IAR INTERVIEW: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, and Ken Watanabe Talk 'Godzilla'

Tuesday, 13 May 2014 09:27 Written by  iamrogue
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IAR INTERVIEW: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, and Ken Watanabe Talk 'Godzilla'

When a big summer movie is called Godzilla, nobody's confused about the main attraction.

The star is the gargantuan lizard with atomic fire breath and a roar that's still instantly recognizable sixty years after the King of All Monsters first stomped through Tokyo in Ishirô Honda's original classic. 

When the new Godzilla from Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures opens this Friday, May 16th, moviegoers will be lining up thinking of massive spectacle, not compelling human drama.  But without compelling characters, even the most gloriously destructive monster mash doesn't amount to much more than kaiju battles.  That's why Godzilla has a cast of accomplished actors capable of lassoing all those costly visual effects to a real human core.

It takes an actor with real chops to keep an audience's attention even when Godzilla's rampaging, but Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Kick-Ass), Elizabeth Olsen (Silent House), and Ken Watanabe (Inception) give Toho's iconic beast a run for his money.

IAR Managing Editor Jami Philbrick traveled to New York for the Godzilla press day, and spoke to all three actors about their work on the film. Taylor-Johnson, Olsen, and Watanabe discussed their initial reactions to the reboot, the unique approach of director Gareth Edwards (Monsters), the challenge of playing against effects, and the real thematic meat of the famous movie monster.

"When I met Gareth he had great vision back to the original feelings of that film," Watanabe said. "He has a vision that it's really entertainment, blockbuster monster movie, but inside its a really deep theme and feelings. He has a vision and he respected the original. Then I, as a Japanese actor, I wanted to join."

Unlike Last Samurai and Batman Begins actor Watanabe, Taylor-Johnson was not so enthusiastic about the reboot at first. "I got a call and they said 'They're gonna do Godzilla,'" he recalled. "And my initial reaction was like, 'Why?'"

When he met with Edwards, though, Taylor-Johnson said, "We just chatted for about six hours just about what film did we love, or about the character for this, what he wants to do with Godzilla, we kind of just got underneath. I just think he's an amazing filmmaker and he's brilliant directing. He understands actors. He had a really strong vision for it and by the time I walked out I was like I will fucking do this movie. I want to do this movie."

Olsen had a similar experience. "I first was like, 'Godzilla?' I’m not from a generation, I don’t think, that had a Godzilla experience and certainly I don’t think there was an American one that was such a classic that your parents show you, at least not my parents.  So I didn’t really have any history with it," she said. "What I learned really from Gareth’s interpretation, which is honoring the original story of human neglect or it was really more about Hiroshima, but translating that to something modern today, with nature, controlling it and not being able to and almost feeding the monster the way we have been."

All the actors were effusive in their praise for Edwards, who makes his first big-budget blockbuster with Godzilla.  Despite his inexperience on a project of this scale, the co-writer and director of the 2010 sleeper Monsters was uniquely qualified to redefine Godzilla.

"I think his two greatest strengths are the fact that he comes from a special effects background so he is confident in that and he doesn’t have to worry about that when he’s on set," Olsen said. "That’s something he knows that’s already been planned out, that he has in the bank and so all his focus on set is the actor, and the story, and helping you out and making sure that you’re telling the story.  And that’s what you always want to see when you’re seeing these films that seem so far away from our own everyday reality, you want to be able to have the fun and you want to be able to have the rooted story as well."

Like so many contemporary event movie productions, Godzilla found its cast reacting to characters and events that will eventually be created by armies of VFX artists, leaving the actors to rely on their imaginations on-set.  Taylor-Johnson said, "When you're in it you just have a lot of that, 'Oh how big is he again? Right. And how far away?'"

"Actually, I remember, I was there like a week for rehearsals with Gareth and he like took me through the entire art room and all the diagrams," recalled Olsen. "And so I actually got to see virtually everything that hopefully it was all going to look like, obviously not in 3D or on screen. But I got to see everything and so that was fun, that was like being a little kid in a workshop basically."

In next summer's Avengers: Age of Ultron, Olsen and Taylor-Johnson play superpowered siblings Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver, but in Godzilla, they're husband and wife Ford and Elle Brody.

The two actually spend much of the movie apart, as Ford, a Navy ordinance disposal expert, dashes around the globe alongside his father, Joe Brody, a nuclear engineer attempting to expose the true cause of seismic disturbances.  Playing estranged son to Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad) proved challenging for Taylor-Johnson, who explained, "It was hard because obviously he's not an asshole. He's a really loveable guy and [Ford's] whole thing was to be like, 'I fucking hate you dad. With Cranston you just think, 'Oh god, I wish he was my dad.' He's so awesome."

While Joe is off fleeing from giant monsters, Elle, a nurse, protects their child at home in San Francisco, the site of Godzilla's climactic kaiju combat. "She needs him to be a better husband and father by going and being there for his own dad," Olsen said of the central relationship. "Then the struggle and worry and fear that something happens to someone and you can’t reach them. I think everyone’s experienced it at one time or another when their mom calls twelve times and they call back and they’re not answering and you’re like, 'Why did you call me twelve times if nothing was wrong?'"

Outside of the Brody clan, Watanabe plays Dr. Ichiro Serizawa.  "He's a scientist, a biologist, but his father was a survivor of the atomic bomb in Hiroshima in 1945 because of that background, he wound up studying the nuclear energy" explained Watanabe. "Then in the process he discovered the existence of Godzilla and he comes to believe and fear that power of nature which man cannot control. Then he admires nature and Godzilla."

Though this new Godzilla doesn't skimp on fun stuff like Godzilla going toe-to-toe with monstrous MUTOs, it also doesn't forget that Gojira has always been a potent metaphor.  The original film had the beast – created by nuclear weapons testing in the Pacific – laying waste to Tokyo less than a decade after atomic bombs leveled Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

"When I was a child, I didn't understand about the whole meaning, and the deep meaning about why Godzilla exists, but after ten years of high school, Godzilla had a different meaning, we recognized," said Watanabe.

"Then right now, this year marks a sixtieth anniversary of Godzilla. After World War II, Godzilla was born out of fear that people become fascinated by nuclear weapons. Then we had some hard experiences in Japan three years ago, nuclear power plant collapsed due to a major earthquake and tsunami. Then after sixty years we had the same fear about nuclear disasters and then even after all those years, the things that terrify us have not changed," he concluded. "It's the same situation, still the fear we had,  then we need to control, of course we can not control the future, so we need to recognize about something."

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