Q: Because it's the unknown?
AS: Yes, really complex. But not only did we have the scale issues with Kong being 25ft tall, but the internal proportionality was difficult. With Gollum it was one to one. If I moved, Gollum's arms were the same length as mine and his legs, but with Kong his forearms are so much longer, his back legs are shorter. On set that wasn't so much of an issue, but when we came to do the motion capture for movement they had to design him so that the top half of my body, from my waist to my head was proportionally the same as Kong's top half. But then they shortened my legs proportionally. Which meant that we had to have two different levels of performance. Every single footstep Kong takes is on two different levels. When they rebuilt the sets in the motion capture studio to scale, everything had to have podiums. In fact, if you imagine floor level for my feet, I then had to have podiums raised for my arms so I could move around. I was learning this kind of physical language.
Q: It's like doing some sort of really complicated ballet?
AS: Yes, exactly, everything's choreographed and then you've got to make it look like it's very quick and violent. So on top of that there's the gorilla behaviour, which was another layer of performance. And, then the characterisation on top of that. So, it wasn't just ever generic gorilla behaviour.
Q: Mentally and physically, you were shattered on a daily basis?
AS: Absolutely. I was tired enough after principle photography, but then we were going to shoot Kong. And, and it was started from scratch, pretty well. Pete had the idea of the things that Kong would be doing but not how he's doing it or what mood he's in or what or who he is.
Q: The motion capture suit thing that you wear to help create Kong, it's a suit covered with scores of little reflectors, which captured the light?
AS: That's right. It just like every single dot is positioned at a point on the body which is basically, at a joint which is going to move. And they are picked up by the reflective dots and they are picked up by all the cameras, which are positioned around. They're like co-ordinates and so those co-ordinates are all targeted by 25 cameras. So it's like a GPS system, one for each dot, which is then put into the computer and mapped onto the CG image of Kong. So you could watch the physicality happening in real time. You could see Kong.
Q: And what's it like to wear the suit? Does it take a bit of getting used to?
AS: Well, this one again, was different to Gollum because I had to have a lot of weights attached. I had weights all round my ankles and my forearms, very heavy weights. And a harness with weights on, to get the momentum of the size of him. To get the scale of his movements and the inertia and the momentum. If he's swinging his arm, it's like a big wrecking ball, on the end of a chain, and then you get the way that the knuckles land on the ground and so on. I'm not quite sure how much the weights weighed but they were heavy.
Q: You had to be dripping with sweat?
AS: Oh I was. I was pouring sweat every day. It was the most physically and mentally demanding role. It was much, much more demanding than Gollum, and I can't believe I'm saying that, because that was pretty tough. With Gollum the dialogue was always there. But this character [Kong] was never going to have that. It was going to be totally about physically behaviour and facial expressions only and the eyes, and yet having to be able to get an interesting enough range into that without making him kind of Disney-fied. Without over anthropomorphising him, really.
Q: He's always got to seem real?
AS: Yes, if we've not got it right, it'll completely fail because people have such expectations of the development since 1933, and he [Kong] kind of worked in 1933. He has a power all of his own in the 1933 version.
Q: When you consider that's more than 70 years ago, the special effects then are stunning?
AS: Yes, absolutely. At moments, even watching that now, it moves you and you know, it's a tall order, I think, what we've got. We've got the recent kind of thing of Gollum as a sort of benchmark to better it.
Q: How did you switch off being Kong, because it seems to me you had to be so focused on this?
AS: It was very hard to unplug that during the day, especially in the motion capture phase. I was pretty much a vegetable by the end of the day because of what it required. And I did get a sense of being lost in the middle of it all. I did really feel, sort of, like, I was drowning within it at times, and I was only pulled through by the fact that Phillipa and Fran were there. They were fantastic. Because I did, kind of, begin to sink under the pressure of it. Just from the physical exhaustion really.
Q: So, were there days when you thought, I'm just not getting it?
AS: Oh yes, absolutely, absolutely. There were no other actors to play off. I would literally have to storm around until I felt, sort of, the muse come back at times. And and that was pretty lonely. It was like Muhammad Ali in the ring when the room starts spinning and you're going down. Ot was like that at times.
