The first film I saw starring Aaron Taylor-Johnson was 2010′s Kick-Ass. He played the scrawny, naïve, and cynical wannabe superhero Dave Lizewski. The Aaron Taylor-Johnson my fellow journalists and I met on the set of Godzilla was a far cry from that character. He strides over to us confidently, he’s more built, and the four years he’s aged since his breakthrough role has given him the added maturity that makes it easy to buy him as the hero in a blockbuster action movie.
During our conversation, we talked about the film’s central father-son relationship, training to play a Navy Lieutenant, the indie vibe on set that encourages a raw, intimate energy, his thoughts on the iconic monster, and more. Hit the jump to check out the interview. Godzilla opens in 2D, 3D, and IMAX 3D on May 16th.
AARON TAYLOR-JOHNSON: Yeah, I think there’s a lot that relates to family in the relationships. You know I play a father in this also. I can’t really sort of say it relates to what’s happening with Godzilla or anything like that. I guess we’re aiming for a pretty strong story that people can relate to whilst something that is very unrelatable is happening around us. To make it feel like we can feel sympathy or feel something towards these characters and that we can embark on a journey. But yeah there is a father and son relationship.
We first meet you in 1999 when you’re still a teenager.
TAYLOR-JOHNSON: A kid, yeah.
And then we jump ahead 15 years.
TAYLOR-JOHNSON: Yeah, a lot happens but I can’t really tell you that. That’s the basis of how they are later in years. In the years, in story terms, is when the radiation thing is happening. The monster is generating over that time period.
Did you prepare with the Army or Marines for the role?
TAYLOR-JOHNSON: We have a Marine sergeant/major, Jim Dever, who has worked on many films before as well. He did BLACK HAWK DOWN and the last SUPERMAN that’s coming out. He does a lot of movies like that and works really closely with us. There’s a lot of military stuff going on throughout this so he keeps an eye on everybody and everyone. I spent a bit of time with him. It was really great fun. A new experience for me altogether. I play a lieutenant in the Navy, EOD which is explosive ordinance disposal so he operates bombs. They’re always on hand, we have Navy captains onset to approve things. And see how they go about doing things, if this was to happen the way they go about operations. Everything is as accurate as can be.
Are you weight training every day? It looks like you’ve put some muscle bulk on since KICK ASS.
TAYLOR-JOHNSON: Yeah, it’s a very physically demanding role. So you have to be pretty fit.
You’ve done all kinds of movies, large and small. Is this a massive movie?
TAYLOR-JOHNSON: Not really. When you think about Gareth Edwards and his ethos of working and what he’s done before, it’s really just as small and intimate as an independent would feel like. It’s very family oriented in a sense. It’s a small group of people and we’re all working together to create. It’s great relationships with the filmmakers and producers and the cinematographer I’ve worked with before, this is my third one with Seamus McGarvey. It doesn’t feel like it’s on a huge scale and I don’t think I’ve really done much green screen considering the amount of special effects that will be needed. We’re shooting on location and they put it in afterwards. It’s not being shot in 3D. You don’t get a sense of this huge blockbuster type of feel, it’s got a raw energy. Raw and intimate.
TAYLOR-JOHNSON: I don’t know if I’m allowed to say, really. Like I said there’s a lot of physical action I have to do. It tries to push boundaries in terms of the military.
Who in this movie gets to say the word “Godzilla” first?
TAYLOR-JOHNSON: I don’t know. Maybe I had an idea and thought I should probably not tell you.
In a broad sense, there’s a serious dramatic core between your character and Brian’s character, but it’s still a gigantic monster attacking cities. Is there still a fun aspect to the destruction?
TAYLOR-JOHNSON: In the making of it. In that sense?
Is here still some comedy to it? Or humor to lighten the tone?
TAYLOR-JOHNSON: Because of Brian I guess. He’s very very humorous. Do I think there’s any comedy sort of sense to it? Not really. It’s more sort of thriller, drama and passion. Emotionally in scenes I think I’ve been challenged moreso in this than most dramas I’ve been in. Which is kind of the reason I wanted to be a part of it. I knew Gareth had such a strong idea of having it feel a lot more full of heart and soul and he wanted to attack those emotions. It’s really… my journey is trying to get my family back together which this thing causing havoc across the world. You do anything for the one you love?
