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KING KONG

The Actress, Director, Playwright and Crew
Jackson's decision to keep the tale in its original time and setting—the Depression Era of 1933—was a simple one, based on two deciding factors: "I just wanted to be able to have the climax of the film—which is obviously the iconic sequence of the biplanes attacking Kong on the top of the Empire State Building—and I couldn't figure out a way that you could ever justify having biplanes attacking him if it was set in the modern day.

Also, I think it gives the film a little kick sideways into a slightly fantastical realm as well. I think that there's no real sense of mystery or discovery in the world anymore today. Yet in the 1930s, you could believe that there was one tiny, uncharted corner that hadn't been discovered by man yet…this one tiny, little speck of an island on the ocean that could have slipped through the net.”

This world of 1933 New York is also of significance to the central female character of the story, Ann Darrow. As an actress in vaudeville, Ann earns a living by entertaining, by making people laugh—in songs, skits and with physical humor. Though her onstage persona is a happy one, her life away from the theater is hardly lighthearted. The inherent sadness in her character is palpable—in some ways, her outlook is mirrored by the Great Depression around her. (When she later meets Carl Denham, she offers a particularly character-defining line: "Good things never last, Mr. Denham.”) And now, Ann finds that her particular theatrical dedication has become a dying art form. She turns up to work one day and finds the theater shuttered, her job ended. It is this desperate situation that sends her out into the streets where she meets Denham, who convinces her to board the Venture…she just has to take the first step down a path towards her destiny.

When trying to find an actress who could play the multilayered levels of Ann's character—the survival instinct, the grit, the underlying melancholy—the filmmakers had long wanted to work with Oscar® nominee Naomi Watts. Jackson had seen her revelatory performance in Mulholland Drive (and in other films) and had kept her in mind for the possibility of a future collaboration.

He says, "I thought, ‘Wow, I'd love to work with her one day.' You know, she's such a great actress—she's so true, so honest. I mean every moment that she is playing she's playing it from a place of complete emotional honesty. You can see it in her eyes. And so we'd really admired her work; we were fans of hers. But I'd never met her. And when the notion of doing King Kong came up, we knew that we had to cast somebody in the role that had been immortalized by Fay Wray. And we thought, ‘Well, this could be our opportunity to work with Naomi.'”

Jackson and his team were in London, completing post-production for The Return of the King, when Watts came to a meeting over dinner…and left agreeing to assay the role that had made Wray a star.

The draw for Watts was immediate. She explains, "When you choose a film, there are so many elements that you have to think of. But for me, generally speaking, the first thing is the director. Having seen most of Peter's work, I was hugely excited when I got the call to come and meet. There was no script at that point, but I did know the original film and it seemed like a great idea. And with Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens, and the great scripts they've produced before, it seemed like a very full package. So I actually agreed to do the movie before having read it!”

Much further down the road, when the script was drafted, Watts' expectations were more than met. She continues, "When I finally got the script, I just thought, ‘Wow, there's so much in it.' It was different than anything I'd done. Although it's an eventspectacle film, the characters have a huge amount of depth. The story is incredibly human.”

Watts add

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