Meet the director behind ‘Kong’ and his monster of a beard
LOS ANGELES—The man who never directed a big movie before “Kong: Skull Island” but bravely took on the challenge of megging a major, CGI-heavy film and came out triumphant now sports a monster of a beard.
Jordan Vogt-Roberts, suddenly one of Hollywood’s hot young directors, thanks to his well-received reboot of the “King Kong” movie series, arrived at The Ritz-Carlton Los Angeles with his neatly brushed beard catching everyone’s attention. The beard stretches all the way down to his chest.
“The razor cometh—it is coming,” Jordan promised with a smile but, for now, the giant beard is a good interview icebreaker. “I haven’t fully committed to it (shaving) yet. This is my playoff beard. This is, to some degree, a representation of this movie and what it’s done to me (laughs). I’ve turned into a homeless man.”
Jordan was a surprise choice to direct “Kong: Skull Island,” which stars Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, John C. Reilly, Samuel L. Jackson and John Goodman. The Detroit native’s first feature directing job was “The Kings of Summer,” a coming-of-age drama that earned a grand jury prize nomination in the 2013 Sundance Film Festival.
Before he landed “The Kings of Summer,” Jordan’s directing credits were for TV, including five episodes of “Funny or Die Presents…”
The man’s burning ambition led him to direct “Kong: Skull Island,” which clobbered Hugh Jackman’s “Logan” on the weekend it opened in the US. It’s no mean feat considering that Jackman’s supposedly final film as Wolverine was a huge hit, too.
“I wanted to do a big movie,” recalled Jordan, who is only 32 (he was born on Sept. 22, 1984). “That was for a couple of reasons: One, when you make an indie, it’s incredibly heart breaking because essentially, unless you somehow catch the zeitgeist, no one sees it. So I wanted to make a movie that people saw.
“We live in a time when people don’t go to the theater anymore. That’s the saddest thing on the planet to me, because the theater is my church. It’s so hard to get people out of the house.”
He added, “Also, I grew up on big movies at a time when big movies didn’t have the stigma of being what they are now. That’s what inspired me to learn film history, and find foreign and art house cinema. So I was vocal about saying, ‘I want to do a big picture.’
When the surprise offer to direct a “big picture” came, Jordan pitched a novel concept to Warner Bros. and Legendary Entertainment. Jordan shared, “I thought they were going to laugh me out of the room when I pitched them the idea by saying, ‘I want to make “Apocalypse Now” with “King Kong.” I want to make a Vietnam War movie with monsters.’”
Jordan’s conceit actually works, with film critics generally liking his “Apocalypse-Now-Meets-Jurassic-Park” idea.
The filmmaker was excited to be able to make his homage to Francis Ford Coppola’s masterpiece, which the esteemed director shot in the Philippines, and the making of which was chronicled in Eleanor Coppola’s “Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse.”
“Part of the thrill of me working in the jungle was because I’m a huge fan of ‘Apocalypse Now’ and ‘Hearts of Darkness,’” Jordan pointed out. “I’d joke around when I recruited a lot of the cast and crew that I wanted to have our own ‘Apocalypse Now’ or I want to go lose our minds (laughs) in the jungle. There’s that famous photo of Coppola with the revolver to his head. And that’s how you often felt.
“But shooting in the jungle was important because you knew Kong and the creatures were going to be CG. Audiences are so smart now, and they need to feel something tactile in the films.”
Instead of the Philippines, Jordan got to shoot in Vietnam. “Going to Vietnam was an absolute dream come true,” he said. “We’re the first movie of this size by far to ever shoot in a place like that. Tom Hiddleston, John C. Reilly and all these people in the water up to here (points at his waist) in a swamp. Normally, your crew would be like, ‘Get me out of here!’ Or, ‘Jordan, you don’t need that angle.’
“Then, with the size of Kong and making him fit in that environment and working with ILM itself, that was a dream. When it’s that big, you can’t have a guy with a tennis ball walking around with a stick. You’re going to Tom Hiddleston, John C. Reilly or John Goodman and saying, ‘That mountain over there, look there. Because that’s how big the scale is.’”
But back to the Kong-sized beard. “I shaved this morning,” he joked with a laugh. “Ever since I was a kid, I’ve always had dumb facial hair, whether it was a porn-star mustache, Civil War sideburns or whatever. I was a hairy kid.
“Actually, it’s a lot of things. I was growing a big beard out two years ago. I was in an accident where I got burned. My beard got singed. The doctor was like, ‘If you didn’t have your beard, you’d probably be blind right now.’ Because the beard absorbed the fire. That’s a hipster accomplishment—a badge of honor (laughs).
“When I got skin grafts, they had to shave it all off. So I was, now I need to bring my beard back. Then, it became a game of chicken—how long can it grow? Now, I look like a monster.
“Also a part of it is, when I make a movie, I’m so into it. Talk to my ex-girlfriends and family, I am into it. Pretty much anything that’s not the movie falls by the wayside. So I’m probably pretty bad at life (laughs).
“The beard also prevents people from talking to me because they’re afraid of me, generally. That’s not on set. I want to talk to all of my cast and crew, but not on the street. If I’m at a bar, someone’s not going to come up to me and say, ‘So how’s it going?’ So, it’s also just a way of protection (laughs). This beard represents what my life on this movie has been.”
Guess what? Jordan’s affinity for facial hair inspired his Kong. The director, whose reported next project is “Metal Gear Solid” (a feature-film adaptation of the video game), asked the wizards at Industrial Light & Magic to put ’70s-style sideburns on our beastly leading man. After all, the movie is set in the ’70s.
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