Jordan Vogt-Roberts should be telling you that he spent a considerable time in intensive care after burning his face in order to bring you a new King Kong movie, because that would be a cool story. Those are the stories that legends are made of. If this were, say, the 1950s, you better believe that version of story would be circulating, with only vague rumors of the contrary.
The truth is, Jordan Vogt-Roberts caught on fire while trying to start a fire in a fireplace that had a faulty gas line – but after he posted photos of himself in the ICU on social media, people just assumed it happened while filming Kong: Skull Island. But to hell with the truth! We live in a post-fact society anyway, so why not this? So, yes, Jordan Vogt-Roberts got blown up while trying to make a movie for your enjoyment.
Vogt-Roberts – who won considerable acclaim for his 2013 Sundance darling, The Kings of Summer (it was called Toy’s House when it premiered at Sundance), and had a few choices in front of him for his next project, including The Huntsman: Winter’s War – is not going to lie to you about his accident. But he does want you to know that his Kong movie – which lives in the same universe as Gareth Edward’s 2014 film, Godzilla – is a completely new story. The studio pitched a story that was set in 1917, but Vogt-Roberts was adamant he had an idea for a new story set at the end of the Vietnam War.
His idea, as it turned out, is much more hyperactive version of this story than we’ve seen before. And as Vogt-Roberts explains ahead, there’s were times the powers that be had told him he had gone too far. (A scene in which Tom Hiddleston uses a samurai sword to battle creatures was on the cutting room floor until the last possible minute. Another scene has Brie Larson’s character temporarily inside the esophagus of Kong’s foe. Vogt-Roberts wanted shoot this from her point of view. This, sadly, was nixed.)
So, maybe Jordan Vogt-Roberts didn’t spend three weeks in the ICU because he was making a King Kong movie, but it’s certainly doesn’t take away from the rest of the insanity that is Kong: Skull Island.
You made a movie.
I did make a movie. It’s crazy. I’ve been in a dark hole for two and a half years, but I made a movie and now I’ve come out the other end.
Okay, we’ve talked about this a bit when it happened, but what exactly happened with the explosion you were in?
Everyone always thinks that I got blown up on my movie.
That’s a better story. You should just say that. “This is how much effort I put into this movie. I lost part of my face to bring you Kong.”
“Kong burned my face off and I have Freddy Krueger hand because of it.” No, I wish it was a good story. It was life telling me not to be domestic, because I live such a stupid life most of the time. And it was me living a total normal life at a dinner party with three people and they wanted me to go light a fire pit. And they had just moved into the house and the gas line was faulty and leaking – and I got blown the fuck up.
But maybe you were at least talking about Kong?
[Laughs.] Yes, exactly. I was talking about Kong at the time.
And then they were like, “To set the mood, we need this fire to really get the idea of what you’re talking about,” and you were like, “I agree.”
Yes, I was reenacting the third act of the movie and I like really needed a good tool to demo it. So I was like, “Let me light this fire real quick.” Cut to skin grafts and being in the burn center for three weeks.
Next time someone asks you, you should say, “We were going to have Kong breathe fire and we were testing it out.”
[Laughs.] Wait, did you miss the part of the movie where Kong breathes fire?
I must have, but I did see the part where Brie Larson’s character falls off a mountain into a lake and almost drowns, is picked up by King Kong, and then, with her in his fist, he punches another monster in the throat and rips out that monster’s tongue.
You know what?
That’s a story you tell to the grandchildren.
I think you probably like block that out of your brain if that actually ever happens to you. But that’s the type of moment that sort of popped into my brain when I was working with the storyboard artists really early on. If I’m doing a big monster movie, I just want to see a bunch of shit that I’ve never seen before. And so every hit, every death, every everything – if I feel like I’ve seen it, then I failed. I failed myself.
You’re right, I’ve never seen that before.
Well, I wanted to go even crazier with it – where I wanted her to wake up in his hand and then cut to her point of view as she’s seeing flashes like through his fingers in the gut of the creature.
And I pitched that, and everyone looked at me like you’re out of your mind.
