It's a massive reboot based on the classic Japanese character of Godzilla, a towering behemoth that rises out of the ocean and destroys many, many cities. But at the heart of this new "Godzilla," directed by "Monsters" filmmaker Gareth Edwards, is a very human story, concerning an army technician (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), who has just come home to his lovely wife (Elizabeth Olsen) while also dealing with his crackpot father (Bryan Cranston). The monsters may offer the most dazzling set pieces but it's the humans who will really get you invested.
We got a chance to sit down with Taylor-Johnson and Olsen to talk about what it was like to try and find emotional realism in a film about radioactive dinosaurs, whether or not they would be back for a sequel, and what personal connection they had to the character. Of course, we also try to pressure them for details about their next project together -- a little Joss Whedon art-house romp called "Avengers: Age of Ultron." While they don't give a lot away, there are some intriguing bits they let slip...
How sick of each other are you?
Olsen: Not! It's like seeing your brother!
Taylor-Johnson: Yeah, I must say when I found out that we were going to work together again it was a delight...
Olsen: There's a potential for disaster.
Taylor-Johnson: Yeah, it made me feel safe and it was like, Well that's good.
Were you fans of the Godzilla character?
Olsen: I have a history of my brother going, "Look, there's Godzilla!" [impersonates bad dubbing] And that's about it. He would just make fun of the dubbing.
Taylor-Johnson: I don't have any history with it, really.
Olsen: I knew it existed.
Taylor-Johnson: Yeah, I knew it existed, and if someone said "Godzilla," I'd say, "Yeah a dinosaur-y T. rex-type thing?" But I had it so wrong because I sat down with Gareth and he said, "You know why they created Godzilla?" And I said, "No, I don't actually." And he said, "It was just after the second World War and the Japanese needed a way to be able to vent. They weren't allowed to make any movies about WWII so they created this character of mass destruction. It's all metaphor."
So it came from a really symbolic place. I was like, "That's f*cking impressive." Imagine how it must have felt for that movie to come out and change the way people saw things. And I think because of that, because it had such a huge message behind it, that he wanted to do the same but in today's society. So it was really intriguing -- his metaphor for it.
Was that what got you hooked, Gareth's take on the character?
Olsen: Yes, for sure. It was the grounding of the story and the true thing is that every good sci-fi movie or alien movie or whatever always has a larger metaphor and there's always more things to look into besides some monster coming in and destroying. And that is what roots it. It was a combination between that and Legendary, and just knowing you're in good hands and trusting Gareth's vision and taste. Gareth put together a teaser with Legendary almost three years ago for Comic Con, and it was in such great taste and it's a beautiful-looking film.
Taylor-Johnson: It's amazing how classy and artistic he took it. Gareth already has a cinematic eye because with "Monsters," I thought, Man who shot that? Because it was really beautiful and handheld and I asked him about it and he said, "I've got a f*cked-up shoulder because of it." And I said, "Wait you were the camera operator on that movie?" He said, "Yeah, it was me and a camera and I did it on nothing." He's just an all-around great filmmaker who understands every aspect. And he's got a real great way of working with actors. He gave us time and we got to explore. I've never had a luxury of being able, especially on "Avengers." It's like, "Wait, we shot the whole scene?" Because they put four cameras on us at once and it's quick, quick, quick...
Olsen: Yeah, not used to that.
Taylor-Johnson: It's like, "I thought I maybe had a few other ways of doing that." And they're like, "Nope, done."
May 2nd, 2015 -- the clock is ticking, guys!
Taylor-Johnson: But they're shooting until August.
How is "Avengers: Age of Ultron" going?
Olsen: It's so fun. I'm laughing all the time. The crazy thing is that it's like, I'm throwing sh*t with my hands, that's cuckoo! But it's also like, We're saving lives. And it's very serious. There's always that reminder that it's very serious.
Will you guys be in full costume by the end of the movie!
Olsen: Can't talk about it! [laughs]
Taylor-Johnson: Can't say!
We've seen enough of these movies to know that you're going to be in a suit by the end of it.
Olsen: Well, we're not part of the team, so it's not the same thing...
But you're new Avengers, right?
