T h e G o d z i l l a I n t e r v i e w
T h e G o d z i l l a I n t e r v i e w
The Godzilla Interview
At a recent, San Diego-based ComicCon,Legendary Pictures made a great show of the deal it struck earlier this year with Japan’s Toho Co., Ltd., owner of the iconic Godzilla franchise, confirming that Legendary will produce a new Godzilla feature film now set for release in 2014. Warner Bros. will co-finance and co-produce the new Godzilla. In a 2010 press release Legendary Chairman and CEO, Thomas Tull, said:
“Godzilla is one of the world’s most powerful pop culture icons, and we at Legendary are thrilled to be able to create a modern epic based on this long-loved Toho franchise. Our plans are to produce the Godzilla that we, as fans, would want to see. We intend to do justice to those essential elements that have allowed this character to remain as pop-culturally relevant for as long as it has.”
Godzilla has appeared in 28 Toho films, the first one being the eponymous “Godzilla,” released in Japan 1954. Since bursting on the scene he has not only sparked a film franchise rivaled only by the James Bond franchise, or in gross revenues by the Star Wars franchise, but has also become integrated into globe-encompassing popular culture.
While Godzilla himself has been reluctant to grant interviews in recent years, Richard Newton was able to catch up with with the iconic and semi-reclusive actor at his Tokyo apartment in May for a rare sit-down. Godzilla, whose short temper is as legendary as his sudden bursts on the world stage, followed by inexplicable disappearances, granted the interview with only two ground rules: no questions regarding his days in rehab during the early 1990s or his wildly-publicized 2000 marriage to Molly Ringwald, followed by a quiet divorce less than 72 hours following the nuptials. Neither Toho Co., Ltd., Legendary Pictures nor Warner Bros. sanctioned this interview with the acclaimed film star. The following, far-ranging, no-holds-barred, sometimes tetchy interview was conducted mostly in English, although some Japanese was used, which is translated into English by the interviewer.
Newton: Thank you for taking the time to talk with me. Your apartment has a beautiful view. Can you ever see Mount Fuji from here?
Godzilla: You’re welcome. And, yes, occasionally, particularly during the autumn, you can see Fuji-san on the extreme left side of the large window. I’ve lived here for 20 years and don’t want to move, but if they put up a building that blocks my view of Fuji-san, I will. I don’t think there are any plans to, and it would have to be a large project (Godzilla’s apartment takes up most of the top floor of a 38 story building – RN). It’s funny, you know. I can’t even see Fuji-san most of the time, distance, smog, but just knowing it’s there is important to me. To a lot of Tokyoites.
You only rarely grant interviews. Why is that?
I usually say what I need to say in my films.
Well, getting right to your films, what do you think of the news about Toho’s deal with Legendary and one that seems to be green-lighted and about to shoot, with a summer 2015 release target date?
My phone rang a few months ago. There were discussions. Still are.
Are you concerned that they’ll CGI you like Tri-Star did in 1998?
Let me put it this way – Michael Bay’s the devil.
What do you mean by that?
What do think I mean? Bay’s been a one-man wrecking crew to the whole Sci-Fi genre, laying waste to every damn thing he’s touched. And David Cameron’s right behind him in the Hall of Shame with that Avatar crap he puked-up a few years ago.
You obviously feel very strongly about this. Is it CGI in particular, or something more?
Well of course it’s the CGI. First of all it looks fake. I can’t watch one of those pieces of plastic trash without standing up in the theater, you know – like the little boy in the Emperor’s New Clothes story? – and going, “Does anybody else here think this just looks like a cheesy, fake-o video game?!” (laughing) In fact, I actually did that one time, just recently. I think it was at first Transformers thing, a few years ago. I got applauded! Can you believe? Applauded! Then I walked out.
They could’ve just been applauding you, you know. Recognizing a star in the audience and all.
Maybe. But my point is that none of the American studios are making films anymore, at least not decent Sci-Fi ones. Maybe some of the Indie stuff. Just crap that’s done on a souped-up Mac, far as I can tell.
Besides your own, what films and filmmakers do you like from days gone by?
How long have you got?
