Did you know that Godzilla and his kaiju ilk don’t eat people? I certainly didn’t, but it was just one of the many revelations from a Q&A following a recent screening of Warner Bros. and Legendary’s Godzilla: King of the Monsters at the vaunted Toho Studios in Tokyo, Japan.
Nerdist, along with other press outlets, was in attendance at the event where director Mike Dougherty and star Ken Watanabe revealed a slew of new behind-the-scenes details about the highly anticipated sequel. While we aren’t allowed to give any details about the movie we watched just yet, here’s the declassified intel we can share with you, ranging from on-set pranks to Godzilla’s favorite kind of sashimi.
As a note, unfortunately, we can’t discuss some of Watanabe’s answers just yet as they would be considered massive spoilers, but we will share those closer to the film’s release once people without Monarch security clearance have had a chance to see it.
Memoirs of a Godzilla
Image: Nerdist/Dan Casey
Making a movie can be a strenuous, emotionally draining process, which requires long hours, late nights, and, occasionally, endless takes. During one such an evening shoot, though, director Mike Dougherty sought to lighten the mood a little bit on set with a delightfully silly prank.
“Pranks are healthy because they keep everybody on their toes and making a movie can be very, very stressful,” Dougherty said. “There was one night we were shooting particularly late, and I think everybody had had it, especially with me. It was a full cast, it was the scene where Vera is calling into the jet and then explaining why she did what she did, and it’s a very long scene and very emotional. And it ordered a lot of Ken and the other actors staring at her on this monitor. We’re doing take after take—“
“So tiring,” Ken Watanabe interjected.
“I know, I’m sorry,” Doughtery jokingly apologized. “And we thought we had it, and I said, ‘No, no, I need one more.’ And so we rolled cameras, and they’re going through it and just at the key moment in the scene, instead of playing the footage of the devastation that Vera was trying to explain, we cued up a very key scene from one of Ken’s classic movies.”
“It was Memoirs of a Geisha,” Watanabe said dryly. “The love scene.”
“So it was the key moment in Memoirs of a Geisha when Ken and Zi lock lips, and that had a nice stress-relieving effect.”
“Everyone in there [was] cheering,” Watanabe added.
That wasn’t the only instance of on-set hijinks. Dougherty revealed he had a habit of hiding fake severed limbs and rubber snakes in the water coolers for the crew to find, as well as a life-sized Regan MacNeil from The Exorcist, which he put in Vera Farmiga’s trailer. Honestly, I don’t know what’s more upsetting, finding a life-size Regan MacNeil in your trailer or knowing that your colleague owns a life-size Regan MacNeil…
Choosing the Right Monsters
Given Toho’s 65 year history of making monster movies, there is no shortage of iconic characters in their catalogue. While Godzilla and Kong: Skull Island added new monsters into the mix, one of the biggest appeals of King of the Monsters for longtime fans is seeing which classic characters will be making their big-screen debut in the Monsterverse. So how did Dougherty and his creative co-conspirators choose which monster made the cut? For Dougherty, the answer was obvious.
“I keep saying it but they’re the crown jewels of the Toho Universe,” said Dougherty. “They’re the ones that I feel like most Godzilla fans and even non-Godzilla fans are the most familiar with. So as much as I love King Caesar and Gigan and those guys, they’re a little bit more obscure. But they’re also the first ones who kind of teamed up. There’s a key point in Godzilla history where Mothra, Rodan, and Godzilla put aside their differences and decided to team up against King Ghidorah.”
Dougherty is referencing the 1964 movie, Ghidorah, The Three-Headed Monster, in which all four monsters appeared together on the big screen for the very first time.
“I strongly suggest you go back and watch that movie but there’s literally a scene where larval Mothra goes to Rodan and Godzilla and says, ‘Hey, this new asshole just showed up and he’s gonna mess everything up if we don’t stop him.’ And the two twin fairies are translating for the monsters, so the humans can understand what the monsters are talking about. Like they’re actually having dialogue with each other. And Rodan and Godzilla are like, ‘F*** the humans, they bully us.’ Like, ‘Why should we help them?’”
“And suddenly for the first time as a kid that was where you suddenly saw things from the monsters’ point of view, where the monsters saw us as the monster,” Dougherty continued. “The monsters saw us as the bullies that were trying to prevent them from having happy lives.”