Taylor-Johnson: Can't say.
God, this is so frustrating.
Olsen: But it's fun for us.
But it's getting there?
Olsen: Yes. So fun.
Taylor-Johnson: Oh yeah. And I think Marvel and Legendary are very similar in that they're very similar. They're very big but they're also very boutique. Marvel is specific to their own characters and, because it's their own characters, they're protective of them. But they also want them to look great and they also care about them. They've got a backlog of knowledge...
Olsen: And they just give it to you!
Taylor-Johnson: Yeah, so you know you're in good hands.
Olsen: It's the same thing with Legendary. You feel like you're in really safe, good hands with them.
Taylor-Johnson: Yeah, you talk to Thomas Tull [CEO of Legendary Pictures] and he's just a really big fan of movies. Yes, he's got all these huge projects -- Batman, Superman, Godzilla -- but he gives them to really talented, interesting directors.
Olsen: And he doesn't step on their toes.
Taylor-Johnson: Yeah, he's not pushing them around trying to edit their movie.
Godzilla was obviously not on set. What was it like finally seeing the movie? And how did Gareth explain what was on screen?
Olsen: Gareth explained it very technically. He had it all on his computer in pre-viz.
Taylor-Johnson: Yeah, and also there was a lot of artwork around you.
Olsen: Yes, and that's something you can work with. You could choose to use it or not.
Taylor-Johnson: Yeah, it's not a movie where you're working with an animated pet or something where you have to constantly interact with. You're just reacting.
Olsen: Have you ever worked with an animated pet?
Taylor-Johnson: No. But I imagine it'd be a f*cking nightmare.
Did anything surprise you about the final version?
Taylor-Johnson: There's a scene towards the end of the movie where I'm looking at Godzilla, and when I finally saw it I was like, Whoa! I didn't realize his head was going to be that close and that big.
Olsen: You didn't realize he was looking at you?
Taylor-Johnson: I didn't realize he was looking at me! But I think that's why Gareth is so great. It's always evolving, even though you filmed it months before. Like he looked at it and he's like, "Maybe there's a connection there." So you give him so many variations on that because they're still considering all the possibilities. So you never know. I also thought he was about ten or twenty blocks down the road, not right f*cking there!
Olsen: My biggest surprise was how much I liked Godzilla and how much I hated the MUTOs. I felt very bad for the people Godzilla was accidentally killing, but I feel like he had very good intentions.
Taylor-Johnson: He's got to do what he's got to do!
Olsen: He's restoring nature!
Well, it seems nice because everyone was so upset last summer about "Man of Steel."
Taylor-Johnson: Yeah, how many buildings did they go through?
But you guys are actually giving screen time to the people who are being affected by these monsters.
Olsen: Yeah, that was, for me, really my main part of the film. That was my piece of it. I was a piece of a very big puzzle. And I was holding down what was happening on the home front, so that was really important -- to put a lot of care into it. We're almost becoming numb right now to the riots in Ukraine because it's just statistics but if you heard one family's story, you'd have a whole new experience. So the goal was to have this huge world disaster and have this family who is having this one singular experience. It happens to be very important and prominent with getting Godzilla taken care of. But you want them to get together. You want to make sure you care about him getting home.
Taylor-Johnson: And Gareth was very much about making it so that it's not just coincidence that you're always there. He wanted to really ground them in that work aspect of their lives and that it just so happened to be on the path and that it's all tied in to Bryan's character and Lizzie's character. He just wanted to follow Godzilla but through someone's perspective. So he was like, "How are we going to follow him from Japan to America?" That was nice because we had been introduced to Ken Watanabe's character and everything is interlinked really beautifully without being too on-the-nose. He gave us jobs that felt real and naturalistic.
If Godzilla rises out of the ocean again, will you be back?
Olsen: I would love to. I would love to see what that world would be like that they would create.
Taylor-Johnson: I would be as well.
Olsen: Especially if it's Gareth and the same gang.
Godzilla needs to fight another big monster of his caliber. Did he talk to you at all about that?
Olsen: No. Did he talk to you about it? I'd like to know.
"Godzilla" crashes into theaters May 16.