For years, blockbuster movie audiences have known Tom Hiddleston as Loki, the evil prankster of the Marvel movies. There’s no trace of mischief in James Conrad, the main hero of “Kong: Skull Island.” The acclaimed English actor is in pure movie star mode as a guide who helps a group of military brass and scientists explore a mysterious island in the South Pacific circa the early 1970s. There they find not only the iconic super-ape, but also giant reptiles, ants and spiders.
For the dashing star of “The Night Manager” and “I Saw the Light” — plus former, very brief boy toy of Taylor Swift — it was a chance to do the kind of films he loved as a kid: “Indiana Jones” movies, “Jurassic Park” and “King Solomon’s Mines.”
James isn’t a straight-arrow hero. He has a roguish quality to him.
Sam Neill recently told me that if you play the hero, the key to doing it right is to show that he does not want to be the hero. He's the one that says, "Ah, it's my turn to be the hero, what a drag!" But I also wanted to create an original character. We called him Conrad as a reference to Joseph Conrad, the author of the novel “Heart of Darkness.” James Conrad is also a soldier and an explorer at an interesting time in history, in the early ’70s, which was a period of enormous social and political changes, and he gets face-to-face with nature in its most terrifying and majestic form.
I know that one of your ways to keep fit is to run. What's your "power song" for running?
It varies. It changes depending on the weather. Recently I've been running to Ed Sheeran's “Castle on the Hill.” Sometimes I also run with a movie soundtrack. Do you know what's incredible to run with? The musical theme song from the BBC2 documentary “Planet Earth 2.” It was written by Hans Zimmer, a brilliant composer who wrote the soundtracks for “Gladiator,” “Inception,” “The Dark Knight,” among others. It has a very orchestral sound which I have a lot of fun with when running, especially if it’s raining.
Who do you like best: Kong or Godzilla?
Now you're asking me to choose between my two favorite characters as a kid. But I can tell you something: I grew up with Godzilla. One of my earliest memories is watching the cartoon that Hanna-Barbera did of Godzilla in the ’70s. I loved him, but then spent three years imagining Kong, so I think I grew fond of him.
And when you saw the finished Kong on the screen, was it as you imagined?
It was better. More powerful, noble, somehow. The director and I talked a lot about this, because I asked Kong to be less like a gorilla and more like an intelligent ape that could stand on his two feet — more like the Kong of the 1933 version. I strongly urged them to give him a noble personality, not only as a creature but as a noble animal. And I think in the end they did that.
What do you enjoy the most: Being the malevolent Loki or the reticent hero?
[Laughs] I like them both. It is fun to be the god of mischief, but also to make less selfish decisions.