He appeared in the breakout hit ‘Straight Outta Compton’ as the legendary Eazy-E and he’s back again in ‘Kong: Skull Island’ as Glen Mills, veteran of the Vietnam War tasked with a mission he is wholly unprepared for. Rising star Jason Mitchell spills on what is sure to be Spring’s biggest blockbuster.
King Kong is back and bigger than ever. This time he’s at the center of questions that have prompted fans back and back again to the legend that humans have stood in awe and fear of since he first appeared in film. Independent film director Jordan Vogt-Roberts endeavours to answer some of these questions as a motley team of scientists, soldiers and curious explorers travel to an unchartered island where they come upon the monster Kong, an idle king of his domain angered into action as he perceives a threat. Once the adventure of gods, man and monster begins, unwitting lives get caught up in the chaos.
We had the chance to talk to Jason Mitchell, who plays solider Glen Mills, and hear all about it.
The Knockturnal: I had the chance to see Kong: Skull Island recently and it was fantastic. Things must be so crazy for you right now with the film coming out so soon. How are you feeling about it?
Jason Mitchell: You know, I actually got to see the film too and I couldn’t be more ready for it to come out. Like if it was up to me we would drop it today, you know what I mean? Because when you’re doing those really big budget films and you do reshoots and you do all these different things it’s hard for you to see the finished product. There was so much that you could be like oh it felt right on the day or it felt right or whatever it may be but there’s still no Kong, you know there’s still no skull crawlers and monsters there with us. So to see the finished full product, I couldn’t be more happy like it took everything in me not to kiss Jordan Vogt-Roberts.
TK: When you heard there was going to be a reboot of the King Kong movies what made you want to be a part of it? Did you have any hesitations?
JM: To be honest, any hesitation that I did have was automatically axed out once I saw the cast, once I heard about, you know, Jordan because see the thing is I feel like there’s different ways to make perfect storms. In this situation I knew that Jordan would have so much passion because not only is he directing guys that are way older than him and have been in the business longer than him, he also has the weight of the world on his shoulders. It’s always dope to jump into a passion project with somebody. Then on top of that by it being a period piece and by it kind of being the prequel situation, they have all these stones that get unturned and these questions that get answered. As a kid I would ask myself, “why doesn’t Kong have a mom?” You know what I mean? [Laughs]. What happened to your family? How are you the only really big ape? So when I started reading the script and looking at all these different things and the way they related it to our actual history, it was dope. I was truly sold.
TK: What was it like to work with the director, Jordan Vogt-Roberts? He just came from a small independent film to a blockbuster so how was that experience for you?
JM: Well, see the thing about Jordan is, like I said he’s very passionate, so he has that indie style even in a big budget film. Maybe they’re over here doing this set up that might take three hours but Jordan’s all about trying to shoot. So he’s like let’s go do B-roll, let’s do this, you know. He’s just a real fearless leader. I remember like being in Vietnam telling him like I’m not getting in that water you know and then five minutes later he comes back with waders on him and gets in the water and he’s like “see? It’s not that bad!” [laughs]. And you need that, you know? You need people who are going to push you to the right places and he definitely did that.
TK: So for a lot of movies that involve soldiers and the military, they get the actors to go through military training. Did you have to do anything like that to get into the solider mindset?
JM: Yeah we did and it was pretty cool because we had a guy we worked with named Harry Humphrey and Harry has a lot of confirmed kills. Like they have books about this guy, you know. It was good to have him there and just kind of walk us through these different things to learn how to move like a solider, how to think like a solider, and that’s really what it boils down to you know? With what your instincts tell you to do and that was really cool but on the side of that, who doesn’t want to play with all the M-16s and A-Ks, you know a big boy toy movie. But the grand finale of all this—they let us fly helicopters, like we actually got to fly helicopters, and it was just really, really dope.
TK: Do you have any tricks or methods you swear by to get into character?
JM: See my thing is I always prepare a very strong opinion for my character because I’m a big improv guy but if you know how you feel about something and you have a very strong opinion about that then it’s easy to just let some things go. When Cole [played by Shea Whigham] and I, in the helicopter before we even leave to go there, those riffs that we were letting off, it’s always the stuff that really, you know, came across pretty well was all just improv. But it was all because I have this kind of perception of how I think things should be as Mills so as long as I stay in that pocket I’m good most of the time.
TK: What was it like working with Samuel L. Jackson?
JM: Man it was so, so, so dope. Because he’s the kind of guy you meet and you find out real quick that there’s no gimmick. He is who you think he is except he’s a very, very articulate person. He can go from the outhouse to the White House [laughs]. It was really cool but always kept set one because he was a guy who—I mean, in his words, he don’t give a fuck [laughs]. He will say exactly how he feels and he’s definitely a beast. I watched the monologue that he did about man being king and all that right before he attempts to kill Kong and I felt like I was watching the movie right there. I was completely blown away. Every time I talked to him it’s never about acting because when it comes to acting all you’ve got to do is shut up and watch. So you know we talk about regular things, how to raise kids and such [laughs].
