Cinema: Tom's creature feature is much more than just a monster movie
Tom Hiddleston is proving difficult to pin down. He's just been asked whether he believes creatures such as the Loch Ness Monster really exist.
“I don’t know. What do you think?” he responds, grinning - but the question’s promptly batted back.
“I think the reason those myths exist is that human beings enjoy feeling there are mysteries that we don’t fully understand,” he offers, like a savvy politician attempting to avoid a pertinent query.
The actor, who’s promoting his new movie Kong: Skull Island, is evidently pre-empting headlines such as: ‘Hidders believes in Nessie’.
But despite his restrained responses at times, Hiddleston, 36, is on great form today.
Ever the charmer, he laughs often and looks handsome in dark trousers and a blue top, his sleeves rolled up.
It’s the morning after the London premiere of Kong and the actor, who was born in the capital and studied at Eton and Cambridge, admits “I was buzzing when I got home”.
The action-packed origin movie, set in 1973 and co-starring Samuel L. Jackson, Brie Larson and John C. Reilly, is a reimagining of the Kong story and, as director Jordan Vogt-Roberts comments, “represents all the mystery and wonder that still exists in the world”. Hiddleston plays Captain James Conrad, a former SAS black ops officer who’s invited to join a mission to a remote, unexplored island in the Pacific.
What they find beggars belief - but it turns out the monstrous ape known as Kong is the least of their worries.
“It’s so thrilling,” says Hiddleston. “I remember when I was younger, the image of King Kong on top of the Empire State Building with the light planes flying towards him. I don’t ever remember not knowing that image, in a way.”
It’s over 80 years since Kong first appeared on the big screen, and Hiddleston has a theory as to the enduring fascination with the mightiest of apes: “Kong embodies the internal clash between our civilised selves and the place in our consciousness that still has a very real sense of something bigger than ourselves.”
Moving the story from the Thirties to a more modern setting (at the end of the Vietnam War), allowed certain themes to be explored.
“It’s a world before the tyranny of global satellites, near total surveillance and information overload,” explains Hiddleston.
“We didn’t have the illusion, as we do today, with the internet and mobile phones and GPS, that we know everything about the world we live in. The period setting also gave us an extraordinary prism to explore what Kong might represent in a conversation about war, and the tendency of mankind to destroy what he doesn’t understand.”
The role required the actor to embark on a raft of stunts, but despite his on-screen graft, and experience in both the Thor and Avengers superhero franchises, he’s reticent to admit he’s a natural action man.
“I don’t know. That’s not for me to say...” he says, laughing bashfully. “I love shooting action, because stage and screen combat is really more like choreography than anything else. You’re having not only to physically execute the moves of the fight, but you’re also working with the camera so the requirements to be very precise are high, but I enjoy that. It’s releasing, in a way.”
The classically trained actor, who graduated from Rada in 2005, embraced the opportunity to play an adventurer. “Conrad seemed like a character from a timeless, old-fashioned classic mould, someone who starts off a bit lost; he takes a commission to join an expedition to an unknown land and is humbled by what he finds.”
The movie looks incredible. Aside from locations in Oahu, Hawaii, and along Australia’s Gold Coast, it’s the first feature film to shoot extensively in Vietnam.
“I had actually planned a trip to Vietnam as a student but never got to go, because it was the same summer I got my first ever professional acting job, so it was really nice to go there as an actor,” remarks Hiddleston.
Kong: Skull Island is out now