You had Sam Jackson say, “Hold onto your butts.”
Yeah, I did. Indeed.
Some directors might want to avoid a reference to the greatest monster movie of the last 30 years.
Yeah, but it’s also such a great line. It’s funny because I don’t mind people thinking about Jurassic Park in this movie. I think it’s like a edgier Jurassic Park mashed up with a bunch of other things like Aliens and Princess Mononoke and Apocalypse Now, and all these weird things. But I just wanted him to say that line as a lover of that film.
Did he object at all?
It’s funny because that day on set I didn’t say anything about it. Sam didn’t say anything about it. I asked the writer to put the line in, thinking that Sam was going to chew me out. And then he just was saying it and I was like, cool, great. And it made me really regretful, because one of the other things I really wanted to put in the movie was John Goodman saying, “Mark it zero,” or, “Over the line,” or, “You’re out of your element,” or something from Lebowski.
I also love a good tetanus joke, which is in this movie. I’ve never known anyone to have tetanus. But everyone gets the shot.
You can’t call bullshit on someone if they’re like, “Sorry, can’t come to work, I have tetanus.”
Right, don’t use “I have a cold.” Call in sick with tetanus.
The other one that I think people wouldn’t call bullshit on is saying, “I got skunked.” That’s such an absurd thing to be like, “Sorry, I can’t make it today. I got skunked.” Who is going to call bullshit on that?
I live in Manhattan. There are not a lot of skunks around.
And that’s exactly my point. Even though you live in Manhattan, if you called someone and said, “Sorry, I can’t come, I got skunked,” that’s such a weird specific thing. I can’t call bullshit on that.
Were you worried when J.K. Simmons and Michael Keaton left the project?
My entire life is a serious of events where I ask myself, “Is this falling apart right now?” Yeah, certainly. When we pushed and when schedules changed, it was a really sad thing for me. But I feel so lucky and fortunate to have John C. Reilly in this movie.
So walk me through this a bit. You go to Sundance with Toy’s House – I still call it that every time. Kings of Summer…
That’s the shit. That’s street cred.
So after that, what other options did you have besides Kong?
Look, you’ve got to understand my career prior to this was a series of events where I thought people weren’t paying attention. I was never the guy who made that one thing that got hot, then that led to everything and game over. I was just always making shit – like always working, always making shorts, paying for shit myself, being broke, just hustling. And honestly, went to Sundance expecting people to hate Toy’s House or Kings of Summer.
But you wanted to make a big movie next?
I personally was sending a message that I wanted to make a big movie because before I discovered art house cinema, and foreign cinema, and film history, and went down the cinephile path of riding my bike to the video store every day to rent VHS tapes, the only thing I had access to and the first thing that made me fall in love with the theater and movies was studio movies. You know, your Star Wars and Raiders and Die Hard and Back to the Future and The Thing and Blade Runner.
And so, I got offered a bunch of shit. Like a ton of different things. And there were things that I was chasing like Metal Gear Solid and things that were deeper development. But I got offered a bunch of weird tentpoles and a bunch of weird indies and a bunch of midrange movies.
What’s an example of a weird tent-pole?
I mean, you know, a bunch of things came my way, like the Huntsman sequel and things like that. You know, but it was things like that. And so, this was the only thing that I was like, “You know what? I can do this.” Because they came to me with a script that took place in 1917 and I was like, “I love King Kong, but why are you making this movie?”
Peter Jackson just made one not that long ago.
Well, and so that was the thing. I was like, thanks, but no thanks. And the cool thing about Warner Bros. and Legendary was they kind of said, “Well, what version of the movie would you make?” And so that’s when I went away and came up with this totally insane idea of Apocalypse Now and King Kong and Vietnam War and monsters and choppers and napalm and all of this shit. And I went and pitched it to them, thinking they were going to laugh me out of the room. And instead, the cool thing about this company is is they said, “Let’s figure that out.” I feel like this is what me and my friends would want to see.
I’m out of time. It was good to talk to you.
Well, take care, all right? Don’t get burned.
You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.