Bryan Cranston brings humor to the set of the serious ‘Godzilla’

VANCOUVER – He may have sold crystal meth as Walter “Heisenberg” White on “Breaking Bad,” but Bryan Cranston really just wants to push free ice cream on his friends. 

When a group of fellow journalists and I were invited to visit the massive Vancouver set of Legendary Pictures and Warner Bros.' upcoming “Godzilla” reboot last year, it happened to coincide with Cranston's last day of principal photography. As a sign of his gratitude to the cast and crew, the Emmy winner rented a local ice cream truck for the day. With a picture of Heisenberg adorning the side of the truck, Rocky Point Ice Cream dished out Godzilla-themed flavors.

If that was any indication, the new “Godzilla” seems to be headed in the right direction, with many fans in awe of the film's trailers and promotional materials. 

“Godzilla” is the latest take on the classic nuclear age Japanese monster, and the studio is hoping to eradicate any lingering memories of Hollywood's last attempt at the creature feature — 1998's dismal Roland Emmerich-directed effort.

To that end, director Gareth Edwards (“Monsters”) has assembled a formidable cast, led by Cranston. 

Playing Joseph Brody, a nuclear physicist who travels the globe along with his soldier son Ford (played by “Kick-Ass” star Aaron Taylor-Johnson), Cranston finds himself uncovering a vast conspiracy involving Godzilla, and several other monsters, as well as smaller-scaled creeps dubbed “Mutos.”

The scene we witnessed being filmed found father and son exploring the decrepit ruins of a house in Japan (is that a Godzilla footprint in the floor?), before a loud noise startles them. “Something happened at the plant near their home” in the past, Cranston told us, with an air of mystery. Joe assumes it's part of a larger cover-up, while Ford is initially skeptical when it comes to the idea of giant monsters.

While the film refers to events from the original 1954 film, it's not specifically a sequel. Taking place in different locales, over several decades, the film has a through-line from 1999 to today, observing the Godzilla phenomenon through the eyes of the Brody family. 

Cranston was, naturally, careful not to give too much of the plot away, but explained that this “Godzilla” is a globetrotting adventure, and revolves around his character's family's run-ins with the creature through the decades.

It starts in 1999, “when [Taylor-Johnson”s] character of ‘Ford” is a boy, when this eruption starts to happen, and then there”s a big situation that happens that catapults us to the next jump in time, and that”s when we pick up the story in 2014, and that”s when [Ford] is a grown man with his own family.” 

With action in Japan, Hawaii and San Francisco, we were told several times that this “Godzilla” will be a gritty, “boots-on-ground” look at the mythos, more “Blackhawk Down” than Toho fantasy. 

It also stars Elizabeth Olsen, Juliette Binoche, Sally Hawkins, David Strathairn and Ken Watanabe. 

Like most mega-budget studio tentpoles, secrecy reigned on the set, even to the point where the word “Godzilla” was at times verboten

“I haven't said the word,” Cranston revealed conspiratorially. “I”m not allowed to. What”s funny is that there was a lot of secrecy about the whole thing, and early on they were calling it 'Nautilus,' so I”m going through Canadian immigration, and trying to get my paperwork, and the [immigration] guy was very efficient. ‘What are you working on?” ‘A movie.” ‘What”s the name of the movie?” ‘Nautilus.” And that”s when his eyes went up. ‘You mean “Godzilla”.”  And I go,” Yeah.” Even he knew!”
The big, green guy has apparently always captured the imagination of Cranston. “I love Godzilla!” the actor enthused. “What I loved as a boy was Godzilla more than King Kong, because he just destroyed everything without any apologies. I loved it!”

The jovial Cranston was constantly looking for a laugh. When asked about whether his character is involved in the film's epic-looking action, he promised that we'd see “some ‘hot scientist” action!  Some ‘scientist on scientist” action. You can”t miss it!  Sometimes there”s some ‘three-way” scientist action. Oh yeah!”

He also joked that the “Malcolm in the Middle” family would adopt Godzilla if they met him. “We would honor Godzilla, as the alpha of the group.”  

The lovely Oscar winner Juliette Binoche plays his wife, and Cranston cracked that he “rewrote a lovemaking scene, and submitted that. It didn”t make it into the script, so then I suggested, ‘You wanna work on the scene outside of set?””

About the film's titular star, Cranston deadpanned, “He”s in his trailer. That guy, such an asshole. I gotta tell you, when he gets on the set, he delivers though, so I see why he keeps coming back to make movie after movie, because he”s good. He”s just a prick.”

Go to page 2 to read what Cranston thinks of Godzilla's new design, and working with director Gareth Edwards.
Although he hadn't yet seen the final design (and had to react to empty green screens standing in for Godzilla), Cranston had an idea of what the beast will look like in the film. “The new design is basically back to an old design,” he explained. “The scale surprised me. The extreme size of it compared to the MUTOs that they are fighting. When you see the MUTO it”s enormous, but it”s not nearly as big as Godzilla.”

While we also didn't get to see Godzilla on the set (the completely CG creation was added in later), the creature's scale was immediately apparent. Likewise, Cranston and the other interviewees were tight-lipped about the film's other giant monsters (the allegedly insect-like MUTOs are apparently spawned by radiation on a Filipino military base), but signs of destruction were everywhere, with Edwards presiding over the whole gigantic operation. 

Cranston found working with Edwards a breeze. “He”s remarkably calm,” the actor explained. “I always look for someone who has a clear vision, and yet is malleable, so that the vision isn”t set in stone, rigid, ‘my way or the highway” kind of thing, which you do run up against sometimes. I think it would be shooting yourself in the foot, because the triumvirate of writer, actor and director is what you want.  

“So before I even signed on, I had two very lengthy conversations over the phone when I was still shooting ‘Breaking Bad,” he continued. “At first I was a little reticent…because I was coming off of a very well-written show with a very compelling storytelling, that it”s going to be compared, whatever I do.  Then I thought that I didn”t want to be a prude about it either. I want to be able to embrace the largesse of it, the uniqueness of it, and the fun! But what won me over is the story-line and Gareth”s commitment.  He came after me, we talked, and I told him the initial problems I had with the script, and then we started talking some more, and then pretty soon, if you are not careful, as an actor you start to take ownership of it, and then you are sunk.”

While Max Borenstein (“Seventh Son”) is credited with the screenplay, but work was also done by David Callaham (“The Expendables”), David S. Goyer (“Man of Steel”), Drew Pearce (“Iron Man 3”) and Frank Darabont (“Shawshank Redemption”). 

Cranston was able to inject some of his ideas into his character's scenes, however. “As you know, there are a lot of writers on this. I don”t know who did what, and whose sensibility was woven through,” he said. “There were some minor things, just points of view. For instance there was a thing where my character assumes that my son is going to go with me on this dangerous excursion, and I just thought that was wrong. It was an easy fix. And then I proposed a couple of things, like more (of a) broad stroke kind of sentiment.” 

Working with the absentee Godzilla was another story altogether. 
“It”s like a laser pointer,” Cranston said of the imaginary beast. “‘OK, see where the laser is now on the green screen?,'” he laughed. “That”s part of an actor”s bag anyway, just imagination. I think it was probably easier for my generation too, because we got bored easily in the back seat of a station wagon and there was nothing to do and you had to just daydream. I never thought that my extensive daydreaming catalogue would actually come in handy someday, and it really has. It”s interesting, because I wonder if this new generation that has instant entertainment at every turn will in a sense fully develop an imagination, or will it be derivative of what they see that”s hitting them all of the time, because they don”t have a chance to wonder on their own?”
“Godzilla” opens May 16.