TK: Your repartee with Shea Whigham’s character, Earl Cole, provided a lot of humor in the film. Considering what happens, without giving it away, how would you describe your characters’ relationship?
JM: I mean, to be honest I did it out of like complete respect, you know? Because we have a huge age gap between us and also a huge age gap between us when it comes to our careers. He’s a veteran, he’s been doing this for a very, very long time. He’s the kind of guy who he’s a real man’s man, you know? Like he wants to punch on you and stuff like that [laughs]. So just spending like regular, quality time with him really helped me get to a point where I could learn how to crack his shell and really bust his balls [laughs] and it turned into something great. It turned into something really great.
TK: Filming took place in Hawaii, Viet Nam, Australia. A lot of amazing locations. What was your favorite part of shooting and where was your favorite place to shoot?
JM: Ah, man. My favorite place to shoot had to be Ha Long Bay in Vietnam. Yeah it was the most extraordinary place I have ever seen in my life. It was crazy [laughs] but it was crazy because I actually got food poisoning right before [laughs]. I’m out there and our base camp was literally on a boat so like everything was moving, my stomach was going crazy, I had interviews with MTV that day—it was crazy. And when everything could seem like it was at its worst you could just look out and be like “oh my God.” I saw like random monkeys, schools of jellyfish, like what is my life right now? It was just the most incredible place that I’ve ever been in my life, it was so beautiful.
And on his favorite part of shooting.
JM: You know it was definitely the action. Damn, it’s so tough because they had a really, really special set. They had us take three boats to set right, because you took this kind of big speed boat to go where you had to go to meet this other boat and then once you jump off that boat you’re in like these single kind of situations where they have like some old lady just like getting you through this cave and you have to like duck your head at times and I’m like who even found this? [Laughs] Who knew this was the way to go, you know, real untouched places. It was dope to be able to do that but they did have some pretty cool times where like in the bone yard, playing with explosives, flame throwers and just being a real guy [laughs]. It was pretty dope.
TK: What was it like acting with Kong, the skull crawlers and other creatures that basically had to live in your imagination?
JM: Our art department did a really good job of showing us the prototype. On the piece of paper, this is what we think it’s going to look like and when you lock that image in your head you go back to like when you were seven years old and scared of monsters in your closet. Like yo this is crazy. They put a pink X 85-100 feet in the sky and you’re like “oh my God” you know what I mean? Some of it—the scale—was a huge thing for me, realizing that to you I’m basically an ant. I would look at bugs on the ground and be like yo that is me compared to Kong. That’s crazy [laughs] to think that you’re no longer even really considered on the food chain. Man it was pretty dope but that’s when the profession kind of got to come into it. I’m glad that we had such a huge ensemble cast who all had an outlook on what was going on because it was so easy to lose focus or be like “you know that shit’s just a volleyball, it’s hard to take it serious” you know? But it was cool to have people who all took it serious and who all had some sort of input on it. They cut to everybody in this movie which is a big deal [laughs]. It’s a big deal.
TK: You were reunited with Corey Hawkins after you guys both starred in Straight Outta Compton. What was that like?
JM: Corey is my brother. We’ve been through hell and high water together. I remember when both of us had to get big for Straight Outta Compton and we were eating 4000 calories a day and boxing four times a week and just doing all these different things to mentally, physically prepare ourselves for the role. So we’ve been through so much but at the same time we were still just babies in our careers and it was really dope to have somebody who I consider family take that step with me. Being away from family for six months and you know any type of civilization that means anything to you for six months, that’s crazy! But I had my brother with me man and I’m just so proud of him. I’m so proud of where he’s headed and what he’s doing. It felt good to be beside him again, you know? Lets me know I’m doing the right thing for myself.
TK: What did you and the cast members do for fun?
JM: We did a little bit of everything. We did everything from exploring the woods to renting yachts, you know? [Laughs]. Brie would plan these freak-ends she would call them, like it’s the freaking weekend you know? [Laughs]. We went to this laser place that we were like we’re all too old to do this but we went there and it was the most fun we ever had. They had this room where it was like a flickering light and these really big balls and you’re supposed to go in there and I guess try to make your way through them but immediately we were like “oh my God this is best!” and started throwing the balls at each other. It was so much fun, it was so good.
TK: Can you tell us anything about your upcoming projects?
JM: Well, I had a movie do really good at Sundance called Mudbound. That’s going to be going to theaters but we already sold it to Netflix, which is incredible. I’m about to start a film in a couple of days with this guy, Sebastián Silva, who is also a sensation at Sundance, who always does his thing. I get to work with Michael Cera and just a bunch of people that I admire. After that I start a TV show called The Chi that we’re obviously going to be shooting in the Chi, in Chicago, and Common’s producing it and Showtime already picked it up. It should be really, really dope. I also have a film with Kathryn Bigelow that’ll be coming out later this year about the Detroit riots. So it’s going to be a pretty good year for me. Things are looking up so far.
‘Kong: Skull Island’ will appear in theaters on March 10th.