Shortly after watching Bryan Cranston and Aaron Taylor-Johnson run a few takes on the set of Godzilla (read our main report here), the soft-spoken director Gareth Edwards found some time out of his lunch schedule to talk about the big summer tentpole movie hitting May 16th.
Question: What distinguishes a "Gareth Edwards" Godzilla from Michael Bay or any other director?
Gareth Edwards: I don't know. I think something that's coming through that I'm quite pleased about and I'm really proud of is that there's a lot of scenes we've already shot that are quite engaging. Like, you're really pulled in with the way the characters are coming together and the actors. I can't go into too much detail because it will ruin the movie for you, but we've watched dailies and teared up on a few occasions, so I'm really proud. Hopefully, this will be a blockbuster where you really care about the people you're following. Obviously, there's a giant, epic spectacle to it as well. I think, for me, if I'm honest, I'm personally not a fan of some of the Hollywood blockbusters that come out, and we're trying to hark back to the movies we all grew up and loved like early Spielberg stuff, and trying to get a bit more restraint and suspense, and not this cutting-every-three-seconds and explosions-every-two-seconds mentality. We're trying to respect the audience, and hopefully they want to see a good story well told and not panic every minute that they might get bored. So, hopefully we've been quite brave with the storytelling that we're doing. I say all this, and then we see the edit, and it reveals itself again to you. It's really hard at this stage to be that definite about everything in the movie because we're still finding it.
Question: In the original film, the themes are socially and historically relevant in terms of the atomic bomb. Is there any comparison in this film to social or historical themes?
Edwards: There's definitely a strong theme in the film, it's kind of "man versus nature." And when we started off in the process of defining Godzilla, what is he about, what makes a Godzilla movie, what makes a monster movie, and we were brainstorming and watching all the old movies again, the thing that comes through is that in some movies, he's slightly evolved and represents different things, but he's always a force of nature like the wrath of God that comes to put us back in our place when we kind of think we own the world. You can't control nature. When we start thinking we can control nature, that's when it all starts to go wrong. And that happens a lot in our movie. You see it quite a bit, that is our arrogance always comes back to bite us.
Question: Can you talk about the secondary threat in this film? Does Godzilla take a heroic role at all?
Edwards: I'm not sure what I can and cannot say, but I'll say that it was really important that we didn't do a Godzilla movie where it wasn't just one creature because you can quickly run out of people pointlessly trying to fire which is why Toho movies were always him "versus" something else, and the whole "franchise" or whatever you want to call it was involved in the creatures. So, when you get into it, you have to make that choice that you mentioned and we made…a choice…but without giving too much away, it's not as simple as that. It's not as simplistic as "Is there a good or a bad?" Through the course of the movie it starts to form.
Question: Is anyone going to say the classic line, "It's Godzilla!"
Edwards: [laughs] For a long time, we liked the idea of never ever saying his name. And we had a million ideas of how you could say that name. And it might be that one of them ends up in the movie. We’re still playing with a couple of them. But I think it’s just as good to never say his name out loud. We’re going to have it on every single poster and every single everywhere. There’s something more ethereal about a person you don’t really label. It’s so obvious to say, “It’s Godzilla,” and we have the same problem in a lot of scenes. How do you talk about this thing? Is it a thing? Is it a creature? Is it a monster? Is it an organism? Is it an animal? And we kind of use all of those, and wait for the right moment to use the actual name gag. I saw [Man of Steel] last night and thought they were quite clever about it.
Question: We were in the war room and looking at the different time periods the film shows us. Is Godzilla something who keeps returning or what?
Edwards: It is an origin story. It's not about having seen another film to understand this movie. It's supposed to be the beginning. But it doesn't just take place in modern times. There are other aspects to it. And in a way, the mistakes we made in the past come back to haunt us in the present, and that is something that the whole movie is driven by – whether you want to call them "mistakes" or "choices" – that now we pay the price for. Because for me, a monster movie just for the sake of being a monster movie can kind of become a pointless exercise, so it's about finding the right symbolism in what he represents and trying to find a storyline that expresses that. And I'm really pleased with the playground we're playing in because I think it's very much on theme. And I hope that when people see it who are big Godzilla fans, they'll be happy with the choices we made. We definitely tried to stay as true as possible to the original in terms of thematics.
