IAR INTERVIEW: Director Gareth Edwards Talks 'Godzilla'

Thursday, 15 May 2014 10:18 Written by  iamrogue
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IAR INTERVIEW: Director Gareth Edwards Talks 'Godzilla'

In 1998, a blockbuster creative team tackled the King of Monsters with an Americanized rejiggering of Ishirô Honda's 1954 classic Godzilla.

Sixteen years later, a new Godzilla is once again bringing the radioactive lizard to our shores, but this Godzilla from Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures couldn't be more different from its bloated, silly remake predecessor.

In fact, this Godzilla isn't just strikingly different from the last attempt at a modern Toho monster mash, it's different from other contemporary blockbusters that hurl spectacle at the audience like a parent punishing their cigarette-smoking child by forcing them to smoke the whole pack. 

This Godzilla is more classic in its construction, harkening back to Steven Spielberg classics like Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind as it slowly builds tension and anticipation, both of which pay off with a royal kaiju rumble in San Francisco.

"There's nothing stopping you from putting anything on screen these days," said director Gareth Edwards at the New York press day for Godzilla. "And so we were trying to harp back to those late-seventies, early-eighties films that we grew up with where they could do everything they wanted and there was some restraint, there was clever story telling visually and that was our inspiration."

The British director learned such restrain through necessity.  After cutting his teeth in the visual effects industry, Edwards made his feature directorial debut in 2010 with Monsters, a micro-budget odyssey in which alien beasts have turned Central America into a quarantine zone.  Not only did Edwards and his five-person crew manage to build a fascinating world onscreen, but they used their limited resources to wring every monstrous sequence for the greatest possible tension.

He recalled, "The film I did before this was this very small, low-budget thing and we used to joke, because it was five of us driving around Mexico in a van and it was very difficult making a film that way, we said, 'Okay, what has to happen after this film is over for it to feel worthwhile?' And we'd go around the van and say 'What about you?' and when it came to me I said, 'As long as I get to direct something again, even if it's TV, it'll be worth it.'"

"If somebody said actually your next gig will be Godzilla for Warner Bros., I would have had a heart attack," Edwards continued. "That was never the goal and when you make a little film like that you end up having to do all these meetings in LA. In two weeks I met like a hundred people. The best meeting I had was with Legendary and it just felt like, 'Oh we're gonna make something together.' Like, it was gonna work out, but I didn't know what it was and I left and then months went by and I thought, 'Oh, I must have gotten that wrong.'"

"And then suddenly a phone call came from Thomas [Tull, CEO of Legendary] and there was some random question about something else and the right at the end he went, 'By the way, if we had a really big franchise that was right up your street, would you be interested?' I was like, 'Sure!' Depends what it was, but I mean never say never.  And then two days later I got an email from my agent in LA saying get on the phone now we've got to tell you something. So I went home, there was a time difference. I was in England, so I think I had been out with my friends drinking, so I went home and tried to sober up and they were like, 'Are you sitting down? Legendary just called they want to know if you'd be interested in directing Godzilla."

"I was like, 'Fuckin' hell,' because in my mind, if I was them, there was a list of people I would call and I wasn't probably on that list," he said. "So it was just one of these golden opportunities that you can't really say no to."

Obviously, the big star in Godzilla is Godzilla himself, but Edwards set about assembling a phenomenal cast of actors who could carry the human drama.  The ensemble boasts the likes of Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Kick-Ass), Elizabeth Olsen (Silent House), Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad), Ken Watanabe (Inception), David Strathairn (Lincoln), and Sally Hawkins (Never Let Me Go).

In IAR's interview with the cast, Taylor-Johnson revealed that he was initially dismissive of the starring role.  Until, that is, he met with Edwards.  According to the director, that wasn't unusual.

"Everybody was amazing. I was very very lucky. I feel like we had a list," said Edwards. "I didn't really write beyond the first choice because you're just like, 'We'll deal with that when they say no.' You say, 'It's Godzilla' and to be honest nearly all of them, their first reaction is, 'Yeah I'm not sure I want to do that.' And you say, No no no no no, we're not making that film that you're picturing. We're trying to do something serious.'"

"We sent the screenplay, we did this little teaser that was for comic-con that was like [an announcement] piece and then we sent them some previs. It was kind of interesting," he continued. "Everybody was kind of like, 'Eh I'm not sure I want to do this' and then they got the stuff and then you'd get the phone call that said, 'Okay, we're in.'"

Edwards and his team spent over a year perfecting the look of Gojira himself, but unlike the original Japanese movie, this Godzilla faced the additional challenge of designing two opponents, dubbed MUTOs, with whom the titular monster eventually engages in fisticuffs.

"We knew we had to try and come up with a new creature. Everyone who does a film like this tries to come up with a new creature so it makes it really hard to try and find this unique result," Edwards said of the MUTOs. "So we tried lots of different things. One of the things we went for the most was I believe the best characters look good as silhouettes. You know when you have a 'Warning: Godzilla Crossing' sign, you know what that character is because it becomes like a logo."

"So we went for something more graphic. We gave very angular lines to the creature because you get a lot of really rounded lines in nature so we figures we'll go really, nearly robotic with it and our justification for it was that those creatures use electromagnetism to see the world and hear the world and so in the same way that the animals might use camouflage they would have more stealth like they'd evolve like a stealth like structure to their muscles," he explained. "So we looked at birds because one of them flies, but we looked at stealth bombers and things like this for the angular silhouettes. I felt it symbolically appropriate at the time. There's a subconscious association with stealth bombers and that they deliver nuclear missiles and things like that."

Making the leap from Monsters, with a production budget of $500,000, to Godzilla, which reportedly cost over $150 million, presented obvious issues, but Edwards insisted that the core challenges remained the same, saying, "The thing I found was that the thing you spend most of your time on, rightly so, is trying to craft a two-hour experience so that you don't get bored, it's not repetitive in a way you get pulled into the screen and sucked into the characters. That's identical whether you've got ten cents or a hundred million dollars. I think that's the same for everyone, that's why there's not that many classics every year being made."

The gargantuan reptile has starred in almost thirty official Toho movies, battling all manner of kaiju over the years, so obviously this new Godzilla seems like an opportunity to launch a new version of an ongoing franchise. 

Asked about the possibility of continuing his adventures with Gojira, Edwards answered, "Generally we don't want to talk about it until we see how people embrace this film. I feel like there's even more fun to be had once the world's established.  I'd be really excited about it but really it's like, let's see what everyone thinks."

Godzilla opens in 2D, 3D, and IMAX 3D this Friday, May 16th.

Check out IAR's exclusive interview with Godzilla producer and Legendary CEO Thomas Tull.

And read out our interview with Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, and Ken Watanabe by following this link.

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