The effects in Godzilla films have changed dramatically, partly due to the advancements in performance-capture technology. The franchise has come a long way from the practical effects of a man in a rubber suit. While we can chat with writers, directors and critics about the most famous kaiju in pop culture, it’s a different discussion when you talk to the actors who actually inhabit those creatures for a living.
All four of the performance-capture actors involved with Godzilla: King of the Monsters — Richard Dorton (Ghidorah, left head), Jason Liles (Ghidorah, center head), Alan Maxson (Ghidorah, right head) and T.J. Storm (Godzilla) — met up at a coffee shop in Los Angeles for an exclusive interview with CBR. Amid laughs, banter and monster snarls, they opened up about their experiences playing the characters, and shared some fun behind-the-scenes stories.
CBR: This first question is for Richard, Jason and Alan. What did you prepare once you realize you got the role of a three-headed dragon?
Jason Liles: I watched some of the old films, and I realized I can't really pull too much from that because it's got to be so realistic. So I looked at it like it's kind of like a snake. I went to the zoo and looked at snakes and reptiles and went out on a hike and tried to walk around like a three-headed dragon. No one ever saw that.
How did that differ for the two of you [Richard and Alan] then?
Richard Dorton: I thought I was going into an audition. You show up, and you’re in a board room. I was dressed in sweats and a t-shirt, ready to go, ready to move. And we go in there, and they're like, “Sit down. We want to show you some video. What do you think of this? What do you think about that?” So basically, it turned into a meeting where we were like, “I’m being respected as an actor, and I don’t have to audition?”
Alan Maxson: I think we all had a similar experience where all three of us went in, with workout clothes, ready to show off what we can do.
T.J., when you were asked back again to do Godzilla, did you know that the rest of these guys would be in the room with you?
T.J. Storm: I, like them, I was like, “Oh, OK, I’m going to audition again. Fine.” I didn't know what it was. I was out in the park warming up, and I went upstairs, and you walk into a massive waiting room. And it's like a cartoon. You walk in and —
Maxson: And you see a 15-foot Godzilla made of rock.
Storm: Yeah, Godzilla’s there, and he's bigger than you are, and you’re like—
Liles: Kong: Skull Island poster, Godzilla poster, whaaaat—
Storm: Hardwood floors, space in every direction, and one giant desk with one person about 50 feet away.
Maxson: You feel special walking in there for sure.
The director, Michael Dougherty, said he literally tied you guys together at one point?
Dorton: He did, and that didn't end up working.
Liles: We ended up having, like, his arm on my back, his arm on my back, and holding each other.
Dorton: We also had wings, but there was no way we could coordinate.
Maxson: We almost had to simplify it. What they wanted was awesome. It was a great idea, but simpler made more sense.
Dorton: As long as we stayed connected, then we can all move together without tripping over each other.
Maxson: Since the last scenes were battling T.J., there's moments where we're physically touching each other. And if we're all literally velcroed to each other, it makes it easier to fall when you’re not supposed to. So it’s easier to free range it a little bit.
Liles: They showed us [Ghidorah actors] every scene, one at a time, from the beginning to the end of the movie. We went into Legendary’s offices. We watched it, we're high-fiving and screaming and stuff.
And then in the performance-capture volume, they had a big screen where they showed from beginning to end and once scene at a time. Here's the first scene. It was like, 10, 20, 30 seconds. OK, so it's A, B, C, D, so let's just act that out. See how that feels. And we would do that a few times. Cool, let's move on. We just did that for three days. And this is what we look like:
There’s a toy Godzilla at the bottom, if you notice. And our fantastic faces.
Dorton: We did a lot of growling and sniffing.
Maxson: We made Mike’s dog flip out.
Liles: He was there on the third day for a little bit. And when we got into it, the dog started barking, and they had to hold him back.
Maxson: Because we were all snarling and crawling—
Liles: And spitting and everything ... [Dougherty] said he had three dogs, same breed, and they're completely different. He wanted to see that with a three-headed dragon as well.
Maxson: He gave us three different personalities.
Dorton: It gave us something to play against. The left head is the curious head, so I wasn't quite as angry. I like to say, I play with my food when I burn it. We react to each other too, and how we attack him is going to be very different.
