King Kong has been a mainstay on the American movie scene since his self-titled debut in 1933. Moviegoers fell in love with the enlarged, enraged, escaped ape and Kong became an instant celebrity. In the seven decades since, Kong has returned to the screen numerous times - playing opposite his good friend Godzilla in several movies in the 60's, and achieving a heroic return in the remake of his original film in 1976. (A decade later, this film prompted a sequel, "King Kong Lives.") In just a few weeks Kong is destined to create a splash once again in the third remake of his story, this time directed by "Lord of the Rings" sensation Peter Jackson. I was very fortunate to sit down with Kong on the sun deck of Chianti's on Melrose and get his thoughts on the newest highlight in his very memorable career. Dressed in a casual Versace suit and dining on a banana and walnut salad, the simian actor was thoughtful and accessible, showing no signs of the Hollywood ego that has infected stars with a tenth of his longevity.
Wil Forbis: It's good to see you. You look healthy.
King Kong: Let me tell you, I feel great. I gave up smoking about thirty years ago and I really feel it's done wonders for my skin. And I do a lot of yoga - I never let a morning go by without my stretches, so that keeps me in shape.
Wil Forbis: You must be very excited with your return to the big screen.
King Kong: It's fun, you know. I'd be lying if I said I didn't like the attention. But I try not to get to wrapped up in the Hollywood stuff. I mean, the world has had this kind of on-again off-again love affair with me since the first picture. I've learned that the limos and the red carpets never last. So I make sure that's not what validates my image of myself. My main concern is to make sure King Kong is happy with King Kong. Then I can worry about what other people think.
Wil Forbis: What was Peter Jackson like to work with?
King Kong: He's great, a total professional. He really knows how to work with large-scale actors too. I think he picked up a lot from those giant talking trees he used in the Ring films and he had his technique down.
Wil Forbis: Was it different from working on the early films?
King Kong: It was totally different experience back then. I was just a contract actor and someone had this crazy idea about making a film where I climb the Empire State Building. We had no idea whether this was going to work or whether we'd be laughed out of theaters. It was a very nervous time on the set and they had no idea how to shoot me. I kept blocking people out of shots. I just felt like a big clumsy doofus. But, you know, we worked through it and the rest is history.
Wil Forbis: You did a lot of work with Godzilla in the 60's.
King Kong: Sure, sure, all the "Versus" films. Zilla's great. He was the second giant monster to appear on the scene so we instantly bonded. I had a lot of regular Hollywood friends at the time, but on some level I couldn't relate to them. Godzilla was the guy I could always call up to talk about where to find a dry cleaner who pressed shirts in my size, you know? I love the guy.
Wil Forbis: He also publicly thanked you for being instrumental in getting him off drugs in the 80's.
King Kong: Well, you know, he had some rough times there. He did great for awhile and then wham - suddenly no one would return his phone calls. So there was about a decade there where he started slipping into substance abuse. We all saw it happening but weren't really sure how to confront it. Finally we had an intervention. Myself, Rodan, Q the Winged Serpent and a couple other giant monsters sat him down and said, "You've got to get some help." Once he did things just totally turned around for him. He's married and has had two remakes in the twenty years since!
Wil Forbis: Was there ever a rivalry between you and Mighty Joe Young?
King Kong: Well, the press certainly wanted there to be but in reality we hit it off from day one. He was just a kid when he did his first picture so I was able to show him the ropes. Since then we've stayed good pals. A couple years ago me and Joe and some of the dinos from "Jurassic Park" rented a cabin for a summer down in Baha. We went sailing, chased girls and had way too many margaritas. It was a great time.
Wil Forbis: It's been said you had a less than friendly relationship with Jessica Lange during the filming of the 1976 version of "King Kong."
King Kong: Look, I don't like to get down on Jessica, but she was a real rhymes with "funt" during that shoot. I mean, I guess she thought she was some kind of hotshot actress who didn't need to talk to the help you know? One of those, "If you're not human, I don't need to speak to you," vibes. As bad as she was to me, she was even worse to Howard Steinman who was the Tyrannosaurus Rex I had the big fight scene with. He didn't have a lot of self-esteem and he asked her out for coffee and she wouldn't even look him in the eye. I think she was on drugs most of the time too. I mean, hell, we all were, but she was really bad.
But, I should add, I ran into Jessica at Mr. Chow's in Beverly Hill a few years ago and she totally apologized. She's really a together chick now. And she still looks amazing.
Wil Forbis: 9/11 must have had a big effect on you. After all, you climbed the Word Trade Center Towers in one of your remakes.
King Kong: It was a real blow. They say the terrorist hit the towers because they represented the financial center of the world but to me they were the quintessential New York. I had a lot of great times in 50's at the jazz clubs and I'm really fond of that town. Whenever I look at the skyline now and see that the towers aren't there it brings a tear to my eye.
Wil Forbis: But you've been vocal in your opposition to the Iraq war.
King Kong: You know, it just burns me up. People say, "What does he know about global politics, he's just a giant monkey?" But what's always defined America for me is that everyone has a voice. And I've never seen the attempts to shout down alternate points of view like I have from this administration. Bush is just a travesty. You know he tried to get Mothra to be part of the initial occupying force in Baghdad? Mothra, stand up guy that he is, told Bush to go fuck himself, but I find it amazing he would even ask. People act like all us giant monsters are good for is to destroy things. I'm an actor, I'm a painter, I'm here to create, you know? Not destroy.
Wil Forbis: I understand.
King Kong: I'm sorry. I don't mean to talk like that. Can you take out the f-word there?
Wil Forbis: No problem. Have you ever considered a run for political office?
King Kong: I've thought about it. I'm good friends with Arianna Huffington and she's always encouraged me. Now that it looks like Schwarzenegger is tanking in California I've thought about making a run for Governor. Obviously a presidential run is out of the question since you need to be born in this country and I was born on...
Wil Forbis: Kong Island.
King Kong: Right.
Wil Forbis: Umm, what nation is that part of anyway?
King Kong: You know, I'm not sure. Indonesia?
Wil Forbis: How's your son, Son of Kong?
King Kong: Oh, he's a real dickens, but he's all grown up now. He's doing great. He plays in a band in Hollywood and has been dating Scarlett Johansson. He might have a small part in Quentin Tarantino's new film. I'm really proud of him.
Wil Forbis: What's next for King Kong?
King Kong: I'm talking to Fox about doing a reality series. Mainly, I'd love to do a comedy. I don't think people have seen that side of me. But anything with a speaking part would be great. Something more than "Rrrroowww," or "Grrrrrrowwwllll."
Whatever the future holds for King Kong, you can be sure he'll handle the next seventy years with the same grace, aplomb and good humor that he's managed for the first seventy. Here's an official Hollywood Notes "Cheers" to the greatest giant ape actor of our generation!
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