KING KONG PRINCIPAL PHOTOGRAPHY SET TO BEGIN FOR ACADEMY AWARD®-WINNING FILMMAKER PETER JACKSON AND UNIVERSAL PICTURES
CAST INCLUDES NAOMI WATTS, JACK BLACK AND ADRIEN BRODY
Universal City, CA, September 2, 2004 – Principal photography is set to begin September, 2004 on the dramatic adventure King Kong, with triple Academy Award® winner Peter Jackson (The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King) bringing his sweeping cinematic vision to the iconic story of the gigantic ape-monster captured in the wilds and brought to civilization where he meets his tragic fate. Jackson assumes directing, producing and co-screenwriting duties and surrounds himself with a list of superlative filmmaking and acting talents.
Jackson re-teams with longtime collaborators Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens, co-writing the screenplay with three-time Oscar®-winning partner Walsh and The Lord of the Rings co-writer, Academy Award® winner Boyens. The screenplay is based on the original story by Merian C. Cooper and Edgar Wallace, which became the classic 1933 RKO Radio Pictures film, directed by adventurers Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack. Jan Blenkin, Carolynne Cunningham, Fran Walsh and Jackson will produce the film under their WingNut Films banner, with Universal Pictures releasing King Kong worldwide on December 14, 2005. As with his Lord of the Rings trilogy, Jackson will shoot King Kong on location in his native New Zealand.
Set to star in the Universal Pictures release is a slate of some of Hollywood’s most versatile and accomplished actors, including Academy Award® nominee Naomi Watts (21 Grams), Jack Black (School of Rock) and Academy Award® winner Adrien Brody (The Pianist).
Naomi Watts portrays Ann Darrow, an actress from the world of vaudeville who finds herself out of a job in Depression-era New York. Her luck changes when she meets Carl Denham, played by Jack Black-an entrepreneur, raconteur, adventurer and filmmaker who is struggling to make a name for himself in the entertainment industry. Bold, ebullient and charismatic, Denham has a natural sense of showmanship and an appetite for greatness, which ultimately leads to catastrophe.
Adrien Brody steps into the role of Jack Driscoll, a New York playwright, who becomes an unlikely hero in a romantic adventure story which will test his physical courage and his heart.
Peter Jackson commented, “I’m thrilled to be working with Naomi-not many actresses could step into Fay Wray’s shoes and I have no doubt she will be equally as stunning in the role of Ann Darrow.” Watts will be starring opposite Brody in a feisty love story which has been updated from that of the original film. “Adrien is one of the most gifted actors working today-he is smart and charming and incredibly versatile and I think he’s going to be fantastic in this role, which is unlike any he has played before.”
Jackson has been wanting to work with Jack Black ever since he saw him in High Fidelity. “Jack adds a wonderful dimension to the role of Carl Denham. He’s playing a maverick visionary who is undone by the monstrousness of his own ambition.”
Cast members also include Andy Serkis (The Lord of the Rings trilogy), Thomas Kretschmann (U-571), Colin Hanks (Orange County) and Kyle Chandler (Angel’s Dance, television’s Early Edition).
Andy Serkis (who served as the live-action basis behind the CGI Rings character of Gollum) will provide on-set reference for the title character of King Kong.
Serkis also plays the character of Lumpy the cook, in service aboard the tramp steamer Venture, bound for Skull Island, under the command of Captain Englehorn, played by Thomas Kretschmann. Colin Hanks portrays a production assistant to filmmaker Carl Denham and Kyle Chandler takes on the role of a 1930’s movie star cast opposite Ann Darrow.
Jackson added, “The fun part of my job is getting to work with talented actors like Colin, Thomas, Kyle and Andy because they bring so much more to a role than what is written on the page. Colin Hanks is the perfect guy to play Denham’s assistant, Preston. He is so good – you forget that you’re watching an actor – which can be a little disconcerting.”
“Thomas brings a quiet authority to the role of Captain Englehorn. His droll sense of irony is the perfect counterpoint to Denham.”
Kyle Chandler is playing the role of Bruce Baxter – a nineteen-thirties ‘movie star’ who appears in the film Denham is shooting. “It’s a film within a film; Kyle brings enormous charm and style to this role, managing to capture the quality of some of the great legends of the era, such as Cary Grant and Clark Gable.”
King Kong also marks the return of Andy Serkis to New Zealand and will reunite actor and director on another epic piece of fantasy story-telling.
“I’m really looking forward to seeing what Andy Serkis does with the character of Lumpy, the cook. This will be the first time we will actually get to shoot extended drama sequences together, in the full knowledge that Andy will not be ‘painted out’ after the fact-as he was with Gollum. But Andy hasn’t escaped that fate entirely. He will also provide valuable on-set reference for the character of Kong and he has spent weeks in the London Zoo and in the highlands of Rwanda researching various aspects of gorilla behavior. It is not our intention to soften Kong in an attempt to humanize him. The power of the story lies in the fact that this is a savage beast from a hostile environment and we will not compromise that.”
