Shortly before Jackson completed production, he spoke with CINESCAPE via satellite to talk about his new and improved KONG and the challenges he faced in bringing it to the big screen.
QUESTION: You originally were going to make KING KONG right after THE FRIGHTENERS in 1996 before Universal pulled the plug. How different is the movie now than if you would have made it back then?
PETER JACKSON: Well, it has changed a lot. We have written a new script. We wrote the film that we were going to make in 1996, we wrote a couple of drafts of that, and when the thought of doing it this time around came about a couple of years ago, we went back and looked at our old script. And we didn't like it at all. We immediately got very happy that we never got to make it, because we had written something that was quite shallow and flippant, and very Hollywood. And we'd subsequently been through the LORD OF THE RINGS experience.
QUESTION: What did LORD OF THE RINGS teach you?
PETER JACKSON: The lesson I guess that I'm talking about mainly is to make it as real as possible. Our 1996 draft was written as a very Hollywood-y sort of Indiana Jones adventure story, full of gags and full of one-liners and things. And we've abandoned all of that to some degree. We've kept a couple of the action sequences very similar to what we originally were going to do, but all the characters have changed. And we have tapped into the real world. The lesson that we learned on LORD OF THE RINGS was, if you're doing fantasy, or something that's fantastical, try to make as much of it real as you possibly can, so that the fantastical elements that you're left with have a solid grounding in reality. And we've tried to do that with Kong, we tried to approach it from a point of view of it being an experience that these characters have that's very real to them. And we don't present it in the movie in any sort of flippant way. We try to make it feel as real as possible. We tried to base our characters on real people, or types of people.
QUESTION: Why set it in 1933, the year that the original film was made?
PETER JACKSON: Setting it in the 1930s has allowed us to also comment a little bit on the state of the world back then and the Depression and it's a fun thing to come at fantasy through a door of reality, and I think it grounds it and makes it more believable to people. If the audience is believing in what you're showing them, they're much more invested than if they're simply watching a piece of entertainment sort of flicker by on the screen. And it's trying to have the audience invested in that way.
QUESTION: Was it hard to find your female lead?
PETER JACKSON: Naomi was the first person that we cast, because we'd always had it in our minds that we wanted to work with her one day. And so she was our first choice when we thought about doing KONG. We thought that she'd be really great for the role and so we met up with her. We were in London, actually, doing the post-production for RETURN OF THE KING. We had dinner with her and she agreed to come and do it. So she was the first person that got cast and the first person we went to.
QUESTION: How did the process work for Andy Serkis to play Kong on a motion capture stage?
PETER JACKSON: We've built an incredibly complicated digital model, with all the muscles that gorillas have. And we've had to build a computer program where we put all the markers, the motion tracking markers on Andy's face and Andy acted out the performance for us. But the computer interprets what Andy does and it gives it a gorilla behavior. So if Andy does a grimace, the gorilla model doesn't just copy the grimace that Andy does. The gorilla model on the computer does a gorilla expression. With Gollum [in LORD OF THE RINGS] we were trying to copy Andy all the time, but with Kong, we've tried to let Andy do something, and then use the computer to interpret that to put a gorilla expression in its place. And so Andy's had to learn a vocabulary of what his face does, and how that affects Kong's performance. It's been a very, very interesting experience. But it's worked out phenomenally well. I'm a big believer in using an actor to ground a CG character, but obviously, the animators are doing a huge amount of work, because in many respects, the animation on Kong is more important than Gollum, because a lot of Gollum was motion-captured. But there are a significant number of things that Kong is doing that Andy can't do, a lot of climbing and running and dinosaur fighting, like the Tyrannosaurus fight. There is very little of Andy's motion capture in there a lot of that is just traditional key frame animation. And so Andy and the animators have together worked very closely to create the character.
QUESTION: Do you feel pressure with KING KONG since you're following the enormous success of the LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy?
PETER JACKSON: I try not to think about those sorts of pressures because they're ultimately not helpful in making a film. I just want to make movies that I would ultimately like to see if I was going to the cinema to watch the film. It's what I've always done, and what I've tried to do with KONG. At the end of the day, that's what I hope to achieve. We haven't made this version of KING KONG with our LORD OF THE RINGS hat on. I made the KING KONG that I would've loved to have seen in 1976. I made the film that I've been waiting to see all my life, and, and the film that I tried to make when I was twelve. I haven't come at it from any other direction whatsoever. And in a sense, you just ignore that pressure. You either buy into your own publicity and hype, or you don't. I tend not to.