The stars of Godzilla: King of the Monsters weren’t available for interviews. Godzilla, Mothra, King Ghidorah and Rodan have really become divas with all their fame. Instead, we got to talk to the humans who are just trying to survive Godzilla: King of the Monsters.
Millie Bobby Brown, Ken Watanabe, Kyle Chandler, Bradley Whitford, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Thomas Middleditch and director Michael Dougherty spoke with reporters in Los Angeles about the sequel to 2014’s Hollywood Godzilla movie.
Q: How did you build upon Gareth Edwards’ 2014 movie and expand the world of Godzilla?
MD: I loved what Gareth did in the first film. It felt like the most realistic, grounded Godzilla film that I always wanted to see. As a kid, I always fantasized about Godzilla showing up to destroy my school. I used to fantasize about Godzilla ripping off the roof of my church when I was sitting there bored. So I had a habit of just imagining Godzilla entering the real world and that’s what Gareth’s film felt like. I felt like if you looked out your window and saw the creatures, it would look exactly like that movie. It was very grounded. At the same time, I realized there was still room to grow it from there. Okay, Gareth presented this wonderful vision of what Godzilla in the real world could feel like. What if you threw King Ghidorah into it? What if you threw in Rodan? What were the most grounded, realistic version of those creatures who were very fantastical? Once you start getting into three headed dragons and giant moths, you have to embrace some of the more mystical, fantastical qualities of it. It stops being pure science-fiction and starts to become more science fantasy. At the same time, Gareth’s template was the perfect springboard for that so I just dove right in.
Q: How important was it to get the science right, even in a film about giant monsters?
MD: The science of it was important to me. I feel like in another life I would have been a scientist. I grew up loving biology and animals, the natural world. In high school I used to work in a science museum. That was very much inspired by a love of Godzilla movies. What I love about even going back to the original is the heroes of a lot of Godzilla movies are scientists which is something we don’t get that much in western movies. It’s all superheroes and mech suits, so it was important to me that Serizawa and the Monarch crew are the heroes of the movie and they’re the eggheads, but they’re eggheads who are willing to put their lives on the line. Depicting these creatures realistically also meant that we had to have some believable science to it. Obviously you have to suspend your disbelief a little bit if you’re going to believe there’s radioactive monsters, but how do you make it as plausible and realistic as possible?
Q: How did the actors get into this character and work with something that wasn’t there?
MBB: There was not much preparation. As I probably think, maybe you guys think of it differently, I physically trained for this role. If you guys have seen the movie, basically when you watch the movie, I have a lot of running. Running takes a toll. I needed to just prepare emotionally so I could run uphill and then make sure that I wouldn’t be out of breath before I got to the top of the hill. And how is to perform with something not there? You just do it. You just get there and you just do it. You imagine like something is there and you go [gasps] and then they’ll get go. And it came out pretty good.
OJJ: Yeah, I’ve been playing Godzilla my whole life. Once you’re finished nerding out and you realize just what you’re doing, it’s the biggest set I’ve ever been on. They give you enough practical effects to work with. Most of the time when you’re dealing with the Titans on screen, it’s just about eyeline. Where am I terrified the most? From there, it’s running and a lot of physical labor. The arctic scene, we’re really in Georgia and it’s real hot. The snow is Epsom Salt and soap.
MBB: I saw that in the movie though. Did you see, I think somebody fell and then slipped on the Epsom Salt.
OJJ: That was snow. It’s movie magic. It’s just a lot. The hurricane that Ghidorah brings, I had to deal with every day on set, getting doused and water and 100 mph fan. The hardest days on set, I just remember that it’s because I’m in Godzilla. That’ll do a lot for the psyche. I’m in Godzilla.
TM: As O’Shea was saying, Michael Dougherty had a lot of practical effects when possible. He had speakers playing the sound effects of the roars and growls and grunts of all the monsters. I had a lot of time on the Argo, the big mothership so I was bouncing around in fake turbulence like Star Trek most of the day. The assistant director would give us commands like, “And there’s Godzilla, and boom.”
MBB: I’m British but he was like, “And boom. And shake.” Cliff Lanning.
KC: Cliff Lanning was probably the greatest gift for the whole deal because he was so good at what he does. He’s known for being so good like this. He’s got all this energy and he’s involved and he takes care of us and he’s just a good human being. He constantly had us energized and alive and he kept us very in tune with exactly what was going on. We always knew what was happening when Cliff was on that microphone. That made it. That was 90% of my imagination right there.
BW: Yeah, you really can’t overstate his contribution to this because you’re basically looking at a little laser dot and having to have these huge emotions. He does it in such a joyous way. We would not have been able to do it without him.
Q: Ziyi Zhang isn’t here. How did you create her character?
MD: Something I love about a lot of the older classic Godzilla films is they have a lot of strong female characters, going back to the original. It’s filled with very opinionated, strong female scientists. I grew up used to that. My mother and her sisters were very strong female characters in my life. I was always a little bit disappointed that you didn’t see a lot of outspoken Asian characters in American movies. A big reason that I was inspired to make Godzilla films was because as a half-Asian kid who was teased a lot, Godzilla films were an escape. It really inspired me to watch movies made by other Asian people. So it was Godzilla movies and Kung Fu movies, the two best genres. So it was important to me to have a character like Dr. Chen to continue what I had seen in the original films.
Q: What was your love of Godzilla from the time you were children?
OJJ: I love Godzilla and I’ve loved Godzilla since I was a kid, watching it on the Sci-Fi Channel with my dad, my brother and my uncle, playing the video games, the action figures, using them to destroy my Legos. When I did my first film, Straight Outta Compton, I listed my five heroes that weren’t my father. Godzilla was on that top five list. So I’ve been waiting for this my entire life. I just happened to be lucky enough to get this audition and knock it out.
