GODZILLA - THE STORY AND CHARACTERS
WARNING MAJOR SPOILER ALERT!!!
From Warner Bros
“Godzilla” unfolds across multiple continents and spans several decades, tracing the impact of a series of mysterious and catastrophic events through the eyes of a handful of people caught at the epicenter. “Our film doesn’t tell this story from an omnipotent perspective,” Tull explains. “In the midst of this crisis are people whose lives are irrevocably changed by it. These aren’t super heroes, but regular human beings caught in extreme circumstances, which made casting such a vital component of our film.”
In this spirit, Edwards wanted to populate the film with actors who could deliver a level of performance that brought truth to the characters’ extraordinary journeys. “In a film like this, you get one buy, which is that there are giant monsters in the world,” he says. “The rest has to be as believable as possible, which is one reason I feel incredibly lucky with this cast. They were able to take what was on the page, bring it to life, and create an emotional reality that helps you believe everything else.”
For the cast, the combination of a cinematic icon and Edwards’ vision for his epic rebirth made “Godzilla” an irresistible prospect. “When Gareth and I first talked about the film, he told me to forget that it was a big monster movie,” recalls Aaron Taylor-Johnson. “I loved what Godzilla meant to him, and that he wanted to bring him to the screen in a big disaster spectacle, but to tell the story with a high level of artistry and emotion. That’s what made me want to do this project, and Gareth made the experience incredibly special.”
The actor takes on the central role of Ford Brody, a Naval officer specializing in disarming bombs, who has just reunited with his wife and young son in San Francisco when he is called away to help his troubled father in Japan.
“Ford is the hero of our film and sees a lot of action,” Edwards comments. “And because so much of the storytelling is visual, it was critical that we understand what he’s thinking and feeling, so we needed an actor capable of communicating a lot in a single look. I’d seen ‘Nowhere Boy,’ in which Aaron played John Lennon, and it was such a soulful performance. There was so much intensity and emotion behind his eyes. I knew from that moment we’d found the guy.”
Ford’s expertise at disarming bombs draws him to the frontlines of humanity’s united defense against the greatest threat it has ever faced, but he's torn between duty and the need to find and protect his young family. “He’s the kind of specialist the military needs and it’s all hands on deck,” Taylor-Johnson explains. “At the same time, his mission is to get back to his family, and his work in the military becomes the only way he can maneuver himself closer to San Francisco. But it’s heartbreaking because he knows he might not make it home at all.”
Trapped in the city when Godzilla zeroes in on San Francisco is Ford’s wife, Elle Brody, played by Elizabeth Olsen. A nurse at a busy hospital, Elle is forced to make tough choices to both cope with the human toll of the disaster and to protect their four-year-old son, Sam, played by newcomer Carson Bolde. “Elle’s story is heroic in that she has a job to do, but she is also desperate to protect her own child,” Olsen details, adding, “Their story and Ford’s journey to try to get back to them is part of what I love about this film—how the value of family is at its core, and how moments of crisis bring out the courage and heroism that lies within everyone.”
For Edwards, her feel for the emotional material made her riveting to watch in the role. "Elizabeth has this documentary style to her performance—It just doesn’t feel like acting at all. With her, it was like doing some serious drama that just happened to have giant monsters in it."
Olsen got her first taste of the level of realism Edwards wanted to bring to the film when she first saw the evocative teaser piece he’d made. “Gareth’s approach to it is what hooked me, and how it reflected some of the imagery of disasters we’ve seen around the world,” she notes. “What Elle deals with in this film taps into what it’s like for the people caught in these kinds of events, and the lengths you’d go to in order to save the ones you love.”
This same impulse drives Ford throughout his journey, and Taylor-Johnson admits that even amid the film’s tremendous action, the physical demands of the role were trumped by the emotional challenges his character faces. “Ford is really put through the ringer over the course of the film, both internally and externally,” he says. “When we meet him, he’s a husband, father and son, and is trying to do all those things correctly under the weight of some serious emotional baggage. He has unresolved issues with his father, and his efforts to try to mend their relationship places him far from home when his family most needs him.”
Ford carries with him the weight of an incident from his childhood that tore his family apart 15 years earlier, when he lived with his parents in Japan. But the events leading up to that fateful day in 1999 originate farther south, in the Philippines, where the film begins.