Maxson: Because [Jason]’s supposed to be the alpha, so what I did, because I’m supposed to be the angry head, is I didn't like that he was the alpha.
Liles: Oh, really?
Maxson: There were times where [Jason] would tell Richard where to go, what to do, and I’d take a moment… and there’d be times where [Richard]'d be licking stuff. And [Jason]'d be like, what's next? And I’d be like destroying stuff, because I don’t care.
T.J., what’s the personality of Godzilla?
Storm: It's a reaction to what's going on, I think. And [Dougherty] gave us the direction at any given point. But Godzilla returns as a result of something else. He breaks out of his normal routine, as you can see in the movie. There is a serious threat to the world, a serious threat that doesn't come from this world, and it is his ancient enemy. And he goes out of his way to hunt it down and try to deal with it.
Liles: I saw it as, like, you're Batman. And we're the Joker. And we start stirring up some crazy crap, and Batman’s got to stop the Joker.
Storm: Joker, The Riddler and Two-Face, actually.
Liles: Yeah, it’s all together, it’s true.
The fight scenes are just so entertaining. How much of that is you battling it out in the rehearsals?
Storm: We got to thank the magic of the digital artists because the amount of physics that they put into the crushing force that you see when they're slamming each other. Yeah, we push each other and boxes, but they make it look like we slammed each other at 40 miles an hour.
Liles: There are pads we fall onto.
Maxson: Our buildings were cardboard boxes, so nothing hurt.
Michael described watching you all in action as like watching children playing. Is that similar to how you guys feel about your careers?
Dorton: Totally. Like, this is a job? We actually get paid to do this? I mean, it is amazing. It's not work for us. If you do what you love, how can you call it work?
Maxson: If you're working with actors you’ve never met before, there's a bit of professionalism there that is extra. But since we all were comfortable with each other, we had extra fun. And now you see it when we go to the cons and stuff. We're kaiju brothers.
Liles: I described what we got to do as literally like when you're a kid, and your parents went out on a date. You gotta move all the furniture out of the living room, and you play monsters on the carpet. That’s literally what we did. It was just a massive carpet space where we just played monsters. But took it very seriously.
In the movie, are you able to see what you did?
Liles: We were elbowing each other the whole time.
Maxson: There were moments where I could see our faces for us.
Liles: Which is amazing, considering it’s reptiles, and they don't have anywhere near the musculature that we have.
Have any of you been tapped for work in Godzilla vs. King Kong?
Storm: We're never allowed to talk about any of it. And that's almost true of almost everything with motion capture, at least, because motion capture itself is very, very expensive. Horribly expensive. And they're investing so much, and motion capture is one of the last things to go in.
So by the time it gets to performance capture, they've invested so much money that they don't want their competitors to know what is going on until they drop it at their own time. And so we are under stacks of NDAs for almost every single project. And we're all working on different projects, no doubt. And we're all under stacks of NDAs. Always.
Liles: I would say I would love to be a part of the next one. I mean, I’ve worked with director Adam Wingard before, so I don’t know. But I will say I would love to have a part in it and continue because it’s Godzilla.
Any other interesting anecdotes to share from your onset experiences?
Dorton: The fan aspect is unbelievable. I’ve had artwork sent to us by our fans. One guy sent an old Ghidorah action figure, like, from the '80s, and he said, “I found this. I wanted to send it to you.”
Liles: I didn’t get one of those.
Maxson: Left head rules, I guess.
Liles: I want the fans to know I love them. They're just so welcoming instantly. They're like our family… I'm honored to have that small part and to be able to do this.
Storm: And I definitely want to say, if we get a chance to, thank you to the actors who were before us who created all of this because there is no this without all of their hard work... Thank you to them and to the future Godzillas and Ghidorahs — they’re kids and young adults right now. Enjoy it and internalize it and live it and play and make great stuff for us all to watch.
Directed by Michael Dougherty, Godzilla: King of the Monsters stars Vera Farmiga, Ken Watanabe, Sally Hawkins, Kyle Chandler, Millie Bobby Brown, Bradley Whitford, Thomas Middleditch, Charles Dance, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Aisha Hinds and Zhang Ziyi.