NEW YORK — It was no joking matter. Everyone involved in Hollywood’s new Godzilla reboot/remake knew there were huge challenges. Producer Thomas Tull of Legendary Pictures and Gareth Edwards, his little-known, hand-picked English director, had to overcome a crippling stigma.
It was a stigma built up over a 60-year cycle.
No one — especially Roland Emmerich when he made his mutant Hollywood version in 1998 with the monster taking Manhattan — had conjured up a great Godzilla movie since the Japanese original in 1954.
That original became an international legend in the 1950s, even when Hollywood messed about with it by adding an American protagonist and dubbing dialogue into English.
Tull, who launched Godzilla with Warner Bros. as his partner, says now that he was warned off by most colleagues and competitors in Hollywood. Their message was simple: “It’s tough to make that relevant today!”
The original Godzilla franchise was created by Toho Pictures as an answer to Japanese fears of the nuclear age, obviously in the aftermath of the devastation from the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki during WWII.
“The challenge,” Tull says, “is that everyone brings their own ideals (to a Godzilla movie). It’s not something that you’ve made up brand new. It’s such an iconic thing. It’s been part of popular culture and there is such a jokey side of it. I think the challenges are: ‘How do you play that straight and make it relevant? And how do you bring something fresh to the party?’
“Which is why I wanted a director like Gareth Edwards, who had a completely different voice. And why we were incredibly fortunate to get this cast to pull this off.”
As their American leading man, Tull and Edwards cast Englishman Aaron Taylor-Johnson, who generated respect and found his future wife playing John Lennon in Nowhere Man. Taylor-Johnson then broke out in the off-kilter superhero comedy, Kick-Ass.
With Godzilla ready to explode, he is now filming his role as Pietro Maximoff/Quicksilver in Avengers: Age of Ultron. Elizabeth Olsen plays his wife in Godzilla and his twin sister in Avengers.
Emmy-winning American actor Bryan Cranston and Oscar-winning French actress Juliette Binoche play his parents in Godzilla, with other key roles belonging to three former Oscar nominees: Ken Watanabe, David Strathairn and Sally Hawkins.
At 23, Taylor-Johnson is poised on the edge of his own volcano.
With Godzilla in 2014 and Avengers in 2015, he could be propelled to bona fide stardom. Not that he wants to think much about it. “Not too deeply ...” he says in an exclusive interview with Sun Media. “You know, I just kind of want to go where the wind takes me, really. I’ve just got to go by my gut instincts on these things.”
It was gut instinct, not the lure of a blockbuster, that prompted “Kick-Ass” to say yes to playing the human hero in Godzilla. “Meeting Gareth, it all just made total sense,” he says of how Edwards convinced him that this Godzilla would be special, that it would pay homage to the Japanese original and that it would take the monster seriously as a balancing force of nature. “And, when you meet people like that, it kind of inspires you to want to think outside the box, to do things a bit differently and to take the challenge on.
“But it’s nice that you’re looking at it and thinking that my career could be something of importance and interest, and I’m flattered. But maybe I won’t be so predictable. You never really know. Plus, I am so early on. Most of the actors that I think are at their peak are in their late 30s and 40s. There is something to be said for that life experience. I can’t give that yet. I’ve got another 10 more years at least before I can be in my prime position for roles that I want to do. So, in the meantime, I’ll just try not to f--- it up, I suppose.”
Also in the meantime, he got to physically bulk up for Godzilla and to try to make his character more interesting and less generic in the shadow of the real hero, the monster.
“I’m proud of this movie,” Taylor-Johnson says in a separate group interview. “I like the way it turned out. I think what they did with it was fantastic. It was really impressive. It was epic.”
That sounds like hype. But Taylor-Johnson is daring, too.
So he adds this in appreciation of the new Godzilla: “I also like the fact that we’re not just stuck in America and America has another f---ing problem again.”
Instead, this Godzilla story starts in The Philippines, moves to Japan and charts its way across the Pacific Ocean to the United States, with the climax in San Francisco.
“So there is a map and a journey for this,” Taylor-Johnson says. “It felt that the whole world was involved!”
Co-stars spending quality time together
Godzilla co-stars Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen went directly from playing a married couple trying to survive monster mayhem to super-powered twins trying to save the world and each other in the next Avengers movie.
“It is just a coincidence, yeah, but it’s great” says Taylor-Johnson, who is now filming his scenes as Pietro Maximoff/Quicksilver for Avengers: Age of Ultron, which is set for release May 1, 2015.
“I couldn’t think of anyone better to be working with in that role. If she was a nightmare, well, I’d be in the effing ... But she’s amazing. She’s a great girl, really down to earth and a great actress.”
Olsen is equally stoked: “It’s awesome! And we like each other,” she enthuses about working again with Taylor-Johnson. Olsen will play Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch.
It is not weird at all to switch from playing Taylor-Johnson’s wife to being his sister, Olsen says of going from Godzilla to Avengers. In fact, she believes their familiarity is a huge asset.
“They’re twins and they’re so connected,” she says of the Maximoffs. “And it’s hard to do that with someone you just meet, to have that comfort and playfulness. In addition, she says of doing large-scale, special effects-driven films, “I think Godzilla was a really great stepping stone before doing something like the Avengers.”