Question: Does Godzilla have a personality in the film?
Edwards: I guess with all good characters, there's some sort of arc to their character, and sometimes that's not theirs – it's our understanding of that character that changes. I don't think we could be the best film we could be if there wasn't a perception change in the movie. So it does evolve, but it's not straightforward, and it's not black and white. Hopefully, it's subtle enough that people can watch it and have their own opinion of him and what was really going on. But amongst ourselves, we've made decisions and hinted at certain choices, but I like the idea that if someone people just want to come and watch a big, massive monster movie, they can and have fun watching things get smashed up; and other people can come and there will be another layer and a bit more meaning to some of the things that happen. Because at the end of the day, we're not really going to have a giant monster attack the world. It's not something we need to worry about, but the ramifications of the giant monster attacking the world – skyscrapers collapse, whole neighborhoods are trashed, radiation is left behind – they're things we deal with all the time, and that's probably why we invent monsters. It's usually sci-fi and fantasy films that get to address modern day concerns quickest because they can kind of go under the radar, and more serious films have to kind of wait more in line. So hopefully it's not lightweight, popcorn fodder. I hope there's a little bit more about it than just that.
Question: Can you talk about Toho's involvement?
Edwards: I went to Japan probably over a year ago, and went to visit them, and met with the heads of the studio and the president of Toho, and they were very generous. They released Monsters, my previous film, and they had the rights to that and when I arrived, they had the DVD and Godzilla merchandise, and they were incredibly welcoming. We went to dinner and they had a few questions about the story and what we planned to do, and then from that point on, we've been sharing all the scripts with them; sharing the concept art and the development of the film, and they were heavily involved in the design of Godzilla in terms of approvals and everything, so it's very much been a Toho-approved Godzilla movie, which we wanted it to be, because for us it was very important that…it would be kind of pointless if Toho didn't feel like it was a real Godzilla movie. So we were pretty keen to try and get that right.
Question: Were you able to squeeze in any Easter eggs into the film? Maybe a sly nod to Monsters?
Edwards: What I'll tell you – and it doesn't really answer your question – but on Monsters, I had a bracelet that the girl in the film, Whitney, I made a charity bracelet for her character, and the idea was it was a pretend charity for people who had been displaced by the monsters. And everyone on that film wore it, and I wore mine from the day we started filming to after the world premiere. I was adamant I was going to do the same on this, but we had a minimum run of these of 400, so we gave one to the whole crew, and you'll spot them around; people are wearing these. [Shows us his bracelet] This is a clue to the movie – something in the movie happens and this is a clue, and that's all I can do.
Question: And what of Godzilla Easter Eggs?
Edwards: Yeah, there's a few in there. There's one right over in that room [gestures to the set where they’ve been filming] if you have a look. You might see it in the shot we're setting up later.
Question: Frank Darabont came in for a short time on script, can you talk about that?
Edwards: He did a fantastic job. There's a particular scene we finished filming the other day – I can't talk about it – but it was very strong, and it was all his idea. One of the actors that was in it, as we were just chit-chatting off to the side, said "This is the reason I took this job." And everyone felt that way when we were filming it as well. He brought a very emotional, powerful series of ideas to the story.
Question: The film has been described as a "road movie." Would you agree with that in terms of how the journey takes place? And what about that pertinently lends itself to a Godzilla story?
Edwards: It's a global journey. I wouldn't say it's a "road movie", but it takes place around the globe, and there probably is a general "here and here"-thing that's going on, but… Tell me two countries you think the film is set in.
Press: Japan, Hawaii, Philippines…
Edwards: So, it felt like what we were doing with the franchise was taking something that was very Japanese, that belongs to Japan, and bring it to America. And so from a very early stage, it was the journey of this movie was a journey from Japan to America. That felt like the heart of everything. It felt the most appropriate, so Hawaii's in the middle of it, obviously. So, we sculpted the story around that basic, global path. And it's not as literal as "something from Japan comes to America". It's not that straightforward. But it felt like visually we wanted that transition to happen from a feeling of a very Japanese thing to become an American thing. This is certainly a character-driven piece to a large extent, but it's also a summer tentpole feature with Godzilla.