First of all, I do like my films very much. I’m proud of them. Most of them. And even the clunkers have their moments. But as far as other films go. Eeeee, where do I start? I suppose (Japanese Director Akira) Kurosawa. I loved that man. Greatest regret of my life is that Toho would never let him direct me. Did you know that? They were afraid he’d bust the budget. (laughing) Sort of like Coppola and and Apocalypse Now, I suppose. Great film, by the way, one of my favorites, Apocalypse. Anyway, Kurosawa trained [Ishiro] Honda, who directed most of my films, many, maybe most, seems that way. Great guy to work with. But I never got to work with several directors who were going strong back when I was in what I consider my “classic” time, Rosellini, Truffault, Hitchcock, Wells. And John Ford, of course. But it still comes back to Kurosawa for me. Do you think Michael Bay’s ever sat his ass down and watched, I mean really watched, Ikiru, let alone Heaven & Hell (released in the West as High and Low), that he gets, I mean really gets The Seven Samurai? I doubt it. If he has it sure doesn’t show. I loved Robert Altman, too. I so wanted to work with him. I cried when I heard he passed away (in 2006). I cried when Kurosawa-san died (in 1998). I cried when John Frankenheimer died (in 2002). With all due respect to Honda-san, I’ll forever live under a small cloud of ennui, never having worked with those directors. Oh, and does anybody who has a pulse think that Michael Bay could ever in his life “get” a Woody Allan movie? Well!?
Do you like any contemporary directors?
Sure, sure. I mean, here in Japan Beat Takeshi (Takeshi Kitano) is still doing his thing. You know he almost cast me in the Horibe role in Fireworks (1997)? Not many people know that. I love that film. It’s got violence that would make Tarantino wince, or at least smile, I like Tarantino, too, a lot. Anyway, I really wanted to play Horibe. First of all, he’s a supporting actor, and I wanted to do that. I’ve got a reputation for being a prima donna, a scene stealer, and nothing could be further from the truth. I just do what the director tells me to do. Directors and actors, most of them, like working with me. So, a good supporting role is something I’m always ready for. Plus Horibe, who’s a cop, you know, is horribly injured and is in a wheelchair for most of the movie. That also appealed to me on so many levels. He’s unambiguously good. While I’ve enjoyed playing a complex, anti-hero, or hero-with-issues, I really would like to sink my teeth into an unalloyed good guy role, from beginning to end. Plus, with Horibe’s getting injured, and staying injured, it would have stretched me as an actor. Alas, it was not to be. I should add that Ren Osugi, who’s a friend of mine, played Horibe to perfection. As for other directors, I mentioned Tarantino. We could rock the screen, I’m sure. Barry Levinson always turns in a good day’s work, but he’s hardly “new generation,” is he? Deepa Mehta, out of Toronto, now she knows how to make a film that gets under your skin. Her Fire(1996), Earth (1998), Water (2005) trilogy was something for the ages and right up my ally. She knows how to touch the audience and we’re lacking that today. Do you think that The 400 Blows, Ikiru or even The Sting could be made today? No way. Juzo Itami’s another director who was under-appreciated in the West. Damn shame. Sort of a cross between Robert Altman and Barry Levinson. But he was his own man, of course. Loved him. We used to get together from time to time. He’d told me that he’d bring me in on a project whenever there was a place for me. Maybe he was just being nice. That’s not going to happen now. Damn shame. Anyway, the man was and remains a national hero. Stood up to the yakuza and everything (Itami’s 1991 Minbo no Onna, starring his wife, Nobuko Miyamoto, was a dark comedy about a lawyer hired by a prestigious hotel to run off a yakuza gang bent on threatening and extorting it into the ground. Itami was attacked and beaten by yakuza thugs after the film was released. He passes away in 1997. Props to A.M. for her editing on this section. – RN)
Schindler’s List was as story-driven as a film could be.
Agreed. And in another year and a half it will be a 20-year-old film. Besides, it had Nazi uniforms in it.
Nazi uniforms? What of it.
Everybody knows that any movie will draw 10-20% more people than it otherwise would if you put some Nazi uniforms in it. People go to movies with Nazi uniforms in them.
You’re just making that up.
No, I’m not. Some coalition of Hollywood directors commissioned a study years ago. For most people it’s like watching an incredibly clean, well-pressed, train wreck, and usually the Nazis get killed in horrific ways. I guaran-damn-tee you, if Me Versus Megalon had had a giant Nazi in it instead of that poseur, Jet Jaguar, it wouldn’t have bombed at the box office. I know for a fact that one of the producers of Water World begged for some Nazis in that film, but lost that battle and, well, the rest is history, eh? Believe me, they’ve listened to that guy since then.
I’d never heard that.
I know it for a fact. You can look it up. I’ll tell you something else. Everyone who’s anyone knows that in Die Hard (Director John) McTiernan told Alan Rickman to play (terrorist) “Hans Gruber” as if he was wearing a Gestapo Colonel’s uniform. I kid you not. It was a masterful piece of direction and it really brought out the (Godzilla does air quotes here – RN) “sophisticated, sociopathic arrogance” McTiernan was looking for. Rickman nailed it, too. No uniform, but that suave-ass sicko Nazi thing came through. Just like how Conrad Veidt did “Major Stasser” in Casablanca, but Veidt was wearing the uniform, Rickman wasn’t. By the way, you know the great [James] Coburn film, Our Man Flint? [the interviewer nods, recalling the cool, camp, 1966 American send-up of James Bond films, produced a generation before the “Austin Powers” Bond parody films]. The Nazi bad guy: “Hans Gruber.” Think that wasn’t on the minds of the Die Hard writers?