Q: So, did it help in a kind of obtuse way that you had this feeling of being so alone, because Kong's so alone?
AS: Yes, definitely. I definitely was drawing from the emotions of the day. Yes, there's no question. And the rage at myself when it wasn't coming on.
Q: How did you know when you were getting it right?
AS: I guess it's just an instinctive thing, really. Just a feeling that something is working, or something would spark something off. When we started the motion capture process, Fran and Phillipa said, look...we're going to have to just try everything and see what sticks. And, every time we did a take, let's play it close to human behaviour. How would a man be talking, or how would a man respond to, to this betrayal by Ann's character at this point? You know, how, how would he deal with it? And then, a whole spectrum through to just complete and utter 100% gorilla behaviour, which is much more enigmatic and, kind of, disassociated and disconnected, if you like. And, how much can we get away with that? And, how much more is the audience going to be asked if we make it more oblique and less explained? That was always the challenge. I don't know where they've taken it in the editing process. I'm about to go back and do the final vocalisations on Kong and that, so it could've gone…
Q: By vocalisation, what do you mean?
AS: Well, gorillas have quite a vocabulary. They have a language and a way of saying, yes, are you all right, are you okay, or, or they have a reprimanding grunt or they they sing when they're happy and yes they chuckle. They do laugh, they snigger, and then they have this, sort of, belch vocalisation which is, sort of like checking that everybody's all right in the group. I just thought that that would absolutely be crucial to it.
Q: And, does this get amplified to make it sound awesome?
AS: Yes. It goes through a filter called the Kongoliser. Yes, we call it the Kongoliser, which was invented by a guy called Chris Warden, who I worked with a lot with doing Gollum. We were trying to find a way of creating Kong's presence on set. So, I said, well, it'll be great to have a speaker system, and then he came up with this thing of real time processing where it filters and drops my pitch by about three times. And then when it comes out of these speakers, you can imagine Kong there. You can imagine his size. You know, huge…It gave me a sense of size, so if I was lifted up on a scissor lift or a crane there was this height and size. That helped me and any of the other actors playing. Because it was very loud.
Q: When you have been moving like a gorilla how bad did your body feel?
AS: Pretty beaten up. I got through the whole thing, because I had this incredible physiotherapist who was like a trainer and basically, got me through the motion capture phase of it. She was a neuromuscular therapist the likes of which I have never, ever experienced in my life. She was phenomenal, called Tracy Anderson. She got me through it.
Q: So were you getting a regular massage during the day?
AS: Not during the day, but at the end of the day. We called her Trigger Point Tracy. She found all these things, and just knew how to work muscles and relax them. She worked with the All Blacks.
Q: The great concern would have been if you pulled a muscle or tweaked something?
AS: Oh yes. That was it. That was my biggest fear, I think, of really injuring myself and being unable to carry on. Because they couldn't carry on without me. So, I was very, very, very worried about that.
Q: Naomi said that without you being there she couldn't have done it.
AS: I don't know about that. She has always been very gracious. I think Naomi is the actress of her generation, I really do. It was such a thrill acting opposite her, because she's just 100% real actor. She just not the sort who preens in front of the camera and who pulls off a few good moments in between a lot of duff out takes. She's the real deal and, in my mind, without doubt, she's the best actress of her generation, because she totally believes what she's doing. Which is why I absolutely owed it to her, to actually give 100% every take. And although I wasn't actually going to get on camera myself with her for months I was so keen to make their relationship work and she was too.
Q: She reckoned that the toughest thing for you to do was when you were up in this really high crane in a, in a kind of cage?
AS: That's right, yes. It was tough. Those times were tough because I was trying to connect with her and there were a lot of physical encumbrances and things in the way but we used a lot of music and that brought us into the same mental space and triggered things off, so that basically everything that you see in the film happens for real. It isn't just imagined by her. It's truly responding to something that happened. I think that she felt comfortable with that.
Q: How difficult was it doing the Empire State Building sequence?