MBB: I’ll be honest, I was definitely not a fan of Godzilla, which is a good thing because my character isn’t. My character is just a teenage girl who’s just learning. She’s learning about Godzilla and the titans as she goes along. She doesn’t really know how she feels about him. But, I don’t know. I think that her love and affection toward him grows and also in Godzilla vs. Kong.
OJJ: King Kong’s overrated.
TM: To be honest, he had to win me over, but he was a pretty cool guy on set. A lot of jokes and goofs. To be honest, he wasn’t anywhere near either a G.I. Joe or a lightsaber growing up for me, so he didn’t make my Ven diagram of nerdism, but I’m on board now.
OJJ: I bet.
Q: Why do you think Godzilla has endured 55 years?
TM: Well, he’s one of these big iconic monsters that’s had a bunch of different reinventions. He’s evolved over time. I think with each new reboot or each new vision of the monster, you can kind of hone who he is as a creature. This Godzilla, King of the Monsters, you see much more personality from him and he becomes less and less of this sort of unknowable destructive creatures that just comes, steps on buildings and then leaves, but he still gets to be called Godzilla.
OJJ: Over the time of Godzilla there’s been different people in charge of pushing story along. Through each new Godzilla you can see the style change. They’re given the creative freedom with such an iconic monster. He is the godfather of giant monsters. There’s so many references to Godzilla in little things that might not say it’s Godzilla but you know Godzilla when you see it. When you see the spikes, just the size of him. In Rugrats he’s Reptar. That’s Godzilla. That’s just what it is. It’s Godzilla.
TM: If Rugrats can do it, we can do it.
OJJ: So Godzilla’s just stood the test of time. He allows whoever’s in charge of him during that time to be creative and change up his style, change up the way he looks, change up a story about him. And it still progresses. They don’t give 30 movies to just anything.
BW: I feel like the reason this story keeps getting retold twice a generation is at our reptilian brain stems, it’s a story about man’s arrogance thinking that they have transcended nature. Obviously, this is an important time to talk about how humanity can disrupt order in the world. It came out of this humanitarian environmental disaster was the birth of Godzilla. I think that’s why it needs to keep being told.
KC: Every decade or so when these Godzilla films come out, if you look at it, whatever is going on in the culture around the world, that’s sort of integrated into the story of Godzilla because Godzilla basically is the wakeup call. When he comes to life, something’s wrong. He’s telling people, “Wake up. Look what you’re doing. Look what you’re doing to the world, to yourselves, what have you.” He’ll live forever. He can always come thump us in the head as my wife says. It’s a thump in the head moment when Godzilla shows up.
Q: Dr. Serizawa was a character in the original Gojira. How did he inform your version of the character?
KW: The last movie was the first Godzilla for me in my career. The first one was a test of Godzilla. After the first one and I heard about this project from my agent, I needed the script. After I read the script, it’s so great because it changed the storytelling to the scientists. The Godzilla story has more deep themes and underlying messages: civilization and humankind, how can it coexist with nature? I think each version of Godzilla has a different kind of theme, some kind of fear of humankind: The Cold War, after WWII, the atomic bomb, and I think this Godzilla is kind of like a natural disaster in the world. We cannot control natural disasters. The same thing, we cannot control the Titans. Then science has to fight to do something. I heard about the great vision from Michael.
MD: I was adamant about bringing Serizawa and Dr. Graham back because they were my favorite characters from the first film. As much as I enjoyed the G.I. Joe adventure that Aaron Taylor-Johnson was on, the scientists who were actually studying this creature and knew more about them, I really wanted to shift the focus to them. I feel like we don’t have enough heroes in big budget movies who are just scientists. Let the smart people take the spotlight for once. It was important to me that Ken’s character have a dash of the original ’54 character. For a minute I was toying with the idea of putting him in an eye patch. In the five years in between, something would have happened. Then I realized it would look too much like Nick Fury.
Q: Which Titan do you find most intriguing besides Godzilla?
BW: It’s that mastadon thing. It never occurred to me when we were shooting.
KC: Well, we never saw him before.
BW: I don’t know. Is there a name? Some people were applauding at the entrance.
KC: They might’ve thought it was Snuffleupagus or something.
BW: I’m intrigued.
KC: We figured his name is Tom. I like the big guy too. At first I like Ghidorah because as a little kid, you go and you look at the shelf and you’re like man, I want the one with the most moving pieces. Ghidorah, three heads, the whole deal. But I sort of dug the big mastadon dude. I like him. I like his style.
BW: It’s nice to see a little fur out there.
OJJ: Yo, honestly, I’ve been going the nice route and saying Mothra. I know, guys, but after last night, Rodan had the best entrance in the movie. Oh my God.
MBB: I honestly think that that’s so incorrect. You’re so wrong. But don’t you think Mothra behind the waterfall?
OJJ: Because you got to touch.
MBB: Yeah, don’t be jealous. Don’t be jealous that your parents weren’t scientists. Just saying.
OJJ: So shady.
MBB: No, I think that Rodan had a pretty cool entrance. I think for me Mothra just because she’s the only girl and she’s such a hero.
OJJ: So clutch.
MBB: She’ll just be like, “What up guys? Who needs me? I need to go get my nails done.” She’s great .I love her. She’s so gorgeous. I’d marry her.
KW: If I go back to when I was a child, I love King Ghidorah. Boys love a strong villain.
Q: DId you have to fight to use the original Godzilla theme song?
MD: Toho wanted to do it. It was complicated in terms of tracking down all the rights but yeah, everybody was on board with the idea. I definitely felt like the fans were heard on the subject as well.