The Story and Characters
"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
"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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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."
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