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Elizabeth Olsen talks imagination in 'Godzilla' and 'Avengers: Age of Ultron'

Elizabeth Olsen
Elizabeth Olsen
Legendary Pictures/Warner Bros. Pictures

The 2014 “Godzilla” 3-D movie reboot goes back to the original concept of the Japanese “Godzillamovies as a classic horror story that does not fall into the pitfalls of campy humor but instead has a serious tone with an underlying social commentary about the dangers of human messing with nature. The 2014 reboot also differs from previous “Godzilla” movies because the Godzilla monster doesn’t appear until at least halfway through the film and the full-frontal reveal of the monster comes even later. The trailers to this “Godzilla” also went to great lengths not to fully reveal what Godzilla looks like.

Elizabeth Olsen at the "Godzilla" press junket in New York City
Carla Hay

In the 2014 “Godzilla movie” (directed by Gareth Edwards), Aaron Taylor-Johnson plays Naval officer Ford Brody, who specialty is disarming bombs. Ford’s wife, Elle Brody (played by Elizabeth Olsen), is a nurse. When Brody is goes to Japan to help his estranged scientist father, Joe Brody (played by Bryan Cranston), Elle is left behind in San Francisco as Godzilla and new predatory alien monsters cause destruction and mayhem. Sneak-preview footage of “Godzilla” was shown at 2013 Comic-Con International in San Diego. Here is what Olsen said when she sat down with me and other journalists for a roundtable interview at the "Godzilla" press junket in New York City.

Can you talk about Elle Brody’s emotional journey in “Godzilla”?

I guess where we started was experience of being a wife and mother with a usually absent father and partner. And what that relationship means when they’re together and whatever that struggle could be. And basically, the story we wanted to tell is that Elle is patient with Ford trying to get over his own demons and his own relationship with his father, the role his father played in his life.

And at the same time, she’s angry that [Ford] has to go again. She needs him to be a better husband and father. By going there and being there for his own dad and spending that time, there’s a struggle and fear that something happens to someone and you can’t reach them. I think everyone has experienced it at one time or another, when their mom calls 12 times and they’re not answering. “Why did you call me 12 times if nothing is wrong?”

And then you start to realize that that is the relationship that has to happen, that is the family that has to continue, once you have that fear of being apart and losing someone. And also, her struggle of dealing with her child and getting him to safety, but also dealing with the fact that her job [as a nurse] that she has sworn to do is to take care of these people at a hospital, just like women and men had to do during Hurricane Katrina, is how I think about it.

Gareth Edwards said a lot of the “Godzilla” cast members were reluctant to sign on for this “Godzilla” movie until they read the script. Did you feel that way?

Yeah. At first I was like, “Godzilla?” I’m not from a generation that had a “Godzilla” experience. And certainly, I don’t think there’s an American [“Godzilla” movie] that is such a classic that your parents show you — at least not my parents.

And so, I didn’t really any history with it. And so, when I learned about it really through Gareth’s interpretation, which is honoring the original story of human neglect and Hiroshima, and translating that into something modern today, with nature and controlling it and not being able to, and feeding the monster the way we have been, that made the story interesting.

And for him to say that it’s not a fully fleshed-out story yet, but basically we need this family to be the core. We need them to be separated, and we need for them to get back together, and we need that relationship to be rooted and strong, in order for anyone to care. You can always watch a movie about aliens and monsters and still enjoy it, but you want there to be some sort of rooted, grounded connection as well.

What does Gareth Edwards do really well?

He does a lot of things really well. I think his two greatest strengths are the fact that he comes from a special-effects background, so he is confident in that. He doesn’t have to worry about that on set. That’s something he knows that has already been planned out, that he has in the bank.

And so, all of his focus is on set is the actor and the story and helping you out and making sure that you’re telling the story. And that’s what you want to see when you’re seeing these films that seem so far away from our everyday reality. You want to be able to have the fun, and you want to be able the rooted story as well.

What kinds of direction did Gareth Edwards give to you when you had to film the scenes that had visual effects added in later?

He showed me previews for any time I worked with special effects. And so, I was basically watched these cartoons and reacted awkwardly to these monsters, so I would understand why the camera movement had to go here, and then they’ll call my name for it go down. It’s all very technical.

