What first drew Elizabeth Olsen to the world of Godzilla for this indie movie darling was an Oppenheimer quote that director Gareth Edwards showed her that would serve as the unspoken theme of the movie.
“When I met Gareth for the first time, they were still playing around with the script really, so he showed me the Comic-Con teaser from two years ago with the Oppenheimer quote and the voiceover about ‘I created a monster.’ That was the thing that first really drew me into making a Godzilla film,” Olsen said.
Olsen admitted that she was unfamiliar with the world. “I didn’t quite understand what Godzilla actually represented in the original Japanese version. So, just that large concept, and him trying to explain to me that we wanted to have this uprooted family, and basically the whole point was to get them back together at the end [got my interest].”
Olsen also said that after seeing Edwards' small movie Monsters, she knew that he could create something that could have a grand scale, while still being incredibly emotionally grounded.
“What’s phenomenal about Gareth is he comes from a special effects background, which is what I think happens with these big films is studios are trying to get these really great storytellers, these great smaller film directors, into these bigger movies. But sometimes, maybe they don’t have the language to speak with special effects or understand the larger world of it. And he understood that off the bat,” Olsen said.
“But what he’s focused on is story-driven films, so working with him is incredibly collaborative. He’s very specific at what he needs you to do. And I told him, like I try to tell most people, like tell me straight up. You don’t need to talk around anything. And that’s how he likes to work, so it was a really great match for me."
She and Aaron Taylor-Johnson play husband and wife, as seen in the Godzilla trailer. It is the arriving monsters (MOTU and Godzilla) that separate them. Although at first, it is Taylor-Johnson’s military man that had been away on deployment, and then within hours of his arrival home, he gets a call that his father (Bryan Cranston) has been arrested in Japan. And they’re ripped apart again.
So, how on earth did these two talented performers manage to convey the intimacy and deep emotional caring of a married couple with only a few scenes?
“I think that was the whole point of us workshopping, really. I think as an actor, you also know what it’s like to go away and come back. And [Aaron] has children, so we pulled from our own experiences in trying to root that in this specific relationship,” Olsen said. “And Aaron and I just really get on well, and trust each other. There’s comfortability, so there’s nothing awkward, really.”
When she saw the finished product, her thoughts that the emotion rather than special effects would carry the day proved true. “I was actually shocked that I wanted to cry like twice in the film,” Olsen said and laughed. “Usually, I’m quite removed from the films I watch, and I’m very critical if I’m in them. But I was amazed by how moved I was and so quickly, especially with Bryan Cranston and Juliette Binoche.”
Olsen only has a few scenes with the entire cast, so for her it was nice to see what everyone else had been working on!
“I never really worked with anyone except Carson [Bolde] who played my son and Aaron, very briefly -- and this other actress Jill [Teed] who played one of the nurses. It’s just nice to see what everyone else is doing. It’s eye-opening to see what everyone else did. And I just really loved it.”
What most impressed her about the entire Godzilla experience was how nothing changed from that first pitch from Edwards to receiving the script to witnessing the final project. That is astoundingly rare in Hollywood, especially with big budget movies.
“While Aaron and I were signed on to it, we would talk to Gareth about it, read different drafts, and it’s always been what they said it was going to be -- which is quite phenomenal,” Olsen said and laughed.
“It’s always what you hope happens, and it was actually far more collaborative than I assumed a big film like this would be. If there’s dialogue that maybe Aaron or I didn’t quite grab onto, we would workshop it. And all of that was good to go, and you didn’t have to wait for approval from far beyond from somewhere else. It was a really awesome process.”