Aaron Taylor-Johnson on Bryan Cranston and the ‘intimate’ nature of ‘Godzilla’

VANCOUVER – “Intimate” usually isn't the first word that comes to mind when thinking about a big budget summer tentpole featuring a giant monster smashing buildings and breathing fire on tanks. However, that's the exact word that star Aaron Taylor-Johnson used to describe Legendary Pictures and Warner Bros.' upcoming “Godzilla.”

When a group of fellow journalists and I visited the set of the film, we sat and chatted with stars Bryan Cranston and Taylor-Johnson, but didn't get to meet the big guy himself, who was added into the film later via the wonders of computer effects. 

While Taylor-Johnson will soon be best-known for blockbusters like “Godzilla” and “The Avengers: Age of Ultron,” he balances the big studio films with smaller fare like the Oscar-nominated “Albert Nobbs” and the John Lennon drama “Nowhere Boy.”

He claimed that “Godzilla” doesn't feel much bigger than the small indies in which he's appeared.

“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,” the actor mused. “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 [Seamus McGarvey also shot “Nowhere Boy” and “Anna Karenina”]. 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.” 

While audiences will get to react to Godzilla's enormity and scaly visage, Taylor-Johnson and the rest of the cast (which also includes Elizabeth Olsen and Juliette Binoche) had to rely on their imagination — and trust Edwards' vision. 

“Yeah there was one time when we were on location…the first time we see the monster rise up,” Taylor-Johnson recalled. “And I remember saying to Gareth, 'well how big is it then?' And he says, 'it”s about 300 feet. But then he”s really wide and the legs can come down here and here.' 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.”

Like Steven Spielberg did in “Jaws” and “Jurassic Park,” Edwards will tease the audiences with glimpses of the beast here and there. 

“It”s more from point-of-views and people”s perspectives of it,” Taylor-Johnson continued. “You”d be in a car and see it through the [window]. 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 [the direct look at Gozilla] up a bit so it”s not just, 'here”s a great big monster fight.' 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.”

Initially, some fans expressed concern over how Godzilla himself will appear. Subsequent photos and trailers have calmed some nerves, and even before filming was complete, Taylor-Johnson reassured us of the creature's look in the new film.  

“I think they”ve kept it very classic to the original,” he confirmed. “I never really saw any of the other versions really but I guess it [previously] 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.” 

Although fans should be happy with the film's depiction of the title creature, “Godzilla” also features some very human elements, with Cranston and Taylor-Johnson playing a father and son on the trail of the beast.

“We”re aiming for a pretty strong story that people can relate to whilst something that is very unrelatable is happening around us,” Taylor-Johnson told us. “To make it feel like we can feel sympathy or feel something towards these characters and that we can embark on a journey.”

Because of the characters' relationship, Taylor-Johnson spent a lot of the shoot working closely with Cranston. 

“Bryan”s f*cking brilliant,” he beamed. “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. Couldn”t have asked for anything better.”

Despite Cranston's tendency to crack jokes on-set, Taylor-Johnson promised that the film itself is deadly serious, and will avoid the camp factor found in other monster movies. 

“Do I think there”s any comedy sort of sense to it?,” he responded to a question. “Not really. It”s more sort of thriller, drama and passion. 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.”

“Godzilla” opens May 16.