Actors Evan Parke (Planet of the Apes), Lobo Chan and Jamie Bell (Billy Elliot) have also come onboard King Kong as crew of the Venture, with Parke as Hayes, the first mate, a hardened ex-infantryman from WWI; Bell as the ship’s lookout, Jimmy, a delinquent with a habit for getting into trouble; and Chan rounding out the crew as Choy, the ever-optimistic deckhand.
Jackson’s creative team on King Kong includes director of photography Andrew Lesnie (cinematographer for the Rings trilogy and Oscar® winner for The Fellowship of the Ring); editor Jamie Selkirk (Oscar® winner, The Return of the King); production designer Grant Major (Oscar® nominee for all three Rings and winner for The Return of the King); costumer Terry Ryan (The Hard Word, Paradise Road); and unit production manager Anne Bruning, who last worked in New Zealand on The Last Samurai.
Visual effects will be again accomplished by New Zealand-based companies Weta Digital and Weta Workshop, recipients of multiple Academy Awards® for their collective work on The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Visual effects and miniatures will supplement practical locations in creating primordial jungles and ’30s-period America.
Stacey Snider, chairman, Universal Pictures, said, “We are thrilled to be joining Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh on the heels of the landmark achievement of The Lord of the Rings. Peter and his team will bring their superior filmmaking, unequalled vision and the latest in film effects to this treasured classic. With the high-voltage casting of Naomi Watts, Jack Black and Adrien Brody, Peter’s brought on some of the most talented young actors in Hollywood. There is something unbelievably exciting about working with a filmmaker on his dream project, as King Kong is for Peter. I really look forward to our collaboration.”
Jackson noted, “I very much want to respect the iconography of the original film, because I don’t believe we should try to change what worked. Our version of King Kong will reflect the same sort of dramatic sensibility we employed on The Lord of the Rings- placing real characters, with real dilemmas, in the context of a truly fantastical world. I’m determined to give the film a gritty reality and to play the dramatic elements of the story for all they’re worth. Our movie is set in 1933, and this is important because it means we can invest the story with the mystery and romance of a bygone era. The Thirties was a time of discovery, when we did not know the full parameters of the world and literally, anything was possible.”
Peter Jackson made cinematic history with The Lord of the Rings, becoming the first person to direct three major feature films simultaneously. The final installment, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, received 11 Academy Award® nominations and swept every award for which it was nominated (tying the record held by Titanic and Ben-Hur), including Best Picture, Best Directing and Best Adapted Screenplay. The film was awarded BAFTAs for Best Film and Best Adapted Screenplay, with Jackson also garnering Best Director prizes from the Directors Guild, Broadcast Film Critics Association, Hollywood Foreign Press Association, Chicago Film Critics, Los Angeles Film Critics and other nominating groups worldwide. The second installment, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, earned six Academy Award® nominations, including Best Picture. It won two Oscars® and two BAFTA Awards. Released in 2001, the first film in the trilogy, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, was nominated for 13 Academy Awards®, including Best Director, and won four. The film also received the American Film Institute’s prestigious Film Award and was nominated for 12 awards from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA), winning awards for Best Film and garnering Jackson the David Lean Award for direction. In addition to four Golden Globe nominations, the film also received numerous distinctions and awards around the world.
Jackson and Walsh previously received widespread acclaim for their 1994 feature Heavenly Creatures, which was awarded a Silver Lion at the Venice Film Festival and an Academy Award® nomination for Best Screenplay. Other film credits include The Frighteners starring Michael J. Fox, the adult puppet feature Meet the Feebles, the mockumentary Forgotten Silver and Braindead.
Naomi Watts received her first Academy Award® nomination for Best Actress for her role in Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu’s 21 Grams, in which she starred alongside Sean Penn and Benicio Del Toro. Her performance also garnered Best Actress Awards from the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, Southeastern Film Critics Association, Washington Area Film Critics and San Diego Film Critics, as well as Best Actress nominations from the SAG Awards, BAFTAs, Broadcast Film Critics and Golden Satellites. At the film’s premiere at the 2003 Venice International Film Festival, she received the Audience Award (Lion of the Public) for Best Actress, and she was also honored by the Palm Springs Film Festival.
Watts earned widespread acclaim for her work in David Lynch’s controversial drama Mullholland Drive, which premiered at the 2001 Cannes Film Festival and which brought her Best Actress Awards from a number of critics’ organizations, including the National Society of Film Critics. In addition, she was named the Female Star of Tomorrow at the 2002 ShoWest Convention, and received the Breakthrough Acting Award at the 2002 Hollywood Film Festival.
Watts has been filming non-stop and has an extensive list of upcoming releases: We Don’t Live Here Anymore, opposite Laura Dern, Peter Krause and Mark Ruffalo-for which she is also a producer; The Assassination of Richard Nixon, opposite Sean Penn and Don Cheadle; David O. Russell’s I (Heart) Huckabee’s, with Jude Law and Dustin Hoffman; Stay for Mark Forster, opposite Ewan McGregor and Ryan Gosling; and The Ring 2 – the sequel to the 2001 blockbuster, The Ring.