AS: For me it wasn't difficult at all because it was incredibly emotional when I was working with her. It was more difficult when I was doing the motion capture version a month later on my own. That was tricky. But, she was phenomenal on that day. It was heartbreaking for me watching her doing it. I was basically the size of Kong's face and we were very, very close up, and she's stroking his face and we were able to have, at times, some physical contact. So that you can just feel it coming through, and, she was remarkable, she was incredible.
Q: And the motion capture for that was difficult because...?
AS: I've got to remember what was happening. The whole thing about working on set with an actress is that you've got that emotional ballast from having done it, although it is months later. But, even so, it's still quite tricky. Again, Phillipa and Fran, were able to really support me. They know me well enough after all these years to be able totrigger things for me. The relationship I've had with Peter, Fran and Phillipa, I think, over the last five, six years, has been the most intense and rewarding, I guess.
Q: Was it almost like a busman's holiday playing Lumpy the ship's cook then?
AS: It was. I was really good. It was really good fun. I was quite thrown actually, because prior to the principle photography, I was so geared up to play Kong. I'd done all my research, I'd been Rwanda, I came fully armed to play Kong. And then, I looked at the schedule and discovered they're not doing this for four months. I'd no idea. Then I had to sharply refocus onto this other character. So, that was pretty challenging.
Q: Where did you go for your inspiration for Lumpy?
AS: I read a couple of First World War books about chefs in trenches and I imagined he'd done that. He'd cooked some pretty horrendous meals - from cadavers of all sorts - in trenches and he'd seen some gruesome stuff. And now he was on this ship with all this international crew and he's pretty hard-boiled and, sort of quite sardonic and nothing really fazes him, although he's a bit superstitious. Not only is he the chef, he's the surgeon, he's a dentist and so on...He's pretty sordid. He's not seen a woman for a long time and when he does, it's pretty sordid.
And he's a pretty fruity little character. He was only really a little cameo role and then he developed into this slightly more reluctant character when they land on Skull Island to go and rescue Ann. He's the dour kind who doesn't think this is a very good idea. He's pretty negative about everything. He doesn't want to get involved because he sees things going from bad to worse and, yes they do. Another thing about Lumpy is that he's never clean. He's always filthy. He's pretty sweaty. And his sweat ends up in the food that people eat.
Q: You took the family to New Zealand but did you see the family at all during that period when you were actually being Kong?
AS: Very little. As the Kong stuff got more progressive I was pretty much a vegetable at the end of every day, and they didn't didn't get much out of me.
Q: Do you think it was bad news to be around you?
AS: Yes, absolutely. And she was coping with three kids on her own, and I was coming home, sort of drained. At the weekends there wasn't much left of me…
Q: Naomi said this was a film that you had to be prepared to go out there and work, eat, sleep?
AS: It's so true. Pete does demand that of you, and everybody. Every single person who is working on his films, they do it for Pete because they know that 100% means 100% - and Pete never actually asks for 100%, he always overreaches on everything. And he's that rare individual that manages to have 17 things on the go at once, not seemingly fazed by it, and having boundless energy and the graciousness to be able to deal with it in a non, kind of, megalomaniac, grumpy, fascistic way.
Q: You're going back to, to New Zealand to do some vocalisation which means that you've been with Kong for more than a year?
AS: Yes. I started thinking about it - really, seriously started thinking about it during pick ups, during Return Of The King. So there was never really a point where, Gollum started to die off and then Kong, sort of, started to take over
Q: So, when are you finally going to switch off? When are you going to say, bye-bye furry friend?
AS: Well, I guess when we stop talking about it and promoting it. But I do feel an enormous obligation to gorillas themselves. There's quite a lot of conservation stuff that I've got myself involved with that I'm trying to link in with the movie - particularly for Rwanda and gorilla tourism. So, I think we're trying to organise a screening for Rwanda's Discovery Centre. I want to give back in a way, if I can. Ironically it's the 20th anniversary of Dian Fossey's death and it is kind of going to be the year of the gorilla. Lowland gorillas are severely threatened now more than ever, and within 30 years they expect that lowland gorillas could be extinct and there's only 450 mountain gorillas left in the world. So we are on the verge of a big crisis.
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