IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Producer Thomas Tull Talks 'Godzilla,' 'Pacific Rim 2,' 'Warcraft' and 'Jurassic World'

Thursday, 15 May 2014 09:36 Written by  Jami Philbrick
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IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Producer Thomas Tull Talks 'Godzilla,' 'Pacific Rim 2,' 'Warcraft' and 'Jurassic World'

As Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer of Legendary Pictures, producer Thomas Tull has made some of the most popular movies of the last decade. 

Starting with Batman Begins, Legendary Pictures has produced such fan favorite films as Superman Returns, 300, The Dark Knight, Watchmen, The Hangover, Where the Wild Things Are, Clash of the Titans, Jonah Hex, The Town, The Hangover Part II, Wrath of the Titans, The Dark Knight Rises, Jack the Giant Slayer, 42, The Hangover Part III, Man of Steel, Pacific Rim, and 300: Rise of an Empire. The company recently moved from Warner Bros. to Universal and is now working on a string of highly anticipated upcoming projects like Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar, Unbroken directed by Angelina Jolie, Michael Mann’s Cyber, Guillermo del Toro’s Crimson Peak, Jurassic World, and the video game adaption Warcraft from director Duncan Jones. Their latest film, a re-imagining of Godzilla, opens in theaters on May 16th. 

In Godzilla, the world's most famous monster is pitted against malevolent creatures that have been bolstered by humanity's scientific arrogance, and now threaten our very existence. The film was directed by Gareth Edwards (Monsters), and stars an impressive cast of actors that includes Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Kick Ass 2), Elizabeth Olsen (Silent House), Bryan Cranston (Argo), Ken Watanabe (Batman Begins), Academy Award-nominees Sally Hawkins (Blue Jasmine) and David Strathaim (Good Night, and Good Luck), and Academy Award-winner Juliette Binoche (The English Patient). 

I recently had the pleasure of traveling to New York City and speaking exclusively with producer Thomas Tull about his work on Godzilla, as well as a few of Legendary Pictures other upcoming projects. The producer discussed his new film, his love for Godzilla, hiring director Gareth Edwards, the challenges of making the movie, re-imagining the source material, similarities to Pacific Rim, deciding which cities the monsters should destroy, the cast, a possible sequel, if Universal or Warner Bros. would release it, rumors of a Pacific Rim 2, Warcraft, and his companies involvement in Jurassic World

Here is what producer Thomas Tull had to say about Godzilla, Pacific Rim 2, Warcraft and Jurassic World:

IAR: To begin with, I’ve never been a huge fan of the property, but I really enjoyed your version of Godzilla.

Thomas Tull: That's what we were hoping for. That Godzilla fans would love it and that we might convert and create some new ones. That's awesome to hear.

Can you talk about your own personal love for the Godzilla franchise? When did you first become aware of Godzilla?

Tull: I think I was 8 years old when I saw the Japanese version, the 1954 original. There was gravity to it. It was terrifying. I was 8 years old so I wasn't really able to process it. But it was in black in white so it seemed real in a way and my 8 year old brain was like, is this old footage? Is this thing real? So I freaked out a little bit. Then I just soaked up all the Godzilla movies I could, and frankly this was just a rare opportunity to take something that I loved and do our version. 

Why was director Gareth Edwards the right person to bring that version to the screen?

Tull: It was a couple of things. We were very specific about wanting to bring in a fresh voice. We didn't want to do the paint by numbers version. I was just incredibly impressed with what Gareth did with Monsters. I wanted a director that could both have scope, but yet intimacy and just a different vibe. So the more I got to know him the more impressed I was. Then we gave him some resources to do some previz and some artwork. For the rest of my life I will always remember sitting in the screening room and watching the three-previz scenes he created. He did the bridge scene, the Hawaii scene with the monorail, and then the halo scene. The lights went up after the screening, I looked at him and I said, we can deliver on the promise of that. So I said, you're hired right now. I think he's going to have a long career.

Your company, Legendary Pictures, made another giant monster movie last summer with Pacific Rim, which I really enjoyed. There are a lot of similarities between the two films. Did you ever consider that it might be overkill to have two similar movies both in production at the same time?

Tull: We like to joke that we can never have enough giant robots and monsters. At the same time, Pacific Rim has such a different tone and so we never really thought about it. We're really tight with Guillermo del Toro. So Guillermo would say, “Is there anything similar?” I said, no it's completely different. It's just one of those things. You may have noticed there's a couple of different super hero movie out right now. So you just sort of say how can we make it distinct and different. 

You took the Jaws approach to the film, where you don’t really show the full monster until the end. Can you talk about that approach, and also how you decided on exactly what Godzilla should look like?

Tull: Again, it’s a couple of things. First, in a lot of big, summer, action movies sometimes you can get too enamored with spectacle and start to get numb to the action. We wanted Godzilla to be special when he was on screen and it to be a big deal when he showed up. That was really important to us. The design we obsessed over between his look, and the roar, you know his iconic roar. We spent months and months trying to dial it in and get it just right so it was clearly Godzilla, but our version and updated. Then with the roar, we wanted to make it sound like what you've heard before and that's the movie roar, but this is what it really sounds like. 

I loved that this Godzilla is heroic, which is an important part of the mythology of the character that is often forgotten. Obviously there is a lot of history and mythology from the previous movies, so what did you want to keep, and what did you know you wouldn't be able to apply to this film?