At first, I was thinking, “Oh, look. There’s a monster.” It was kind of fascinating. And then I was like, “Oh no. It’s scary.” And basically, you have the same eye line as 300 people. And you just try and focus when you’re being drenched with cold, heavy movie rain.

You started out making low-budget, independent films. And now, you’ve done two big-budget blockbuster movies: “Godzilla” and “Avengers: Age of Ultron”? Have you changed your acting process as a result of doing blockbuster movies?

It’s starting to change more for “Avengers” than with “Godzilla.” I had so much rooted family scene work [in “Godzilla”]. I only had a few times where things were “reacting to.” Even in “Godzilla,” when I was reacting to something, you have all these extras who are doing the same thing also, so you’re all kind of feeding off of each other’s energy. They are blasting you with smoke, which is kind of an uncomfortable situation. And so it’s not too far-fetched from other things I had to do.

But “Avengers” has been totally different. It’s a totally different experience with special effects, because you’re not just reacting to them in your imagination, you’re interacting to them in your imagination — objects you’re pretending to look at. You’re not running away from them; you’re engaging them. So that’s different. Being a kid, I played “make believe” until an inappropriate age — and I still am! [She laughs.] So I’ve kind of gone back to that person, that child.

When did you first see the monsters that battle Godzilla in this movie?

I was there for a week of rehearsals with Gareth, and he took me through the entire art room and all the diagrams. So I got to see virtually everything and what it was going to look like — not yet on 3-D on screen, but I got to see everything. That was like being a little kid in a workshop.

Can you compare and contrast the level of secrecy you had to have for “Godzilla” and “Avengers: Age of Ultron”?

No one really pays attention in Vancouver when you’re making “Godzilla.” The actors in our film, people love them and respect them, but people aren’t media-crazy about them, like paparazzi. There’s none of that feeling.

And then, with something like “Avengers,” you have all these huge franchises coming together to make one franchise. People love taking pictures of people’s private lives all the time, so it’s just different.

But the secrecy part, it’s hard to keep it secret when you’re filming on location, because you’re filming around people’s apartments. You’re not allowed to talk about anything, which is very funny and scary at the same time.

Did working with Aaron Taylor-Johnson in “Godzilla” make it easier for you to work with him in “Avengers: Age of Ultron”?

Totally. It was such a funny coincidence. We had just finished “Godzilla,” and we were the two people approached for “Avengers.” It was pretty random, but we were like, “That sounds awesome! Let’s do it again.”

We have a much more closer connection in “Avengers” actually, because we play twin brother and sister who never leave each other’s side. And in “Godzilla,” the whole point is that [Ford and Elle Brody] are apart. So it’s totally different and nice to know him and his family and him as a person as well as an actor before doing [“Avengers: Age of Ultron”].

Do you worry that these roles in blockbuster movies will define you as an actress for the rest of your career?

I don’t know. I don’t think that way, just because they’re both ensembles. I don’t feel as much pressure when it’s an ensemble piece, I guess. And I feel like I’m in great, so maybe I’m ignorant.

Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver are in the end-credits of “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.” What has been the main feedback that you’ve heard about it?

I didn’t really read any of the feedback. I have a friend who works at Bad Robot, so she’s on all these blogs all the time, so she’ll send me her favorite ones, but she only sends me the good stuff. I just like that people are stoked about our characters and everyone’s like, “What are they? Who are they? What’s their excuse going to be because they can’t talk about ‘X-Men’?”

It’s just funny how much people care. And it’s awesome to create a role. [Scarlet Witch] has not been human-embodied yet. It’s all been in cartoons and comics and voice recordings. And it’s fun to take what we are doing and the comics and the cartoons and the fans and try and figure our where you’re going to play.

Are you interested in doing a “Godzilla” sequel?

It’s something that I would love to do. I don’t really know what the story would be, but I know what the world of the next “Godzilla” is. I think you understand what the world is left with [at the end of 2014’s “Godzilla” movie]. And I think whatever that world is left with, it’s a fun world to play in.

Are you prepared for being more famous after making these blockbuster movies? And how does the fan reaction compare to your smaller, independent films?

I just think it’s crazy when I see a poster for “Godzilla” all the time. And I’m in a [movie] trailer all the time! It’s really cool.

It’s so funny to meet people who have seen [the 2011 movie] “Marcy Martha May Marlene” two months ago. It has come up a lot recently for some reason. I don’t know why.

For more info: "Godzilla" website

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