Whether or not deserved, you mentioned you prima donna reputation. Where do you think that comes from.
(Sighs) Oh, a number of things. Most of them should be pretty obvious. I win all my fights. Hey, it’s in the script, you know? Plus a lot of the actors I’ve worked with over the years, God bless them all, seemed to have this little thing in the back of their head where it was, you know, real. So they’re like thinking if they can beat me, and I mean really upstage me, in a fight scene, then they’ll be the next Godzilla. I blame The Method.
You mean “method acting?”
Yeh. I mean I’m not totally dismissing The Method, I’m just saying that there’s getting into a fight, and there’s getting into a fight, and for too many it was the latter. You know that King Kong broke one of my teeth, no, it was two of my teeth, shoving a tree, a freaking ginormous-ass tree down my throat when we did our thing? That was not in the script. I came this close to walking, but we only had a few more days of shooting left and he got all weepy and apologetic afterwards, so I let it go. Anyway, The Method kind of takes egos and ramps them up a few notches. Seems to me. But that’s the thing, I’m the one who gets walloped on and yet I’m the “prima donna.”
Well, you did hurt a lot, how many thousands? during your career.
Hey, nobody got hurt that didn’t get in my way first. Let’s get that straight.
So what did you think about the American-made 1998 Godzilla, the one staring Mathew Broderick?
If you think you’re going to get a rise out of me, you’re wrong. I thought it was a joke. Sure, I didn’t and don’t appreciate them using my name. And my lawyers won’t let me talk about all that. But I know who I am and everybody who inflicted that movie upon themselves knew that that wasn’t Godzilla. I tried to watch it. Hand to God, I tried. But I couldn’t sit through it. Couldn’t decide if that was CGI or Adam Sandler in a rubber suit. Either way it sucked.
What did your friends think of it?
Funny you should ask. I actually went to see it in L.A., maybe the second week it was out. A group of us went, in fact. Jack Nicholson, Ultraman, Warren Beatty, hell, there must have been seven or eight of us, just guys, altogether. Rode in some ostentatious Hummer limo thing over there. Oh, Jay Leno was with us, too. Ultraman was in town doing some commercial or something, so it was great to get together with him in the States. Anyway, I think we all gave it about a half hour, maybe forty-five minutes, then we all got the giggles, it was so bad. And pretty much all at once we just all got up together and staggered out of the theater laughing, crossed the street and ate some of the best Chinese I’ve ever had in my life. Everybody was on eggshells at first, I know, thinking I’d storm out or something, but when we all saw that it was a piece of crap. Well, you’ve got to laugh sometimes, right? By the way, I admire Mathew Broderick and am a big fan. One of the best stage actors in a generation. I mean that. He’s a good kid.
So how do you prepare for a role?
Not like I used to.
How did you used to?
In the first few films, when I didn’t have any idea what I was doing, but, frankly, think I did my best work then because I didn’t over think it. Hell, I didn’t think anything. Toyota-san would tell me to cry out, I’d cry out. Toyota-san tell me to do the radioactive ray thing, I’d do the radioactive ray thing. But by the mid-’60s, I was preparing, if you want to call it that, by marinating myself in liquor and pot. Lots of pot. You know that Scottish Highland dance I do in Kaijū Daisensō (1965, Released in the U.S. 1970 as Godzilla vs. Monster Zero – RN)? You know, right after smiting Monster X, somebody else, or whatever the hell I did, it’s all kind of a fog now. Anyway, that dance wasn’t all that was high. I couldn’t believe Toyota-san left that in the film. I think he did it to punish me. Now it’s become a cult classic scene. While I won’t go into it, I’ve been sober for almost twenty years. Now unlit cigars and whole milk are my only major vices. I still can’t get over how Americans look at me like I’m a freaking monster or something just because I drink whole milk. You all only drink that 2% swill over there now.
Well most Americans seem to. And they look at me like I’m nuts because I drink whole milk. Now that bothers me. At any rate, I’ve borrowed a page out of Jeff Bridges’ notebook, almost literally, and I’ll sit down and write-out a history of my character and his history with the others in the film. It gives a contextual framework for me to work with and within. And, of course, I talk about the script, a lot, with the other actors and the director, in the weeks leading up to shooting. And to show you what a prima donna I’m so very much not, I enjoy being on set even on days when my scenes aren’t up. I want to see the nuances and give and take between the other actors and the director. Again, it gives me context beyond just the words on the page and helps me groove on the continuity of the whole film. How other actors can just come on set, shoot, come back a week later – after all kinds of shit with the story and with the making of the story, have gone down – and just do their scenes, I just don’t know. Of course if I have shooting schedule downtime I won’t just hang out around the set. I’d only be getting in the way, plus I need to rehearse with others in my scenes, if they’re free, too. Last thing is that while I don’t mind rehearsing, my rehearsing means trying out a thousand things from a thousand angles. My directors, especially Toyota-san, have always let me use the scripts as a mere thumbnail. You know what Rosellini said about scripts, don’t you?
