Steve Newall visits the set of Godzilla vs Kong (in cinemas March 25) and talks to stars Alexander Skarsgård and Rebecca Hall.
In a darkened studio surrounded by cameras and crew, Alexander Skarsgård sits at the controls of a mysterious vehicle. At the call of “action”, Skarsgård is bathed in intensely bright, colourful lights and struggles with all his might to keep the shaking, shuddering craft en route to its undisclosed destination. Over the course of several takes, the actor is encouraged to vocalise the strain his character is experiencing and—there’s not really any other way to say this—sometimes his grunts of effort sound pretty damn sexual.
Looking around at the other media who’ve been invited onto the set, huddled around monitors and watching things unfold, none of them seem to mind. In fact, a smile or slight blush here and there perhaps suggest quite the opposite.
“We’re having fun in there,” Skarsgård tells us a few minutes later. “It’s not the most spectacular set. Some of the other sound stages are, obviously, bigger and crazier and more spectacular. But it’s still quite fun. It’s like a ride at an amusement park because [the vehicle] it’s on the gimbal, just shaking.”
We’re at Village Roadshow Studios on the Gold Coast to get a taste of upcoming blockbuster Godzilla vs Kong, and can attest to those comments about the other sound stages. Without giving too much away, we’ve been for a walk around a large city block destroyed during a monster fight. And we’ve peered inside the enormous skull of another Titan, built to its “real” size. There’s going to be a lot to take in when the film arrives in cinemas.
As the title suggests, the film pits two gargantuan creatures against one another for our entertainment. This fourth film in Legendary Entertainment’s “MonsterVerse” brings together the storylines of two previous Godzilla films with that of Kong: Skull Island, further fleshing out the mythology of a world once dominated by enormous Titans. As befits the colourful lightshow we’ve just witnessed, director Adam Wingard takes the reins on this installment and, in the scene we saw with Skarsgård, indulges in the bright neons his excellent 2014 thriller The Guest was bathed in.
Skarsgård is effusive with praise for his director. “They chose him for a reason because they really believed in him and they like him, and his aesthetic, and his style of directing,” he tells us. “And I’ve enjoyed it tremendously. He’s obviously very, very smart and knows the universe. He’s such a film buff. He’s seen every single Godzilla movie, every single Kong movie so he’s so knowledgeable which is, obviously, quite helpful. But he’s also so lovely to collaborate with because he gives us a tremendous amount of freedom in creating.”
“To be in here on these crazy sound stages is super fun,” says Skarsgård, “as well as when you have an opportunity to come up with stuff. We would be like, ‘Alright. What if this type of creature came and did that,’ and we’ll just brainstorm something, and then three days later, something will come back and they have drawn an initial model of it. We’re like, ‘Oh. Fuck. That’s great!’ and then two months later you’re actually shooting that scene that you kind of, together, came up with.
“It’s incredibly fun to get to be that involved in the creative process, like I said, as opposed to just showing up and like, ‘Oh. What am I doing today? What am I saying? What are my lines?’ but to feel like, ‘Oh. Fuck. We’re shaping this and everyone is on board.’ In that sense, Adam is such a great leader because, again, he has absolutely no ego. He’s just a really sweet guy and he doesn’t feel the need to prove himself on set, or to kind of pound his chest, or be like, ‘I’m the leader here.'”
With Kong in the mix, the chest-pounding is already bound to be well-covered in the finished film—but Godzilla vs Kong doesn’t look like it’s just going to be a big macho-fest. Rebecca Hall plays an anthropological linguist who’s spent a decade studying Kong and whose relationship to Jia, a young girl from Skull Island, is like that of an adoptive mother. That’s a dynamic we see playing out between actors on set, with both Hall and Skarsgård both appearing very close to, and supportive of, Kaylee Hottle, the deaf child actor playing Jia. In Hall’s case, it seemed that extended to signing with Kaylee in ASL [American Sign Language].
“It’s always interesting working with child actors,” Hall tells us, “because there’s a sort of freshness and a naivety about the process—and that often makes them brilliant, intuitive actors. And so it’s fascinating, I find. There’s just such an immediacy. And Kaylee has such a natural aptitude. But also watching how she deals with it, and understanding about deaf culture in relation to acting and how that’s perceived, and how it’s rare that someone who is deaf portrays an actual deaf person—this kind of idea is really interesting. And I think she’s amazing. I’m learning from her daily. Not just the ASL. A lot more.”
For Hall, it conjures memories of her childhood experiences on set. “I tease her about the snacks that she eats on set all day. As an actor, they’re always like, “Do you need anything? Tea, snacks, whatever?” And I have to say one of my biggest memories about doing The Camomile Lawn [at the age of 10] was that people were always bringing me snacks. And it was so exciting. I would be like, “Where’s the doughnuts? Let’s go!”
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Skarsgård also found the experience of working with Kaylee fascinating, he tells us. “It’s so interesting to study her on set and how she just absorbs information and how she reads—obviously, everything has to be visual for her—and she’s so perceptive and open in how she understands everything. And, also, it’s her first movie, but how comfortable she is in front of the camera and how quickly she takes notes from Adam.
“He’ll explain something, she’s like, ‘Got it. Got it,’ and then she’ll just do it and everyone’s like, ‘What the fuck? How did she–?’ She’s so professional and so good. I mean, she has so much going on in her face so the expression and the subtleties of that is just fascinating to watch. So, yeah, she’s definitely stealing the movie.”
Whether or not Kaylee will enjoy the finished product is another story though. Through an interpreter, she confesses that monster movies are not really her favourite type of movie, to a lot of laughter. “I like movies that include music and dancing and that kind of stuff,” Kaylee tells us.
With Hall playing a linguist and Skarsgård a geologist and cartographer, the pair might not provide much dancing (and that kind of stuff). But, Skarsgård tells us, he’s enjoyed avoiding playing the stereotypical action hero. “He’s not used to being out in the field,” he explains. “He’s working with computers and maps so for him to be thrown into this is fucking scary. And I thought it’d be fun to play him in that way because, hopefully, then the stakes are higher for the audience as well, if they feel like, “Shit. He’s out of his depth here. He has no idea what he’s doing.”
“I don’t want to give too much away about the character, obviously,” Skarsgård teases, “but he’s a fan of movies from the ’80s and has these action heroes and has some guys from ’80s movies that he’ll look up to. That’s kind of how he tries to navigate his way when it gets very scary and very dangerous because he knows he’s not a tough guy and he can’t do this, so his mantra is kind of like, ‘What would these guys do? If they were here today, how would they man up and take control of the situation in a way that I can’t?” So that’s been quite fun to play.”