your career is you're part of these big blockbusters and other high-profile project, but then you're also doing movies like High-Rise, or even making something like The Night Manager, both of which were fantastic. Is there a balance that you have to find these days whenever you’re considering new projects?

Tom Hiddleston: It's interesting. There's a greater difference for the audience than for actors. When a new project comes along, I listen quite carefully to my first instinct. I want to know that the experience is going to be challenging and exciting. I want to know that a part of me is going to be drawn just doing something new, and also the satisfaction of intellectual curiosity. I loved reading around this film, even though my job is to turn up, pick the tallest tree, and imagine I'm staring into the face of Kong. I read Michael Herr's Dispatches again, a seminal work on the Vietnam war.

I also read this book The Tracker, by Tom Brown Jr., about a man who grew up in the Pine Barrens in New Jersey and learned how to track animals from his best friend's father, who is 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.

With each project, there's always something like that in there, and with High-Rise, that was a book that was written in the ’70s [by J.G. Ballard], imagining a future where all our needs are catered for by technology and how that might be dangerous. And, in fact, we filmed High-Rise in an old leisure center in Northern Ireland, so we weren't actually on a high-rise, and my character's apartment was built on a squash court.

So, everything you do is always about imagination, whether I'm pretending to look out of the window of the 25th floor of a high-rise building, or I'm in a jungle looking into the face of Kong. Neither of those things are true, and the job is to imagine it and to fuel an engine and make-believe so that when you watch the film, you believe it.


Stay tuned to Daily Dead for more interviews with the cast and crew of Kong: Skull Island, and check here for our previous coverage.

  • Heather Wixson
    About the Author - Heather Wixson

    Heather A. Wixson was born and raised in the Chicago suburbs, until she followed her dreams and moved to Los Angeles in 2009. A 14-year veteran in the world of horror entertainment journalism, Wixson fell in love with genre films at a very early age, and has spent more than a decade as a writer and supporter of preserving the history of horror and science fiction cinema. Throughout her career, Wixson has contributed to several notable websites, including Fangoria, Dread Central, Terror Tube, and FEARnet, and she currently serves as the Managing Editor for Daily Dead, which has been her home since 2013. She's also written for both Fangoria Magazine & ReMind Magazine, and her latest book project, Monsters, Makeup & Effects: Volume One will be released on October 20, 2021.