By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—Not counting her cameo as the Scarlet Witch at the end of “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” Elizabeth Olsen makes her big action movie debut in the latest remake of the Japanese classic monster movie “Godzilla.”
The 25-year-old California native has been the darling of low-budget, independent films for the past few years, delivering memorable performances in “Martha Marcy May Marlene,” the American remake of the popular South Korean drama “Oldboy” and the suspense horror film “Silent House.” With those and more solid performances in other films, the younger sister of actresses/business moguls Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen has established herself as one of Hollywood’s most promising young actresses.
“Godzilla” is based on the 1954 black-and-white Japanese monster movie about a destructive sea creature from the deep. It emerged as a symbol of the horrors of nuclear war. A couple dozen sequels, remakes and reboots have followed from both sides of the Pacific over the past 60 years. Hollywood’s last attempt to create a big-screen blockbuster focused on the destructive monster was a box office dud. That was 1998.
Filmmaker Gareth Edwards (“Monsters”) hopes to have learned lessons from that failure by going back to the roots of the original “Godzilla.” Olsen says she was instructed not to look at any other versions of the monster movie except the original, which she did.
In this newest incarnation, Olsen plays Elle Brody, a young military wife and mother to a four-year-old son. While her husband (played by “Kick-Ass” star Aaron Taylor-Johnson) is deployed on far off assignments deactivating bombs, she is home in San Francisco taking care of their child and holding down a fulltime job as a nurse. When her husband goes to Japan in search of his estranged father (Brian Cranston), a former nuclear engineer who believes there is something suspicious going on at a long-shuttered plant, she is left at home wondering and worrying about when or if she will ever see him again. Concern turns to fear when a pair of monsters, one of them winged, and Godzilla, a creature born of a nuclear incident, converge on San Francisco to battle it out.
Olsen spoke by phone about making her first effects-laden popcorn movie, being part of historic franchise and playing a mom onscreen for the first time. Recently engaged to actor Boyd Holbrook, Olsen says “Godzilla” was a fun project to do, especially since she is working again with co-star Taylor-Johnson on next year’s “The Avengers: Age of Ultron,” where, strangely enough, they play twins.
Q: “Godzilla” is your first big popcorn movie. What, in particular, was your interest in doing it?
Olsen: It was actually a combination of things. First, when I was asked, “Do you want to take this meeting for ‘Godzilla,’ I was like, ‘Well, I don’t know.’ I wasn’t from a generation that had a “Godzilla” that was epic. So I don’t understand what “Godzilla” is, what he represents or the history. So I was like, “Sure. It’s being made by Legendary Pictures and Gareth (Edwards, the director) seems like a cool guy. Maybe that will be cool.” So I went in open-minded and totally naïve to anything “Godzilla.”
Q: What did you learn once you signed on to the role?
Olsen: I learned from Gareth what “Godzilla” represent in Japanese culture, and how it’s been changed over time, and how Americans have never really rooted back to what its core base was. (In our movie), we really respect the origin and tell our story from that. That and Gareth’s vision along with the ensemble cast they pulled together was definitely enough reason to want to be part of it. They were still developing the script (when I signed on) so everything ended up being collaborative, which you never think these (big Hollywood) movies are.
Q: You’re 25, playing a young wife and mother for the first time. Was that an interesting challenge for you to be playing someone with those big responsibilities?
Olsen: That was one of the most exciting bits about it for me, actually. When Gareth told me, “We want you to be a wife, and we’re playing with the idea of (you and Aaron) being young parents,” I loved it. There’s something so brave in being a mother. Elle’s not a single mom but her husband is always abroad doing his job while she’s at home during her job and raising a four-year-old. She has to be brave and selfless and always think of others before herself in times of disaster, which is interesting to me. She has a lot of responsibilities. She has a responsibility to her child and her job at the hospital. Those two factors were interesting for me, and so I wanted to find the bravery in those moments.
Q: You have a duel role. You’re the one at home wondering when you’re husband’s coming home. You have to emit a lot of emotional stuff while on the phone and then there’s the physical part of your character where you’re running away from the monster and falling debris. Which aspect of your character was more exciting to do?