How have you been shooting the perspective of the monster?
TAYLOR-JOHNSON: That’s probably more of a question for Gareth, I’m sure you’re going to speak to him also. But everything seems to be kind of feeling… it’s more from POV’s and people’s perspectives of it. You’d be in a car and see it through the [window]. It’s like kind of feeling it. You’re a part of it, the audience. You’re starting to see it and then it comes on to TV screens or news channels. It’s trying to sort of break it up a bit so it’s not just, “here’s great big monster fights.” That sort of stuff is being developed as we go along. The pre-viz they did was pretty much the whole movie, but the art directors are still tweaking those creatures. So I couldn’t really say too much on that aspect.
TAYLOR-JOHNSON: I think they’ve kept it very classic to the original. I never really saw any of the other versions really but I guess it went more dinosaur/T-Rex. This has gone back to the way it looked in the Toho version. I think Toho has approval to use the original creatures. I think people will be happy.
Can you talk about how the Army, Navy and your character views Godzilla? How do they respond? One of the producers said they’re kind of kept in the dark about what they’re dealing with? They’re not told everything.
TAYLOR-JOHNSON: You know, I think it’s the usual thing of being given orders to take something down. They’re also experiencing for the first time how these creatures respond to our weapons and things like that. It’s an ongoing [thing]. I think the only one who has a different perspective on Godzilla is Ken Watanabe’s character who is a science technician who has kind of been following it. So you see that through his point of view, what the creatures are capable of.
Does your character have a bit of a love interest with Elizabeth Olsen?
TAYLOR-JOHNSON: She plays my wife.
The wedding ring I noticed…
TAYLOR-JOHNSON: That’s *my* wedding ring. I’m married. My character wears a different one.
How is Mr. Cranston as a father?
TAYLOR-JOHNSON: I suppose that’s a question for his kids. Um, Bryan’s fucking brilliant. He’s the most professional actor I’ve worked with in a long time. He brings so much energy and preparation he’s always exploring new bits within a scene and giving ideas. It’s what you want, really. Someone who will always kind of be there on the other side of the camera to act off of. He’s very giving. A warm wonderful man. He’s really incredible. Super funny. It’s been great. Couldn’t have asked for anything better.
TAYLOR-JOHNSON: Yeah there was one time when we were on location, a lot of it is on location, but this is the first time we’ve seen the monster rise up. And I remember saying to Gareth, “well how big is it then?” And he says, “it’s about 300 feet.” But he was really close to my eye. “But then he’s really wide and the legs can come down here and here.” And I go, “okay.” And so we do that and I ask, “am I shocked?” And he says, “no.” It’s just working, you have to keep in touch. You can watch pre-viz, but he’s really great at being communicative and saying what he thinks.
Is the American accent, you’re obviously very good at doing it from KICK ASS. Is this different than that?
TAYLOR-JOHNSON: Yeah. It has to be very different to KICK ASS. You have to create a different voice to the character to sense his insecurities, hesitance and nervousness in his voice and speech. In this I’m a leader, I’m a lieutenant. I give orders. It’s a different kind of tone and posture and way of talking. He’s the other side you know? Kick Ass was from New York and I guess he’s from San Francisco or San Diego. There are those kind of things.
Click on the corresponding links for more of my Godzilla set visit coverage:
- Matt Visits the Set of GODZILLA and Witnesses the Monster’s Trail of Destruction
- Director Gareth Edwards Talks Making the Leap from an Indie to a Blockbuster, Man-vs-Nature, Easter Eggs, and More on the Set of GODZILLA
- Bryan Cranston Talks about His Thoughts on the Script, the Appeal of a Character-Driven Blockbuster, and More on the Set of GODZILLA
- Legendary Pictures CEO and Producer Thomas Tull Talks GODZILLA, His Love for the Character, Handling Comic-Con, PACIFIC RIM 2, and More