That only swine write them. (Laughs).
Does is bother you to be typecast?
When it means missing out on roles like Horibe in Fireworks, sure. But, like Leonard Nimoy, I’ve come to peace with my character. I’m cool with it now. I wasn’t always and, like I said, I’m always on the lookout for that perfect little role. Hell, I’d do a cameo, if it were the right thing.
What about stage.
I can’t. Stage fright.
Stranger things have happened. Yeh. Stage fright. Well not so much “fright,” as the inability to concentrate with an audience. I drop lines, can’t focus on the moment, you know.
When was your last time on stage?
1992. I was not long out of rehab. Feeling very positive about myself. In total fighting trim. So Biollante, incredible actor, and up and produce an Off Broadway of Little Shop of Horrors. At this great little venue, right next to Astor Place where Blue Man Group was packing them in night after night, but before they got bigger than big and went all Las Vegas. Anyway, we lasted less than a week. Nobody even remembers that, heh, heh, except those who’ll read this.
Wait a second. What roles did you play? Biollante played Seymore, the man-eating plant, right?
Well, yes. Of course. Biollante is a plant so, what else would she play?
So who did you play, Seymore?
No, actually, a French kid named Guy Lefèvre played Seymore. I played Orin Scrivello, DDS. The sadistic dentist. I wasn’t the lead, but what a fun character! But, frankly, my performance was sub-par. At least not up to my standards. And the critics just shred us. I’m glad I gave it a shot, though. If I hadn’t I’d always be wondering, you know?
Who are your favorite actors?
Of course my greatest thrill was being able to work with Shimura Takashi-san (Takashi Shimura, 1905-1982) in my very first film, in Godzilla. He played Dr. Yamane, you know. No one had Shimura-san’s range. He was in everything, just everything. Twenty-one of Kurosawa-san’s films. At any rate, we just met on the set a few times and for a wrap party and I was just in awe of him. Tongue-tied. But he was very gracious. Now this is going to surprise you, but King Ghidorah was a joy to work with. We just clicked.
Paul Newman. Met him once at some thing in the States. Talked to me like we’d been friends all our lives. Yet another great that I never got to work with. As for contemporary actors, I’ll see Beat Takashi or Ken Watanabe in anything they do. Of course [Ken] Watanabe’s going to be in my next film. Looking forward to working with him.
You’re quite the audiophile. What are you listening to these days?
I think my iPod’s mostly loaded with enka (Japanese folk songs — traditional tunes popular among “older crowd,” karaoke-loving lounge lizards — RN) which help keep me Centered, you know? But I like American music, too. Country. Real country. And lately I’ve been getting into Bollywood music. I’d love to do a film in Mumbai, but no one’s called me about that, yet.
What do you mean by “real country?”
Merle, Johnny, Buck, George Jones. Dottie West, Kitty Wells. I love Kitty Wells. She was all about sincerity, you know? All of them were. I guess Merle’s still touring. With Dylan two or three years ago, right? I haven’t seen Dylan in almost ten years. I think he did some of his best stuff when he had that stripped-down band, with Charlie Sexton. Anyway, about country. Yes, I like the real thing. Not this crap they call ‘country’ now. It’s a shame that America’s got this wonderful tradition that hardly anyone under 45 knows a damn thing about. The Avett Brothers are doing some good things though, and I dig the Cowboy Junkies, though they’re Canadian. Anyway, we have similar situations in Japan, too, of course. Where our young people are bursting with creativity, of a sort, but have no anchor in, or even any interest in, even the recent past.
I can see that you’ve also got a lot of vinyl taking up most of one of your large walls. What’s in there?
Mostly enka, American country and jazz. Lots of jazz. I like punk, too. But it’s pretty dead. Rock and Roll’s pretty much dead. Not completely, but mostly. A shame. But Beethoven’s dead and we can still listen to his music, and Mozart’s and Bach’s glories most anytime we want to. Same with the Ramones. I dig Cole Porter, too.
Blue Oyster Cult?
Hey, what can I say? They flatter me, of course. Quite humbling, actually. It’s a good tune. A good tune.
How’s your son doing?
Minya? Couldn’t be better.
Why did he give up acting?
You’d have to ask him that. You can if you want to. His restaurant’s just a fifteen minute walk from here.
Is that a hint?
No, it’s an invitation. Some of the best gyoza in town.
Thank you very much. It’s been a pleasure.
You’re quite welcome. I’ve enjoyed it, too.