Olsen: The part I feel more confident in is the straight up home stuff and trying to make sure the person you love is safe. That’s the part I understand a bit more. Then, the other bits, working with something like special effects, working with something that’s not there and using your imagination, is a tool that I think actors develop that skill. They develop that skill of staring at a tennis ball and imagining that you’re talking to someone. I’m happy that I had “Godzilla” as a steppingstone for “Avengers,” which I’m working on now. They’re worlds apart, but it’s something I’m learning, new skills I’m developing, which always is the goal for me.
Q: What did you learn about the origins of “Godzilla?”
Olsen: That’s one of the main reasons I wanted to do this. (Co-star) Ken Watanabe was saying earlier today how it was made 60 years ago in response to World War II and nuclear weapons and Hiroshima, and that was the greatest fear. Three years ago, there was a nuclear power plant that combusts. It’s still a huge fear in Japan. And it’s the same fear 60 years later. So we referenced all of that in the film, directly with Ken’s character and the history of Ken’s character, and the history of the monster, as well as the negligence of humanity and the obsession to control nature or wild beasts. That’s what makes this film so strong in comparison to the Americanized “Godzilla” films.
Q: Have you visited Asia?
Olsen: I’m going to go to Japan for the Tokyo premiere of this film. I can’t wait. I’m so excited.
Q: Will this be your first trip to Japan?
Olsen: Yeah. It’ll be an epic trip to Japan with the 60th anniversary of “Godzilla,” walking side-by-side with Ken Watanabe.
Q: How do you stay fit on a production of a movie like this where you’re running around?
Olsen: I’m not really required to stay fit, but I grew up dancing and being an athlete so I don’t think of my job as physically challenging. I’m always trying to stay healthy. You always want to have good energy on set because they are long hours and you are in weird elements, like freezing rain. Those are things you can’t control, but you just have to make sure you take vitamins and eat right and have good health. You don’t sleep as much as you like and you do work long hours and you do need stamina. I end up taking better care of myself when I’m working than when I’m not.
Q: You and Aaron have great chemistry. Were you a fan of “Kick-Ass?”
Olsen: We didn’t do much hanging out outside of set. We did have the luxury of a week of rehearsal with Gareth. We just got on well. We did talk a lot about our characters’ history and how we believed the relationship is as opposed to what’s on the page. Those kinds of things we discussed full on. I really enjoy working with Aaron. We really feel like brother and sister. We have that kind of relationship really. I love everything he’s done. He’s done a lot of interesting projects, and he’s great in all of them. They’re all so different.
Q: What was it like playing husband and wife with him in this movie, and having to transition to brother and sister in the next “Avengers?”
Olsen: It’s awesome. To play really tight twin brother and sister, it’s really lucky that it’s not with some guy I just met. We both like the fact that we have this other film in our repertoire.
Q: How is it going on “Avengers?” Are you almost finished?
Olsen: I won’t be done until August. After this, I go back to London.
Q: How are they getting around the fact that your Scarlet Witch character is the daughter of Magneto (from the Marvel “X-Men” universe, which is at another studio)?
Olsen: I can’t comment on that, sorry.
Q: If you were able to have a superpower, what would it be?
Olsen: Probably the power to heal. If someone has a blood infection, a cut, wound or illness, it would be cool to be able to heal them with a touch.
Q: So it’s kind of a wish fulfillment that you get to play a nurse in “Godzilla?”
Olsen: Yeah, it’s sort of nurturing.
Q: Do you have a project lined up after “Avengers?”
Olsen: No, but I’m really excited to figure out what’s next. Some projects I want to do are far more intimate than what I’ve been doing. I’m really excited to have both experiences.
Q: Congratulations on your engagement.
Olsen: Thank you.
Q: Have you set a wedding date?
Q: Are you a movie buff? Are there any films this summer you’re looking forward to?
Olsen: Yes. I love going to the movies. I haven’t seen “Noah” yet.
Q: Do you enjoy superhero movies?
Olsen: Absolutely! “Iron-Man” I love anything (Robert) Downey does. “Sherlock Holmes” I love. I can’t wait to see what they do with “Star Wars,” because I’m a big “Star Wars” fan.