Godzilla: King of the Monsters is stomping back to theaters this week! And to celebrate, The Nerds of Color will be publishing our series of interviews with the cast and crew to countdown to the opening of the biggest monster hit of the summer! As part of the series we had a chance to chat with the man with the vision — director/co-writer Michael Dougherty!
It’s no secret that I’ve been a huge fan of Dougherty’s since he co-wrote X2: X-Men United back in 2003, through his directorial debut, Trick R’ Treat in 2007. Given his ability to tell really fantastic stories with great characters and brilliant visuals on shoe-string budgets, it’s no wonder Warner Bros. wanted to see what he’d do with a $200M tentpole-franchise monster movie. And I can safely tell you it was the smartest decision ever.
Dougherty was nice enough to stay late for us, and spoke to us about his love for Godzilla, as well as some of the hardships growing up as a half-Vietnamese nerd of color in a predominantly white neighborhood in Columbus, Ohio. Here’s what he had to say:
NOC: Thank you for doing this so late. How are you holding up?
Dougherty: I’m doing okay actually. As we approach the finish line it feels good!
You guys honestly have been troopers all day for us, so We can’t thank you enough!
So right off the bat, I wanted to say, I’ve been a huge fan, and I know you’re also one of those people who grew up as a fan of so many things — watching monster movies, and reading comic books. Today, you’re actually the one bringing these things to life. And in doing so, you’re inspiring a new generation of fans to get into this material. How does it feel to come full circle and just see that you’re creating and deeply influencing future fans?
It means the world to me that this could inspire the next generation of Godzilla fans. It’s one thing to make a film featuring a legacy character like this. It’s another to know that it’s inspiring a new generation of artists. And I’m watching it happen in real time on social media, because people are drawing amazing paintings, and portraits, and sketches of the characters, making their own stop-motion movies. And they tag me in all of them. And it’s almost overwhelming. I wish I could like and retweet them all — there’s a lot. But it reminds me so much of myself. Because that’s what I did. I used to get in trouble for drawing Godzilla and monsters in my grade school bible. I used to make these crude little stop motion movies with my action figures. I came home from doing press the other day, and my nephew had created a little stop-motion movie of Godzilla and Ghidorah fighting with the toys. So I love it because I feel like I’m helping Godzilla survive for at least one more generation. And hopefully wherever I leave off, someone else is going to pick it up and run with it.
That’s actually what I think is going to happen. In 20 years time, when the next Godzilla reboot or what have you comes up, someone’s going to say “I saw the Mike Dougherty’s King of the Monsters movie”
(laughing) I hope so. What I love about introducing Godzilla to kids is hoping that, at least, that kid’s going to turn out all right. That a kid who is so fearless that they’re willing to embrace and love a giant monster is probably going to have a little bit more courage than a kid who might instinctively shrink away from a monster.
So our publication is called The Nerds of Color. And really our focus is trying to shine a light on the under-represented voices within the industry. And I think definitely, you’re a nerd of color that’s made it! As a director, creator, and writer, you’ve been given an opportunity (and you’ve taken it), to really diversify what Hollywood looks like. When we take a look at King of the Monsters, we’ve got such a hugely multi-cultural cast. As far as your process goes as a director and writer, are you consciously thinking about this when you’re creating these roles. Are you thinking about infusing diversity within Hollywood and influencing greater growth of that?
You know it’s funny because I know it’s such a hot topic and it’s a priority for our industry and culture at large, and I’m really glad for that… It’s important to me because that’s what inspired me to get into film was seeing fellow Asian faces in Godzilla movies. When I was a kid, I was a half Vietnamese kid who got picked on in a very white Catholic school. And Godzilla was sort of my escape. When I got teased and taunted, I used to fantasize about Godzilla and the other kaiju showing up and just tearing my school to shreds. Sometimes I still feel that way when I’m stuck in traffic in LA.
And they were also an escape because, other than kung fu movies, they were the only place I would see Asian faces on TV and in very prominent roles. They were these heroes. They weren’t stereotypes. They weren’t cliched characters. They were the scientists and the soldiers, and the government bureaucrats that were trying to save the day. And knowing these films were made by other Asian people was hugely comforting and inspiring. So I do feel that’s definitely a high priority for me. But in a weird way, it’s second nature for me to do that… It’s just second nature is what it should be. Even the casts of a lot of science fiction and horror films, I feel, sort of pioneered the idea of strong female characters, diverse casts — genre films have been doing this for a very long time. So I’m both surprised, but glad that it’s being recognized now… It’s just what I believe in and what I do… And when you’re telling a story with global implications, it makes sense to have a global cast.
If I can ask, as far as the future of the MonsterVerse goes, are you involved in the future installments? Because in my opinion you should be involved in future installments!
My writing partner Zach Shields and I did work on the Kong Vs. Godzilla script for a bit. Sort of help smooth over the passing of the baton. And that was a blast because I’d never written for Kong before, but here I was writing these scenes and emotional moments between Kong and human characters. And it’s different for writing for Godzilla. People don’t expect emotional scenes between humans and Godzilla, as much as I would love to see that (hence the reason why there’s one in this movie). But with Kong, you need that. With Kong it’s vital to see that the gulf between man and monster being bridged. So that was an enjoyable part of the process.
I’m glad! I’m looking forward to that one, and if you were involved in it, all the better in my opinion. One of the things I loved about King of the Monsters, in many Godzilla movies, humans don’t have as big a role or as active a role. I actually think that, though this is Godzilla’s movie, you’ve actually made it so that the humans are doing constantly active things, and it’s in service of Godzilla. Can you talk about your process in writing the human characters, and making them relatable, and making us root for them?
I think Gareth’s film sort of paved the way by introducing Monarch and Ken and Sally’s characters. And those were the real standouts for me. As fun as Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s “GI Joe” adventure was, the idea of scientists who are experts in these creatures, who seek to understand and study them is so much more appealing than “guy with gun.” So I thought, let’s start there, and create a diverse cast of human scientists to surround Ken and Sally with, and let them be the heart of this adventure. And make sure that they weren’t just stuck in control rooms watching things happen on monitors 1,000 feet away, but were in it! They’re in the action, and their lives are at risk. And that way the effects of these monster fights were much more visceral and dangerous, versus a typical moment of what you see in a Godzilla film, which is that they’re very safely tucked away in some bunker watching it remotely.
Agreed. And you pulled it off beautifully. I can’t thank you enough for this interview and this movie, and everything you’ve done to contribute to nerd culture. I can’t wait to watch it again!
I appreciate it!
Additionally, Warner Bros. and Legendary dropped an exclusive Extended Final Look at the film on Friday, which you can see here:
Godzilla: King of the Monsters hits theaters this Friday, May 31. And stay tuned for more Godzilla fun coming your way this week, with interviews from actors O’Shea Jackson Jr. and Ken Watanabe!