“You’re a 10-year-old kid watching a girl get tied up and fed to a gorilla,” says John Goodman about the first time he ever saw the original 1933 King Kong. “(You realize) something else is going on in this world.”
Kong has been a part of Goodman’s life for as long as he can remember. “Motherfucker’s only 19 years older than I am,” the veteran says abruptly during our recent chat at a hotel in downtown Los Angeles. “I just thought about that today and went, ‘Shit, man, I’m getting up there.’” He remembers the time in 1983 when a giant inflatable Kong was attached to the top of the Empire State Building to celebrate the original film’s 50th anniversary, only to be undone by the high winds: “It looked like a giant Hefty bag, flapping around there.”
It’s hardly a surprise that Goodman would show up in Kong: Skull Island, director Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ rumbling new mash-up of a good old-fashioned monster movie with Apocalypse Now, given his affinity for Kong and his great talent for playing characters who seem to know a bit more about the world around them and the strange way it works.
Goodman plays William Randa, who works for an organization called Monarch that is researching the possible existence of never-before-seen creatures living in remote or underground parts of the world. Randa organizes a military operation led by Samuel L. Jackson and Tom Hiddleston to take him and his team to Skull Island in search of a legendary giant named Kong. They find him and much more.
The name of Randa’s organization is Monarch and sharp-eyed viewers may recall that same mysterious firm having some involvement in Gareth Edwards’ 2014 Godzilla. Randa is the guy in this movie who connects the dots and says, “All these weird conspiracy theories you’ve ever heard, they’re all true.” Goodman agrees: “He had first-hand knowledge of it from his Navy experience,” he explains. “I think it scarred him for life, and sent him on this quest, to the point where he’s become like Captain Ahab. It just doesn’t really matter what else happens as long as he proves that these things exist.”
Goodman theorizes that the power of Kong, and giant monster movies in general, is that they are malleable enough to be a metaphor for whatever the prevailing issues or fears of their era may be. “It’s kind of an American myth, almost,” he offers. “Films have in a way become our mythology. And it doesn’t get much bigger than King Kong. It’s whatever you want to say about American imperialism or man’s tendency to conquer places he has no business in. Which reflects on this film because it’s part of a Vietnam experience. Or like the one in 1976 that was about oil.”
Randa has a great line early in Kong: Skull Island in which he says, “Washington will never be as screwed up as it is now,” which got a hearty laugh at the usually staid press screening. “I thought it was a little too on the head,” Goodman admits. “We did it in reshoots. We had to do reshoots for this, and that was one of the lines and I didn’t think it would make it in because a little too much on the head. But I guess it got a laugh, which is why I don’t write comedy.”
Goodman will next go before the camera in Captive State, an alien invasion thriller from director Rupert Wyatt (whom Goodman memorably worked with on The Gambler). He’ll be in Chicago for six weeks shooting that picture, but admits that the travel — Kong: Skull Island took him and the cast to Hawaii, Australia and Vietnam — is starting to have an effect on him.
“The older I get the more I want to stay home,” he says. “The travel’s starting to wear me down. On this one, we went from Hawaii to Australia, which was great, and then Vietnam, which was spectacular. But then between Hawaii and Australia I went to Budapest for 10 days and wound up with pneumonia. It’s starting to wear on me. But then, you know, I got Sam (Jackson) to look up to when we’re working. This cat is always working, so I’ll just keep my yap shut and not complain about it and just look at him.”
Kong: Skull Island opens in theaters on Friday (March 10).