Titans star in ‘Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire’

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NEW YORK, March 24, (AP): There was no question who the stars were on “Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire.” It wasn’t Rebecca Hall, Brian Tyree Henry, Dan Stevens or any of the humans. As actors have known since the early days of cinema, the star is the one with their character’s name in the title, even if in this case they never actually, technically, came to set. “They are the stars of the movie,” Hall told The Associated Press. “We’re the scale.” Or, as Stevens put it: “We’re just the side show.” The film, in theaters everywhere March 29, is a sequel to “ Godzilla vs. Kong,” the 2021 showdown between the 393-foot Godzilla and 337- foot Kong. It’s also continuation of Legendary’s Monsterverse that goes back to 2014’s “Godzilla” and 2017’s “Kong: Skull Island.”

If there seems to be an inherent stakes issue of “where do you go after the versus,” for filmmaker Adam Wingard the path seemed clear. He heard the screams and cheers in the theater when the giants battled Mechagodzilla together: For the sequel, he knew they needed to team up. “The last film on the surface looks like an everything in the kitchen sink type movie: We battle all over the world, we do all these crazy things. But there’s still so much left to do,” Wingard said. “These movies can hold up with the Titans, the monsters, as the point of view.” “Godzilla x Kong” contains long sequences of dialogue-free storytelling focused only on the monsters – especially Kong, who has found his home in Hollow Earth but is a little lonely. He also introduces several new titans, including Skar King (318 feet tall), and a mini Kong named Suko (149 feet tall). For Wingard, it felt both groundbreaking to do on a film of this scale and also like a lifetime dream come true. It is, he said, the movie he wanted to see at age 10, when he first fell for Godzilla films.

“The whole drive I had for myself as a filmmaker in making this movie was trying to appeal to the inner 10-year-old in me,” Wingard said. “Because that was my initiation into the whole thing I think I’m still sort of aiming towards that kid, trying to show him a good time.” Loving Godzilla movies and making one is a different proposition entirely. Just ask the actors. “The first movie I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know how big the movie actually was,” said Kaylee Hottle, who is deaf, through an interpreter. “And at the end I thought to myself, oh, that was cool.” She was only 10 during the first movie and 15 while filming the second, working most closely with Hall, who plays her adoptive mother. “There was a very steep learning curve that she completely scaled in no time at all,” Hall said. “In this one she was that much older and wiser and smart to the whole thing.” Hall was also excited to finally share some scenes (and dialogue) with Henry, back as the monster fanboy/conspiracy blogger Bernie Hayes. “I remember on the first one I was quite sad that Brian and I only had one day of filming together for the end scene,” Hall recalled. Henry agreed, saying “there was a lot of play that we wanted to have on this one” and they knew they were in good hands with Wingard, who is a “kid at heart.” On Halloween, he came to set dressed as 1930s director. The newcomer was Stevens, who starred in Wingard’s 2014 thriller “The Guest.” His character, Trapper, is a Titan veterinarian in a Hawaiian shirt.

Character
“I think his pitch to me was a particular scene where my character gets to fl y this crazy spaceship through electrical buzzing creatures, saying cool lines,” Stevens said. “I was like, ‘that sounds great.’” Henry said the character was a bit like Patrick Swayze’s in “Road House.” Stevens added: “With a sprinkling of Ace Ventura in there.” They kept one another sane on the green or blue screen days of filming with a guy with a foam finger or a tennis ball on a stick to help get their eyes looking in the right place. All agree that “Kong neck” (getting your neck at the proper angle to gaze upon the titans for extended periods) can be a real struggle. And just as actors don’t quite formally train for “Kong neck,” directors also don’t get instructions on just how to make a movie like this. Wingard said by the end of the first, he’d just started to feel comfortable.

“You can read every back issue of Cinefex Magazine that exists, but until you’re actually making one of these things and learning how to frame eyelines for characters looking up at 300-foot-tall monsters and trying to get emotional reactions out of that? There’s only so many ways to create these monsters too,” he said. “Almost half of it is fully animated sequences. It’s like you’re making an animated film, it’s just hyper realistic.” That’s part of the reason why he made sure to take his actors and crew to real locations every chance they got, including the Daintree Rainforest in Australia. There were giant anacondas and cassowaries around, but the biggest anxiety was doing any harm to the environment. Many meetings were had about not touching anything, which is especially funny for a Godzilla movie. But it was all worth it. “It’s so easy to shoot everything in front of a green screen,” he said.

“But at the end of the day there’s an artificiality to that.” Hall and the other actors noted how important the sets and locations were to the experience – especially with two noshow stars who had to be added later. “Kong and Godzilla wouldn’t show up to set, so you had to make believe,” Hall said. “Stayed in their trailer all day,” Stevens joked. If it seems like there’s a lot of “Godzilla” in theaters lately, it’s true. “ Godzilla Minus One,” the first Toho Godzilla film since 2016’s “Shin Godzilla,” just won the Oscar for best visual effects. It also did well in U.S. theaters in December and January, but had to make a graceful exit by February because of the licensing deal with Legendary. That doesn’t mean there’s ill will between the productions. “Godzilla Minus One” director Takashi Yamazaki and Wingard have geeked out together about Kaiju and how their cats inspired their Godzillas. But it could also take some time before “Godzilla Minus One” gets a streaming release stateside, at least until the dust settles from “Godzilla x Kong.” Warner Bros., which has released several hits in recent months including “ Wonka ” and “ Dune: Part Two,” is rolling “Godzilla x Kong” out nationwide and exclusively in theaters. Like the first “Dune,” “Godzilla vs. Kong” was part of the company’s 2021 day-and-date release strategy. And yet it still did business, both in theaters and on streaming where it was for a time the streamer’s biggest hit. Wingard liked being part of that moment when theater owners were reassured that audiences still wanted to come to the cinemas. But he’s excited to just get a normal release this time, without the pandemic caveat. Both Godzilla and Kong are some of the oldest movie stars still in action, after all. “It’s so massive in scale. It’s so grand,” Henry said. “This is the kind of movie you go to the theaters for because you don’t want to be the only one Kong necking.”

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