Tom Hiddleston: Key to filming Kong is imagination
English actor Tom Hiddleston says main challenge is believing the creatures are real
In the new King Kong origin story Kong: Skull Island, Tom Hiddleston plays James Conrad, a British Special Air Service (SAS) captain who is recruited by a government organisation to explore an uncharted island, leading a team of scientists, soldiers and adventurers.
Conrad is a Vietnam veteran battling his demons, "kind of lost in Asia, unwilling or unable to go home", according to the 36-year-old English actor.
We are at the JW Marriott hotel in downtown Los Angeles, and Hiddleston, fresh off his Golden Globe Best Actor win for the TV series The Night Manager, is upbeat and cheerful.
Opening here tomorrow, Kong: Skull Island is set in 1973.
Nasa has tracked a violent geothermal disturbance over the South Pacific, where a skull-shaped island seems to be sucking nearby ships and planes into a black hole.
When Conrad and his team go to investigate, they find themselves cut off from everything they know.
They stumble across Kong and bizarre creatures - Skullcrawlers - vicious beasts which killed Kong's ancestors, leaving him the last of his line.
Their mission of discovery now becomes one of survival.
The creature feature also stars Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, John Goodman, John C. Reilly and Jing Tian.
In his first leading role in a big-budget blockbuster, Hiddleston was excited to reinterpret the myth of Kong, as he has loved King Kong since he was a child.
After he completed shooting the 2015 Gothic romance horror flick Crimson Peak, producer Thomas Tull pitched Kong: Skull Island to him.
"I listen very carefully to my first instinct," Hiddleston said.
"I always have a sense of whether the experience will be challenging or exciting. Kong is an icon in movies, and we try to say something about the world and society that everybody can connect to - living in harmony with nature and respecting the balance of the planet.
"Even though it is a roller-coaster ride and an action spectacle, that was a really exciting idea for me and that is why I chose to do this."
Kong: Skull Island was shot in Hawaii, the Gold Coast and Vietnam, which particularly impressed Hiddleston.
He said: "It was amazing.
"The Vietnamese people were so warm and so welcoming, and I found the landscape of Vietnam absolutely breathtaking and really beautiful. It is unlike any other territory I visited.
Because if the actors don't believe in it, then there is no way the audience will.Tom Hiddleston
"We were in Hanoi for about a week and it is a fascinating city. So rich, so many layers."
On the intense training he went through to play a soldier, Hiddleston said: "Everything about this was physical for me.
"I was up at 4am every day training out of respect for the character. He is SAS, and I would never presume to understand the depth of their physical rigour and mental strength.
"I was training with a Navy Seal and two former British marines because I at least wanted to make some small steps towards the self-discipline and the expertise that those soldiers have to work on."
In order to help the cast step into this world and give them visual context, director Jordan Vogt-Roberts provided them with a range of concept art such as drawings, paintings and photographs from other films, the National Geographic magazine and social and political movements from the 60s and 70s.
Said Hiddleston: "And with that information, you make the imaginative leap.
"We all know how to do it, and we did it as children. We played in the garden and we pretended there was a spaceship landing on the lawn.
"It is the same thing really. It is just imagining that something is there."
Imagining the giant monstrous ape was another thing.
Said Hiddleston: "The challenge is to keep the engine of your imagination running. You spend a long time in scenes with creatures that do not exist, so you have to imagine that they do...
"You try to conjure the idea of something terrifying and powerful in your mind and believe in it. Because if the actors don't believe in it, then there is no way the audience will."
Hiddleston is less forthcoming when asked how he is dealing with his fame.
He said: "I have to be true to myself no matter what. I simply have to be strong enough not to let the projections of other people distort my own reality.
"Fame is a collection of other people's opinions over which I have no control. Everyone's interpretations are really nothing to do with me."
He refused to address questions about his relationship with US singer Taylor Swift that ended last year. Photos of the couple holding hands and kissing on a beach were all over the Internet.
"I would rather not talk about this if that's all right," he said.
When pressed, he added: "Misinterpretations are out of my control. Everyone is entitled to a private life. My work is in the public sphere, and I have a private life. And those two things are separate."
Since wrapping up Thor: Ragnorak, Hiddleston is taking a break from working non-stop for the last five or six years.
"I just need to take a moment to catch up with myself a bit."
And what will he do with his time off time?
"Spend time with my family. I have been reading a lot and there is virtually no anxiety that can't be cured by an hour or two of good reading.
"I have been away from home for a long time, and catching up with my good friends and my family has been really nice."