But are there characters Dougherty would like to use in a sequel?
“There’s one creature that I find fascinating because she’s a plant,” Dougherty revealed. “Her name’s Biollante, and she’s also one of the very few other female kaiju. She’s interesting because she’s almost like this Frankenstein creature, she’s a combination of DNA from a scientist’s dead daughter, Godzilla, and a rose, and it’s Audrey on steroids. There’s something so interesting, because I find she’s also very misunderstood, and she also gave Godzilla a run for his money.”
On Deleted Scenes
Creating a mammoth monster movie of this proportion isn’t an easy task. Long hours in the editing room are spent whittling down hours and hours of footage to mold it into a finished product full of colossal creatures kicking each other’s butts six ways from Sunday. But as Dougherty revealed, there was a nearly Godzilla-sized amount of footage that simply couldn’t fit into the final cut.
“There’s a cut that I like to call Godzilla the mini series because it was basically three hours,” said Dougherty. “So there were much longer versions of the scenes that you saw, and as much as I would love to just bathe in the Godzilla universe for three hours, it dragged. So we had to find that right sweet spot as you put it, and it took a very very long time.”
On Easter Eggs
Given that Godzilla: King of the Monsters is hitting theaters during the 65th anniversary of the 1954 original, you can bet your bottom dollar that there are no shortage of deep-cut references, easter eggs, and hidden allusions for longtime fans of the franchise. Yet at the same time, King of the Monsters modernizes the larger mythology of the Monsterverse and adds new elements to it. For, Dougherty, it was a tightrope walk.
“I feel like because you’re making a film that has such a deep fanbase, you have to have enough of those kinds of hints and nods to keep fans happy, but you can’t focus on it too much that distracts for the general audience either,” Dougherty said. “So I love Easter eggs, I like to reward people for paying attention. My personal favorite films are the ones where I notice things I never noticed before. A lot of the classics, details that the director snuck in there, that only reveal themselves sometimes on home video. To this day I still notice things in Alien or Blade Runner that I haven’t noticed in the decades I’ve been watching them on repeat.”
Speaking go hidden details, eagle-eyed viewers should keep a lookout for a reference to the Twin Fairies while watching Godzilla: King of the Monsters. There are probably many more buried in the film’s depths, but this was the only one Dougherty confirmed.
What Does Godzilla Actually Eat?
It wouldn’t be a post-screening Q&A without one truly baffling question, and this time it was “What is Godzilla’s favorite kind of sashimi?” It was the second part of a two-part question about navigating creative differences with Toho. But in this instance, it yielded some fascinating insight into Toho’s deep-seated views on Godzilla’s nature.
Ken Watanabe paused thoughtfully for a moment before answering, “Maybe tuna.”
“Personally I don’t think Godzilla eats fish,” Dougherty replied. “As far as creative conflicts or differences, there weren’t really many at all. We were really in sync with each other. The most intimidating moment for me personally was coming here to Tokyo and Toho had final approval on all the designs for the creatures, and so I had spent a few months coming up with the designs with my creature guys and presented to them and I love the Toho guys, right? It’s a little intimidating because everyone’s wearing a suit and it’s a long conference room table- and I showed them everything and thankfully they signed off on it.”
However, there was one sticking point during Dougherty’s discussions with Toho that led to an unexpected revelation.
“I will tell one funny story because I think we can all laugh about this now,” Dougherty began. “We got the note back from Toho that the kaiju do not eat people. I went like, ‘What?’ I’d never thought about that, that they’re not supposed to traditionally eat people. I was like,’What are those fangs for? What are these claws and these fangs?’ And they made a very valid point, that the kaiju… eat radiation, that’s what they survive off of. So it made sense, but I was like, “A giant monster’s eating people, that’s the best thing in the world, like how can you not have them eat people?”
While they eventually found a compromise between Dougherty’s instincts and their established canon, I’m not going to spoil what happens here because seeing it for yourself on the big screen is a treat tastier than any radiation or unsuspecting human combined.
Godzilla: King of the Monsters hits theaters on May 31, 2019.
Images: Warner Bros./Legendary
Editor’s note: Nerdist is a subsidiary of Legendary Digital Networks.