Interview with Michael Dougherty on Godzilla: King of the Monsters

Godzilla: King of the Monsters

Godzilla: King of the Monsters is stomping into theaters at the end of the month, and the world premiere was held at the TCL Chinese Theatre this past weekend. Director Michael Dougherty was able to answer some questions we had after the premiere. He talked about which Toho monster he wanted to add but couldn’t, balancing the human and monster elements, Godzilla vs. Kong, the possibilities of seeing Mecha-King Ghidorah or Mechagodzilla in future movies, Easter eggs and more.

Nerd Reactor: How are you feeling now that the world premiere is over?

Michael Dougherty: At the premiere, it was very nerve-wracking. I was listening to every breath, gasps, and every single person shifting in their seats and whispering to the person next to them. You just become keenly aware of everything that’s happening in the house. But I was over the moon with the reaction that I got.

Will you be watching it with the public audience to see their reactions?

I’m going to try. It’s tricky because we’re still going to be in the tail end of the promotional campaign. So I’ll be in London during the release of the film. So maybe I’ll stop by a theater in London. I just feel there’s nothing like an American audience at one of these movies because we’re so loud and rowdy and enthusiastic. And it’s very different from a Japanese audience, which even if they love the movie, they’re just very politely quiet. I think it’s a sign of respect or something. There’s very rarely a burst of cheering and applause in a lot of foreign audiences.

Godzilla: King of the Monsters is pretty much a love letter to Godzilla. I’ve noticed the different Easter eggs like the theme for Godzilla and even the theme for Mothra. Were you pressured into trying to do them or did you wanted to add them?

Those were straight off my personal wishlist because, to me, I really wanted to find the essence of what made the old films so great and appealing. The music, certain visual cues, they’re all iconic elements of [Godzilla’s] DNA. I felt like if I didn’t have his theme or didn’t have Mothra’s theme, then it wouldn’t feel like a Godzilla film. It’s the same way that if you didn’t have Godzilla using his Atomic Breath, it would feel like, “Oh, we forgot something.”

So yeah, I pretty much had a running list of things that I knew I always wanted to see in a Godzilla film, both elements that we have seen in his 65-year-plus legacy and things we’ve never seen in a Godzilla film that I always dreamt of seeing. Whether it’s the lost underwater city, Godzilla’s lair, a very particular touching moment between a character and Godzilla that we’ve never seen in any of his films. I was happy that there were still new elements to bring into his mythology.

Godzilla is the main character, but the people have always been an important part of the films. What was it like balancing their stories and Godzilla?

It’s very tricky balancing it. It’s called Godzilla, so he’s the star, he’s #1 on the call sheet, and it needs to be about him. He can’t be a supporting player; he can’t be background. At the same time, we are human beings, so as much as I would love to do a movie that only features giant monsters, I don’t know if we’re there yet. Maybe one day we will. We still crave stories about other humans. It was a tricky balancing act to craft a movie that gave you the right dosage of human vs. monster ratio. If you linger too much with your humans, then your mind automatically wanders to the monsters. But then if you focus too much on the monsters, it can become overwhelming. It was a very delicate balancing act to the very end.

Godzilla: King of the Monsters concept art

And yes, there are a lot of monsters being featured like Rodan, Mothra, and Ghidorah. Were there any challenges in trying to get them from Toho to use them?

No, no. I mean honestly that deal was done even before I signed on. Legendary had secured those creatures shortly after the 2014 film was a success, and I wasn’t required to use them. They just sort of laid them out on the table and said, “Oh, by the way, we have these four amazing monsters.”

And I was like, “Yes!” It was like Christmas morning. “Give them all to me!”

I have to admit that Mothra was more of a challenge. I was a little more hesitant there until I realized she was an opportunity. How do you take a giant moth… a giant insect and make her beautiful, powerful and ethereal? And I realize, well, embrace the goddess imagery, embrace the angel imagery, almost sort of Chariots of the Gods depiction and give her bioluminescence. You know, it exists in nature but let’s make it bioluminescence to the nth degree. She doesn’t just light up, she emits god rays, and that would make you drop to your knees if you saw her.

Oh yeah, and every monster that was featured in the movie, they all had that feeling of, “This is cool; this is badass.” Like Rodan with his flames/lava coming from under his wings. Was that something you tried to add to each monster?

Yeah. How do we take the classic monsters that we all know and love and depict them in a way that’s respectful but also does new things? New things that make sense and don’t feel like we’re breaking rules as much as we’re expanding those rules and improving on those rules. It was such a fun, challenging but rewarding process.

Godzilla vs Biollante. Credit: Toho

Did you have any monsters you would like to use but didn’t get the chance to?

Yeah. I mean, each monster comes with a price tag, so they all got their fees. Biollante is one of my personal favorites because she’s sort of a Frankenstein monster. She’s a perfect example of the messages of the Godzilla universe, which is, “Don’t mess with mother nature, or else.” Because she’s the result of mankind messing with nature. She’s a hybrid of Godzilla DNA, human DNA and plant DNA. So what happens when you mess with that? You give birth to this monstrosity, but she didn’t ask to be born. She’s also like Godzilla, strangely complicated and misunderstood and filled with emotions. So I find her to be a very sympathetic creature.

Ready Player One. Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

Do you think Mecha-King Ghidorah or Mechagodzilla will be featured in future movies?

I hope so. I love the Mecha creatures. In some ways, they’re almost like predecessors to The Terminator. What I love about the original Mechagodzilla was that you didn’t know it was a Mechagodzilla. All of a sudden here’s a second Godzilla, and then he got revealed in layers. All of a sudden a chunk of skin got blasted off, and you realize, “Oh, there’s something shiny underneath.” The correct terminology would be Cyber Godzilla. It’s a cyborg. I think the Mecha monsters are a perfect example of Toho just throwing caution in the wind and saying, “Fuck it, let’s get weird.”

Do you think the MonsterVerse will get as weird?

I think we’re headed that way. I think once you embrace Mothra and King Ghidorah – a giant moth and a three-headed golden dragon – you start to cross out of science fiction and head into science fantasy, and embracing sort of the mythological concepts and lost civilizations. So that was a very intentional push on my part to embrace some of the almost wackiness of the original Toho series.

The next MonsterVerse movie will be Godzilla vs. Kong. Who are you rooting for?

It’s hard. I love them both. It’s like I almost don’t want to see them fight, but a dark part of you is like, “Let them fight.” Umm, Godzilla is my guy. If Kong won over Godzilla, I would be annoyed, but I acknowledge that the possibility exists. I would rather see them put aside their differences at some point, as long as it’s maybe to fight a greater threat. I don’t know. It’s a tricky one. Ultimately, in a fight between Kong and Godzilla, the audience wins.

What if Godzilla shouts, “Mothra,” and Kong asks, “Why did you say Mothra?”

[Smiles] Don’t go there.

Godzilla: King of the Monsters hits theaters on May 31, 2019.

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