Last year, Watts starred in the Merchant-Ivory production Le Divorce, in which she joins an ensemble cast, including Kate Hudson, Glenn Close and Stockard Channing, and starred in Gore Verbinski’s box office hit The Ring. Other film credits include Undertaking Betty and Ned Kelly.
Born in England, Watts moved to Australia at the age of 14 and began studying acting. Her first major film role came in John Duigan’s Flirting. Watts also produced and starred in the short film Ellie Parker, which screened in competition at the 2001 Sundance Film Festival and for which she received the Best Actress in a Short Film Award from the Method Fest.
Jack Black has appeared in many motion pictures, but it was his scene-stealing performance as John Cusack’s sarcastic music store employee in Stephen Frears’ critically-acclaimed comedy High Fidelity that cemented his place in the hearts of audiences. That breakout role in 2000 garnered him a Blockbuster Entertainment Award in the supporting actor category and a nomination for an American Comedy Award. Black then co-hosted the 2002 MTV Movie Awards with Sarah Michelle Gellar; the program was the highest rated MTV Movie Awards show ever and was the top-rated cable program of the year.
This past October, Black proved his box-office draw with the #1 opening box office hit School of Rock, from producer Scott Rudin, director Richard Linklater and writer Mike White. In the film, for which Black received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy, he plays a failed rock musician who, in order to get some quick rent money, pretends to be a substitute teacher in an uptight private school.
Black most recently appeared in the film Envy, in which he starred opposite Ben Stiller for director Barry Levinson. Black has also finished the voice work for the animated feature Shark Tale. Alongside Will Smith, Angelina Jolie, Renée Zellweger and Martin Scorsese, Black will voice the young character Lenny in a tale about an undersea mob and the trouble they get in to.
Fans also know Black as the lead singer of the rock-folk comedy group Tenacious D, which he created with friend Kyle Gass. Their self-titled album was released in the fall of 2001 on Epic Records and was quickly certified at gold-selling status. The band had a 1999 variety series on HBO and the duo has completed the script for their semi-autobiographical feature Tenacious D in: The Pick of Destiny, with an anticipated start of production later this year.
Black was recently seen on the big screen in two hit comedies: in the Farrelly brothers’ Shallow Hal, in which he had his first starring role, opposite Gwyneth Paltrow; and in Orange County, from director Jake Kasdan (Zero Effect) and writer Mike White (Chuck & Buck), in which Black starred alongside Colin Hanks. Black’s past film credits also include Saving Silverman (with Jason Biggs and Steve Zahn) and the independent drama Jesus’ Son, with Billy Crudup. He made his feature film debut in Tim Robbins’ Bob Roberts.
Adrien Brody has made an indelible impression on Hollywood. His Oscar® win for his performance in Roman Polanski’s The Pianist made him the youngest person to win a Best Actor award. His portrayal of Wladyslaw Szpilman also earned him Best Actor nominations from the Golden Globes, the Screen Actors Guild and BAFTA. Other accolades for this performance include ones from the Cesar Awards (French equivalent to the Oscars®), the Boston Society of Film Critics and the National Society of Film Critics.
Brody recently starred in M. Night Shyamalan’s dramatic thriller, The Village, opposite Joaquin Phoenix, William Hurt and Sigourney Weaver. He recently filmed The Jacket, directed by John Maybury, starring opposite Keira Knightley.
Brody first came to prominence for his role in Steven Soderbergh’s King of the Hill, and garnered critical praise in Spike Lee’s Summer of Sam and Barry Levinson’s Liberty Heights. He also starred in Eli Chouraqui’s Harrison’s Flowers and in the ensemble film The Singing Detective opposite Robert Downey, Jr., Mel Gibson and Robin Wright Penn, which made its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival. His other film credits include Charles Shyer’s romantic drama The Affair of the Necklace, opposite Hilary Swank; Ken Loach’s Bread and Roses; Terrence Malick’s The Thin Red Line; The Last Time I Committed Suicide, with Keanu Reeves; and Eric Bross’ Ten Benny. And last year, Brody could be seen in Dummy and Love the Hard Way.
Brody was born and raised in New York City, where he attended the High School for Performing Arts and then the American Academy of Dramatic Arts.
Universal Pictures is a division of Universal Studios (www.universalstudios.com). Universal Studios is part of NBC Universal. NBC Universal is one of the world’s leading media and entertainment companies in the development, production, and marketing of entertainment, news, and information to a global audience. Formed in May 2004 through the combining of NBC and Vivendi Universal Entertainment, NBC Universal owns and operates the No. 1 television network, the fastest-growing Spanish-language network, a valuable portfolio of news and entertainment networks, a premier motion picture company, significant television production operations, a leading television stations group, and world-renowned theme parks. NBC Universal is 80%-owned by General Electric, with 20% controlled by Vivendi Universal.