There have been a flurry of monster movies popping out of the woodwork for decades on end. We as an audience love to be scared by creatures so extraordinary and terrifying that we're always thankful they don't exist in the real world. One of those amazing creatures is Godzilla, a creature created by nuclear radiation that's been terrorizing the cinematic world ever since his 1954 film debut. As years passed the Americans tried to take their best shot, doing their own interpretation of the monster to no avail. They're trying again, this time with director Gareth Edwards and a cool cast behind him, and I got the chance to interview them.
After all these years, what do you think it is about the Godzilla creature - that it's still so resonant? That people still can't get enough of it?
Gareth Edwards: I think it's the fact that you can't answer that question. You can't define it, in a sense. Like, when we first tried to figure out the film, is it going to be about Godzilla, or based on these different things? It became a lost conversation. It's undefinable to these things. There have been so many remakes back-to-back that it's evolved and changed over the years. I think that's why it withstood the test of time. We felt that, above having Godzilla in the film, you've kind of got an infinite canvas. It's such a rich universe, once you step back from these giant creatures. You really can do anything you want. I think that's why it withstood the test of time - because it's so ripe for remaking and revisiting. It's not a single story. It could be any story that you want.
So much of the charm of your first film was the idea of concealing the creatures in that movie. How much did that benefit you when you were working on this, which is so much about the spectacle of revealing the creature? How much did it challenge you, and how much did it hurt you to, sort of, go the other way on this one?
Gareth Edwards: Yeah, I mean... without showing you stuff... With these films, you're going to sit in the cinema for two hours. You want to see Godzilla, and you want to see him fight something else. We can reveal that now because we just talked about that this morning. If you just do it straight away, all up front, when everything is peaking, it goes to zero. It has no effect. It's all about contrast. We tried to build the structure of the movie, and the weight of the film in such a way that it climaxes more, and more, and more. By the end of the film, hopefully it's as powerful as it can be. You get all of those moments, which come throughout the movie. Like, you really feel like you're ready for them... Classic movies though... You can hop back to Jaws, Jurassic Park, Aliens... They don't actually show the creature...
Bryan Cranston: I gotta see those! [Laughs] I hear they're good!
Gareth Edwards: My assistant had not seen those films, but I forced her to. She's shaking her head back there (in the back of the room), but I had to give her an education on this film.
Do you have a vivid memory of the first time you discovered the Godzilla films? Were you generally scared by the monster, or was the campiness part of the appeal? How did you discover Godzilla?
Bryan Cranston: Unfortunately, my discovery of Godzilla was in the 1950's when the Raymond Burr... 1956 I believe, came out. The year I was born. On TV, as a kid, watching it... that was astonishing! Even for its time, it was amazing to see those special effects, that were state of the art at the time. I just loved it. For a boy to watch that, it was great destruction, and a wonderful use of miniatures. But, our tastes have become more sophisticated since then, and certainly now. That's what's so great about this version of Godzilla. There was careful concern to develop the plot lines and intricacies, and the character development. Without that, without us as actors, and performers getting into our roles, the audiences wouldn't be invested either. That's what makes it far more interesting, for me - I believe, that audiences will be far more invested in these characters, and riding with them through the tensions and fears, and anxieties that the characters are going through. You'll feel it more. Ultimately, it will be a better experience for you.
How did you approach the effects for Godzilla?
Gareth Edwards: I tried not to view them as effects and go "Ok. This really happened. There really are giant monsters. What would be the best story to tell, that we can think of?", and it always involves humans. So you come up with those characters, and try to create that story. I don't separate the two in my mind. You just picture the movie. What was so refreshing was that we would shoot scenes that sometimes had a creature in them, sometimes didn't, and we'd desperately try to make it work from an emotional point of view, on its own. You guys had the advantage of this, but we'd go in the evening, and kind of review scenes with the digital effects company, and they'd start putting the special effects in, and I'd go "Oh my god. I totally forgot that this whole other layer was going on with this." We were painstakingly worried about the characters, and their journey, and suddenly, on top of that, there's this spectacle that's going to be invented in the whole film. It makes you feel really good, because we wanted to get it right from the character side of things.
Aaron Taylor-Johnson: The thing that I found really interesting around a film that's a special effects movie - my idea was that you're going to be in a studio filming these green screen monsters. There was, maybe, a couple of days of that, but the majority of time we would go film on location. It gave it just a whole other depth, and you forget about it. We'd be on location with destruction everywhere, people were injured, and it came to life. It felt natural and realistic. The way we shot it, it's just kind of with you on this journey, from our perspective point of view. When you do get a glimpse of Godzilla, you're looking up from a car window, or from a military helicopter, so you really feel, as an audience, that you're totally involved in it. That you're on this mad roller coaster journey with us.
Elizabeth Olsen: It's kind of funny to go "Ok. So in that corner up there is this thing. Is it like a unicorn, or like a spider?" It's like you're playing hot lava as a kid, or something. You're trying to go deep into your imagination, like "Yeah, that's a monster! It's going to kill me unless I run fast!" So it's fun.
Aaron Taylor-Johnson: There were times as well that it's hard to get the imagination of something, but it is a frightening prospect. We would have a scene where we'd see something happen from one of the creatures and Gareth would play something on the microphone so we'd get the sound of Godzilla, or somebody playing around with the special effects. That was really great, to kind of hear something. You're envisioning it through your consciousness, and then you're hearing something through the giant speakers around you. Sometimes he would do it without you knowing it, and it would give a totally different layer.
Gareth Edwards: It was on my iPhone. I would desperately try to get to "this clip" with "this sound" and go "That's not it. That's not it. That's not it. " and they'd go "You're wasting camera time" and I'd go "I gotta find that noise!".
Aaron Taylor-Johnson: There was one time where it was, like, a walrus meets a tiger, meets a hippo farting. [Laughs] It was so bizarre...
Elizabeth, can you tell us about the character you play, and whether she is suited or unsuited to face what she is facing?
Elizabeth Olsen: I feel like my character's role serves a purpose in the hands on interaction of chaos in the city, and how you deal with that, as well as having a child who needs to not be part of the chaos. I think that's the perspective you get, and what ends up happening after these things occur, and there's an overflowing hospital, and people have to get from point A to point B, so that's the practical part of it. It references any time some sort of natural disaster happens in a city. There's a real truth to it, as opposed to a fantastical thing.
Because Godzilla is such a legendary creature, and on top of that, this film is highly action driven, what were some of the biggest challenges on the set of this film?
Bryan Cranston: Getting Godzilla to come out of his trailer. He was an ass. He was a real a--hole. [Laughs] He'd come out, he would eat all of the food on craft services, he would wreck everything, but boy, when the cameras rolled... boy he was good! That's why they keep making Godzilla movies. [Laughs]
Elizabeth, what is it like being in a big budget film, because we are used to seeing you in more low-budget, indie films?
Elizabeth Olsen: I was really expecting to wait in a fancy trailer for three hours until they were ready for a lighting setup or something, but what ends up happening was on set until lunchtime, then until we wrapped. The crew felt really intimate. I think Legendary Pictures does a really good job of creating this incubator of creativity. They pick people that they trust, put them in an incubator, and then they put their heads together and figure out what they want to do to get done what they said they were going to do, and they allow you to do it. They're not controlling things. It was just as creative of a process as anything else, honestly.
Godzilla is out in theaters everywhere on May 16, 2014.