A remote mine in a Philippine jungle collapses, revealing beneath it the fossilized, highly radioactive remains of something very big and very old. A pair of scientists from a secretive government organization, Dr. Ishiro Serizawa and Dr. Vivienne Graham, arrive on site to examine the bizarre relic.
Ken Watanabe plays Serizawa, a Japanese scientist who has devoted his life to the search for Godzilla and hopes to find in the cave evidence of the mythical creature’s existence. “His quest goes deeper than scientific curiosity,” Watanabe describes. “He is concerned about the kinds of terror that could exist in the world, and has his own theories about what he calls the ‘Alpha Predator’ and the role it plays on the planet.”
In the film, Godzilla’s origins are linked to an alternate take on recent history, a dark legacy that haunts Serizawa, who is both named for and inspired by a key character in the original Japanese film. “Dr. Serizawa is the scientist with the deepest insight into the creature, and Ken brought so much complexity and depth of feeling to this character,” Edwards says. “We used to joke when we were filming that no one’s got more different looks than Ken. He is such a fascinating actor to watch because you can see all of his internal thoughts on his face. When we were shooting, he would always do another look or take a breath or go to leave the room and you’re saying, 'Oh no, don’t stop, don’t stop.' The takes would just go on and on because you’d never want to yell 'cut.'"
Watanabe responded to Edwards’ desire to draw upon the thematic threads of the original within the context of the contemporary world. “I feel that Japan and, really, the entire world, are facing similar challenges today as we were at the time the first film was made,” Watanabe reflects. “Godzilla cannot be separated from the nuclear element, and serves as an urgent reminder that we have to look to the future and think about what kind of world we want to have. So, when I read the script, I was impressed that Gareth’s film maintains Godzilla’s connection to the consequences of trying to harness forces we barely understand.”
Sally Hawkins, who plays Serizawa’s colleague, Dr. Graham, adds that Edwards’ passion for the project illuminated every creative decision on set. “He had so much else to contend with, but really showed care towards the actors and the story, always emphasizing the need to keep the heart and truth in it.”
With all her scenes done in partnership with Watanabe, the two formed an immediate connection. “Graham and Serizawa are on this journey together because it is both their life’s work,” Hawkins shares. “When we meet them, you see that they’re almost telepathic in how they communicate. And I think Ken’s brilliant. He’s got such a presence, and working with him to convey their relationship was a real pleasure.”
As Graham and Serizawa move deeper through the mountain, they discover that the entire cave system once encased the carcass of a giant creature, but that it also held something else. And at its end, they are shocked to discover that the mountain has been blown out from within, giving way to a pulverized trench etched through the forest, leading straight to the ocean.
North through the East China Sea, a series of tremors rock the Janjira Nuclear Power Plant near the Tokyo district where Ford, played as a youth by CJ Adams, lives with his parents Sandra and Joe Brody, played by Juliette Binoche and Bryan Cranston. In 1999, both are scientists at the power plant, and the morning after tremors hit, his father is the first to raise alarm bells. Cranston details, “Joe is a nuclear engineer and very good at his job. He has detected anomalous sound patterns in these tremors that others are trying to write off as mere earthquakes, but his data doesn’t support that. He knows there’s something more here and wants the nuclear plant shut down, but nobody listens. And when they finally do, it’s too late. He’s a whistleblower in all the good ways that one can be, and that troublemaker streak follows him into the present.”
Though Cranston is best known for bringing to life the thrilling, tragic arc of Walter White on TV’s “Breaking Bad,” Edwards remembered him as the father in the series “Malcolm in the Middle” and envisioned him as Joe from the start. “I was an avid fan of that show. I think it’s often harder to be a good comedic actor than it is to be a good dramatic actor, and Bryan can nail the joke every time, but he’s also able to convey so much emotion in everything he does. So the whole time we were writing this part, Bryan was always Joe in my mind, and, fortunately, he said ‘yes.’”
For his part, Cranston, in spite of his stated affection for Godzilla movies, never imagined that he’d be in one. “But, as Gareth said to me, this film is different,” the actor relates. “It’s steeped in character, which makes the fantastic elements of the story more fulfilling because, as you follow these people through this adventure, you see good and bad decisions being made and relationships being pulled apart and brought together. All the elements of any good drama are here, wrapped up in big, epic monster movie.”
