Sunday, February 3, 2019

Kong: Skull Island - Soldier, Civilian, and Adventurer (2017)

Kong: Skull Island

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. - IMDb

Tom Hiddleston stars in Kong: Skull Island as Captain James Conrad. Random factoid: Tom previously played Captain James Nicholls in War Horse and Captain James Hook in The Pirate Fairy. Captain Conrad is a former British SAS agent who is hired to lead an exhibition to the uncharted Skull Island. Once they reach the island - things quickly go sideways thanks to a giant gorilla named King Kong. 

"He starts from a place of pessimism and cynicism, a soldier taking an easy paycheck, and he grows into a place of open-heartedness and soulfulness. He reacquaints himself with a sense of innocence and wonder in the face of one of the most majestic natural creations in the world." - Hiddleston

Tom was always the first choice to play the Conrad and had a lot to do with the character's development. 

"In this case we thought of one actor for this lead role and it was Tom, and thankfully everything lined up. He was incredible. The amount of research that he put in and the work that he put in for this character's background... Originally this character was going to be American and he came back and said, "Look, I've done all this research and there were British special forces soldiers around at this time and this is what they taught and this is what they did.' He made a very compelling case and we thought it fit perfectly, so we switched over. It was entirely his idea".  - producer Thomas Tull. 

The original concept art from Christian Cordella also shows a very different character than we see in the film.  

Production on The Night Manager didn't end until July 2015 and Tom Hiddleston went almost immediately into the press tour for Crimson Peak/I Saw the Light/High-Rise so he didn't have enough time to grow out his hair or beard. He had the I Saw the Light premiere in Nashville on October 17, 2015, then flew directly out to Hawaii to be ready for the first day of Kong filming on October 19, 2015. But Conrad/Tom does briefly sport a slightly bearded look in his opening scene. 

The final look for Tom's character was created after the Costume Design team of Mary Vogt and Laura Frecon researched the British SAS and their uniforms - or lack thereof - which helped to distinguish Conrad from the group of soldiers. 

"...they pretty much do whatever they want, but that's what stands Conrad out from everybody else as being simple. These military guys have a lot of stuff on: they've got their gear, vests, jackets, hats, and helmets, and Tom's out there with just his T-shirt, his pants, and his gun. So he's the most stripped-down of all the characters, which is a great look."  - Mary Vogt. 

Laura Frecon added that they also found inspiration in "Steve McQueen and some of his iconic looks". Kong: Skull Island is set in 1973 and that same year Steve McQueen starred in a movie called Papillon. Papillon has similar themes of survival and escape. Conrad is never shirtless in Kong but we can imagine that he also had a Butterfly tattoo on his chest.  

Tom Hiddleston wears the same costume for the vast majority of the film. TBH Tom Hiddleston also has a similar blue top/dark jeans costume he wears in real life. Perhaps Conrad is the OG Tom Hiddleston cosplayer?  The costume department were tasked with gradually weathering these clothes to match the events in the plot. With most of the scenes being filmed outside in the heat and swamps of Hawaii, Australia, and Vietnam - I don't think they needed much help to make Tom look sweaty! 

"...we had a least 12 variations of Tom's main costume. We had a few multiples to reflect clean, then a little sweaty pre crash, into post the very very distressed versions leading up to the fight and to the end where you see him after he has returned with Brie at the end of the film." - Laura Frecon

I was happy to discover that Kong: Skull Island was a green production and they utilized many sustainable practices during filming. From sending out digital scripts and memos instead of paper copies to serving locally sourced meals on compostable products. The majority of the clothes for both the main and background actors were either vintage or rented from the Western Costume Company in LA. For costumes that needed to be created or duplicated they used natural, non-toxic fabrics, dyes, and inks.  

Some of the duplicate costumes were then put to good use after filming was completed. The costumes of Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, and Samuel L. Jackson went on display at the Arclight Hollywood Cinema


Additionally, Madame Tussaud's created a Kong: Skull Island exhibit at their wax museums in New York City and London. The exhibit includes an 18-foot, fully animatronic King Kong head that growls at you, as well as several of the other creatures shown in the film. (No one warned me about the giant spider!!!!!!!!) And of course, a life-size wax figure of James Conrad in costume. 

Susi (@susi079), Sabrina (@obiwancannolis), and I were the first members of the public allowed into the Kong: Skull Island exhibit in NYC. When we arrived on opening day (March 7, 2017) it was closed for VIP visitors - journalists, photographers etc. But the staff were very generous and let us go in! I like to think since Tom HIddleston was in NYC at the same time that he was also one of those VIP visitors, and that somewhere in the universe there exists a picture of Real Tom meeting Wax Tom. In lieu of an actual picture, there is a fun video of Tom talking to Josh Horowitz about his surreal wax figure. 

The exhibit is still open at both the New York and London. You can watch a behind-the-scenes video of how the figures were created that includes additional interviews with Tom Hiddleston and Jordan Vogt-Roberts.

Thank you to Assistant Costume Designer Laura Frecon for speaking with me. You can learn more about her on her website Additional information and quotes were obtained from The Art of Kong: Skull Island, written by Simon Ward. This book is available on Amazon. Photographs courtesy of Kong Skull Island Movie, Jordan Vogt-Roberts and Bryan Chojnowski.

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