'Lord of Rings' guru readies for 'Kong'

— Peter Jackson first tried to film "King Kong" at 13, using a cardboard model of the Empire State Building, a bedsheet painted with a New York backdrop and his Super-8 camera.

Now 42 and with three Academy Awards to his credit, the director of the celebrated "Lord of the Rings" trilogy is ready to shoot a star-studded, multimillion-dollar remake. The Universal Pictures movie is due for release in December 2005.

Among the major changes Jackson promises from the 1933 original, which was remade the first time in 1976, will be greater character development, particularly for Kong.

"He's a very old gorilla, and he's never felt a single bit of empathy for another living creature," Jackson said.

So a lot of thought has gone into exploring what would happen if there were a relationship between an old, brutalized gorilla and a young woman.

"You introduce this other person into his life which initially he thinks he's going to kill and then he slowly moves away from that and it comes full circle," he said. "That's what we're exploring, and it's really fun to go into that psychological depth with it."

Naomi Watts, who plays damsel in distress Ann Darrow, stood on the deck of the film's tramp steamer Thursday -- but declined to offer preview of the bloodcurdling screams her part will require.

"I'm saving my voice," said Watts, who will reprise the role made famous by Fay Wray, who died Aug. 8 at age 96.

"Those are big shoes to fill," Watts told reporters, adding Wray "did a wonderful job" in a role the late actress often said had typecast her.

"It is an iconic movie and an iconic role. Hopefully people won't suddenly see me as only this role," said Watts, who earned a best actress Oscar nomination for her role as a grief-stricken mother in 2003's gritty drama "21 Grams."

"The Pianist" Oscar winner Adrien Brody, the movie's romantic hero Jack Driscoll, and comedy actor Jack Black, who plays raconteur-filmmaker Carl Denham, were also at Thursday's pre-shoot photo call on the set.

Brody said his character blended both sensitivity and heroism, "and oftentimes an actor is not presented with a role of that caliber. It's usually one or the other."

For Black, "It is a fun role I can tap into," he said.

And for Jackson it's "reliving a childhood dream."

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