Tull: We wanted to make it serious enough and show enough reverence to the '54 film that there's an element of the atomic question. There's an element to what happens when man maybe oversteps his bounds in nature, but we didn’t want to hit people over the head with it. Also, if you love Godzilla, then having him just fight against the U.S. Army or whatever global army it is, there's only so far you can take that. That's why the creatures for him to fight against were important. What we wanted to do was not make him so people are like chanting his name and holding up lighters, but by the third act the people are cheering him on in the fight and they have a rooting interest. Then when he goes back in the ocean, you get the impression that he would have done very serious world changing damage. Godzilla just wants to go back down. He might not be the hero you want hanging around the city for too long.

Can you talk about how you decided on which cities to have the monsters destroy in the movie?

Tull: It had to make sense in the story. I’m on the board at Carnegie Mellon University and the San Diego Zoo so we were able to bug some pretty serious people about locations, patterns and how that would work. Everything had to make sense for the story about where nuclear waste is and where that trajectory would head. We didn’t want to suddenly say it's more scenic to pick on New York again. We just wanted it to make sense. 

I understand that pretty much every actor in this movie was your first choice.

Tull: That never happens. It literally never happens.

Other than obviously being wonderful actors, why were Bryan Cranston, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, Ken Watanabe, and Juliette Binoche your first choices to play these roles?

Tull: We really wanted actors who disappear into their roles and could give this movie the credibility that we're going to take it seriously. Frankly, that cast could do Shakespeare if you took them out on Broadway, Juliette Binoche, Ken and Cranston; it's an amazing group. When you make that first phone call and it's like, Bryan Cranston how would you like to do a Godzilla movie with a director who previously just did one movie? It's a testament to him that he saw what we wanted to do and that he wanted to work with Gareth. They all came away very impressed with the interactions with Gareth, which is what sealed the deal. It was just unbelievable. Every day our creative group would come back to me and say, “We got Juliette Binoche.” I was like, are you serious? Then Elizabeth Olsen, who's not only a spectacular actress, but she's a lovely person. We wanted people to really be invested in the human story and the human characters and I think she just feels so real. You feel emotionally drawn in. That's really what we wanted. So we're very fortunate. 

I know you don't want to count your chickens before they hatch and talk too much about a possible sequel, but I'm curious how Legendary’s move to Universal will affect a Godzilla sequel. Would Legendary keep the rights? Would Universal release the sequel or would it still be a Warner Bros. movie? 

Tull: If that were to work Legendary has the rights and then it would be distributed through Warner Brothers. But we don't use the "s" word.

On another subject, there's a rumor that Legendary is working on a Pacific Rim 2. Can you confirm or deny that?

Tull: Here's the deal. We're very close with Guillermo. He's doing Crimson Peak for us right now. With the amount of money that we did on Pacific Rim, over $400 million, it didn't quite hit our expectations, but it did better than a lot of other films. If there's another great story to tell with Guillermo then we're all over it because we think it's really hard to create one of these things from scratch. The movie did really well on home video and merchandise, and it certainly has a big international following. We're not just going to do Pacific Rim 2 just to do it. Right now we're talking to Guillermo del Toro. If we can crack the story, we all think it's great, and it's him at the helm, then fantastic. But right now there's nothing going on officially to proclaim. 

How is production on Warcraft going? Are you still shooting or are you in post-production now?

Tull: We're almost done shooting now with another young director, Duncan Jones. The guy is so talented. I think people might initially say, “It's a video game movie, or it's sort of fantasy whatever.” But just wait. That's the whole point of having a Duncan Jones direct the movie versus maybe some other version. That's really as fans what we want to see, which is stuff that's commercial, but elevated that takes these amazing stories as jumping off points and then puts these directors on them that will tweak it slightly and look at it through a different lens. It took forever to develop this because we just couldn't get it right. It took a long time. I think the mistake sometimes that gets made is you might say, how many people played the video game? Well that's big, so lets make that. If everybody who's ever played the game went to see it, it's still not enough. On top of that making a video game movie is a different medium, it's very difficult. What intrigued us about Warcraft was that there are 100 novels. We have come up with a mythology and a lore that's so deep that it got us excited. Because just saying we're going to make what the game you play into a movie, I'm not interested in that at all. We finally got to a story that felt like it had big, universal themes that people will be able to get their heads around. But I also think jabbing your finger into a fence and saying, everything you loved about the game is gone, well I don't get that either. What you do want to do is say, here's something that you really love and here's that version of it. So that's what we tried to do.

Finally, with Jurassic World, how is Legendary Pictures involved? Is that something you guys just picked up when you moved to Universal?

Tull: That is clearly all (director) Colin Trevorrow. But it is a privilege to work with Steven Spielberg and Frank Marshall. I'm a huge fan and the first film is one of my favorite movies of all time. 

From what I’ve heard Gareth Edwards say, Jurassic Park was a big influence on Godzilla, is that correct?

Tull: We both feel like we were practically raised by Steven, so yeah. It's a privilege to be working on it and it's really exciting what Colin is doing with it. 

So Legendary is just overseeing Jurassic World, is that right? 

Tull: In this case, that's a moving train that we got on and we had a chance to do what we knew best, but it's not like it’s our production.

Godzilla opens in theaters on May 16th.

To read our interview with Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, and Ken Watanabe about Godzilla, please click here

Jurassic World is scheduled for release on March 12th, 2015.

Warcraft is scheduled for release on March 11th, 2016. 

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