Juliette Binoche agrees, noting, “Monsters have an enormous power for catharsis. These stories help us to understand something about ourselves and to see our emotions on a big scale, and Gareth as a storyteller understands that instinctually. He’s a great talent, and I was thrilled to work with him on this film.”
Binoche’s character Sandra Brody is, like her husband Joe, also a dedicated scientist, but on the morning of the accident, Sandra’s instincts as a mother override all other considerations. “When the situation at the plant escalates into a crisis, she has to make a choice,” Binoche relates. “These situations can often be moments of total truth, and in that moment, her actions are driven by her love for her son and her husband.”
Fifteen years later, when Ford travels to Japan for his uneasy reunion with his father, he finds Joe still consumed with the accident that destroyed the plant and shattered his family. Cranston comments, “Joe has spent his life trying to unravel the mystery of what happened that day, but the greatest casualty of his obsession is his relationship with his son.”
Even as his son arrives to take him home, Joe is on the cusp of proving that the powerful forces that destroyed the Janjira Power Plant in 1999 are happening again, and that reports of leaking radiation are lies the government has concocted to hide the truth. With one last plea, he persuades Ford to venture back to their ruined home to retrieve evidence that the disaster was anything but natural. But after being ambushed by security forces, what they discover inside the quarantine zone is much worse.
Within the hollowed-out relic of Janjira itself, they are confronted with the enormity of the government’s secret: something has been feeding on the plant’s nuclear reactors, and after 15 years, it’s finally awake. Mary Parent remarks, “In our film, we introduce a destructive force that is, in some ways, a consequence of humanity’s hubris in the face of nature. And how that conflicts with Godzilla’s agenda is what draws us into a massive conflict that plays out against our planet.”
In the terrifying events that follow, Ford and Joe are swept away with Dr. Serizawa and Dr. Graham to the Navy vessel that will serve as a command center for the rapidly escalating crisis. Heading the multi-force tactical operation formed to defend the planet in the face of a terrifying new paradigm is Admiral Stenz, who tracks Godzilla across the Pacific toward the continental U.S.
Acclaimed actor David Strathairn, who plays Admiral William Stenz, offers, “No one on Earth has encountered anything of this magnitude before, so Stenz is a little out of his depth in postulating ways to deal with it. You can’t take down monsters with normal munitions, so what do you resort to? A nuclear device? That’s the military's last resort, but it ups the ante dramatically, and as the officer in charge of the joint task force, Stenz is strategically at odds with Serizawa.”
Strathairn relished exploring this philosophical conflict with Watanabe. “Serizawa is a very passionate and deeply committed scientist; he also carries deep sadness and fear about our arrogance as a species in the face of nature,” Strathairn observes. “Stenz has some very crucial decisions to make, which conflict with Serizawa’s ideas of how to resolve the situation, and Ken brought such grace to these very intense moments between them. Serizawa is the heart of this story’s compassion.”
Like his fellow cast members, Strathairn was impressed with Edwards’ acuity for capturing the human dimensions of the Godzilla story. “I feel that this film is basically about how we, as a fragile, too often environmentally irresponsible creature, respond to the symbol of Godzilla, a metaphorical construct for so many things that we are still working on as a species. Gareth had a monstrous task with this film, so to speak, and I'm really impressed by the way he’s held this franchise, this dinosaur, in his hands while still respecting and honoring the human aspect.”
After witnessing Godzilla’s earth-shattering entrance at the Honolulu Airport, Ford joins up with a military unit headed for the mainland, following a colossal wake of destruction through towns and cities that have been leveled by forces of unimaginable power and menace. Seizing his only chance to secure his family, Ford volunteers himself for what may end up being a suicide mission to plunge into the heart of a besieged San Francisco in a desperate bid to save the city from imminent nuclear annihilation.
With its skyscrapers shattered like broken toys, and its underground shelters overflowing with terrified refugees, the fragile human city has become a monster-sized arena where the Alpha Predator closes in on his malevolent prey, unleashing the full weight of his fury in an epic battle for dominance, with the future of humanity hanging in the balance.
“We made a choice about how to reveal Godzilla to the world in this film,” says Edwards. “It was a difficult choice, but it has to do with the question of whether Godzilla is good or bad. I think he represents something entirely different. It’s like asking if a hurricane is good or bad. Godzilla is a force of nature, but its more violent, unpredictable side. What he’s up against in our film very much represents our abuse of nature, so when Godzilla rises, it’s to set things right.”