Monster leap for rising star

Monster leap for rising star
Camera still of the new Godzilla movie

In the upcoming sci-fi monster thriller Godzilla, English actor Aaron Taylor-Johnson, 23, plays Lieutenant Ford Brody, a man who finds himself facing a mighty force that sets off a chain of events and takes him on a journey of personal redemption.

Known for his role in super-hero caper comedy Kick-Ass series, in which he plays the role of a masked vigilante Dave Lizewski, Taylor-Johnson came to prominence in the title role of Sam Taylor-Wood's Nowhere Boy, portraying future Beatle John Lennon during the musician's turbulent teenage years.

His riveting performance in Nowhere Boy earned him a London Critics' Circle Film Award nomination for Young British Performer of the Year, a British Independent Film Award (Bifa) nomination for Best Actor and the Empire Award for Best Newcomer. Screen International named the young actor as one of its Stars Of Tomorrow.

Taylor-Johnson started acting professionally at 6 and was most recently seen as one of two young rogues entangled in the Mexican drug war in Oliver Stone's Savages, starring alongside Taylor Kitsch, Blake Lively, Benicio Del Toro and Salma Hayek. He then essayed the role of Vronsky in Joe Wright's lush, Oscar-nominated adaptation of Tolstoy's Anna Karenina, which starred Keira Knightley, Jude Law, Matthew Macfayden, Olivia Williams and Emily Watson. He tells us more:

What drew you to Godzilla and how did you become involved in the project?

I met Gareth (Edwards). It was supposed to be a general meeting of 30 minutes to an hour max, which turned into six hours because we just clicked. I totally understood his vision and his ideas for the film, and was very taken by his genuineness. He's a very modest man, very humble. We just got along, and from there, it was more about Godzilla.

I mean, I got a call before about Godzilla, and it was not like, "Yes! I want to jump on that." I was very sceptical, like you would be, I think. But it all became very clear the moment I met Gareth and I knew exactly what kind of film he wanted to make. And I said, "Yeah, I'm in. I'm game on for that. I'd be glad to be a part of it."

You just go by your gut with these things. I mean, you can take that from me or you can see it in the other people in the cast, like Bryan Cranston, Juliette Binoche, Ken Watanabe, Lizzie Olsen, David Strathairn, Sally Hawkins. They all went through the same process, I'm sure.

When you were shooting the movie, what was Gareth like to work with as a director? Can you talk about your collaboration on your character's journey and the relationships in the film?

There were days when I was like, "How can you be so calm? There must be so much stress right now." He would just be so mellow. That's what the set was like.

It was the nicest job I've worked on in a long time because it was a happy environment. It was calm, and that all comes down to the director. I mean, he's tough as a pyramid, and he is just very humble, very soft-spoken and very charming. Nothing was too much to ask, nothing was too much trouble. He worked and collaborated with me, and with Bryan, constantly.

He's someone who embraces experiments and also gave us time for it. Sometimes you have to move on quickly, just make a decision and go. In this case, Gareth was very open in being able to try to float the waves. He had this thing sometimes where he didn't want to say "Action" as well. The camera would roll and it would just be on your own time. His thought behind that was that he didn't want to have that feeling of, "All right, now, go," which almost took you out of it, in a way. He's very in tune with all that, the way an actor is.

So, two seconds or a minute before you might be getting in that right head space, instead of bringing you out of it by saying "Action! Go," it was on your own time, which was nice.

He's a really wonderful man, and I love what he did. And we had great people. With (cinematographer) Seamus McGarvey, the movie looks stunning; it's epic. I'm really proud to be a part of it. It was a good choice to take this one on, for sure.

Can you talk about the atmosphere on the set in terms of doing stunts and interacting with on-set explosions, and also what it was like to interact with the digital elements of the film?

Yeah, I love all that. I embraced all of that. I would do as many stunts as I could possibly do. There was nothing too extreme that I couldn't do myself, so pretty much everything there I did. And I had a really great guy, a retired Marine named Jim Dever, who'd worked on a whole bunch of military movies before, to consult. He'd show me how to gear up, fire a gun, aim a gun, put it together, take it apart, anything military-based. He was like my army training officer.

I wanted to really get used to it, so I'd listen to the way he talked as well. It's kind of strange because I feel like the British and American armies are quite different. There's a different language. With the army, there's that military way of speaking, of just being very matter of fact, and having just a way of talking that's very different from normal civilian speech. So I'd listen to him and embrace that. But, yeah, everything was physical.

With the digital element, what was great about it was that there was barely any green screen on this movie. It's quite amazing. I've been on films that have no major monster special effects and yet they've had more green screen on that than I had on this one.

What's really great about it was that it was more about location and the environment around us. We'd film in a city, and they'd dress the city and blow up cars and flip them over upside-down and all sorts of stuff. And what they'd do is pan out to all the buildings that are around them, and in post-production, they'd just smash them all up. And in the film, they'd just be throwing rocks and things around you so it felt more like you were in it. You're in the environment rather than in a couple of cars in a studio with green screen all around you where you're having to act the environment as well as act in it.

Can you talk about working with Bryan Cranston to create the father-son dynamic between your characters, and with Elizabeth Olsen, who plays Ford's wife, Elle?

With Bryan, we were supposed to have this ever-rocky relationship of a father and son, where the years have passed with a lot of anger. But that's hard because he's so funny, so charming, and such a family man. You can't help but constantly have a laugh with Bryan.

I find his acting the most dynamic and inspirational. At times I question how he can have such amazing comic timing even before a take, and then, in the take, go into some deep emotional wreck ... it's beyond me. He's very talented and I find him amazing to watch. He's a brilliant actor, one of the best around at the moment.

Elizabeth is someone who is truly naturally gifted and she's a really charming, sweet friend. I enjoy working with her. I'm working with her again, actually. And she, too, can just break into emotions in just a flick. She's very talented. I really like working with her because we work similarly in the sense that we don't do the same thing twice. So when we do take one, take two, it's always very different. She gives different line readings and changes it up and explores it, and her doing that changes the way I react. And vice versa.

So that keeps it very natural and interesting. I think she's really interesting to watch. I loved her in Martha Marcy May Marlene. She's brilliant. I remember watching it and just thinking, "Wow, she's really raw and talented". She's good, man. Very cool. Very down to earth girl.

Catch Godzilla in cinemas nationwide (also available in 3D and IMAX 3D).

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