We Hung Out With Alexander Skarsgård On The Set Of ‘Godzilla Vs Kong’ And It Was Wild
The conversation was held in the same studio as a 4.5 tonne polystyrene King Kong skull.
“King Kong ain’t got shit on me,” Denzel Washington famously improvised on the set of Training Day.
And, well, when you’re looking at a 4.5 tonne King Kong skull it’s hard to think anything but the reverse.
On a film with an estimated budget of a cool $170 to $190 million, this is Godzilla Vs Kong’s flashiest piece: a huge, polystyrene skull so big that it takes up the entirety of sound stage eight at Village Roadshow Studios on the Gold Coast. That’s the same one that burnt down during the filming of House Of Wax with Paris Hilton back in 2004, for those pop cultural historians playing at home. Now, it’s housing an absolute rig of a gorilla skull that has taken months to build and requires a forklift for crew members to get to the top in order to add finishing touches. It’s the definition of extra but for a flick about a radioactive dinosaur and 180ft monkey who battle for dominion over the earth, you want shit to be extra.
It’s a lot and no one knows that more than the film’s star, Alexander Skarsgård. Sorry, human star it should be stated because since the first kaiju films infiltrated the mainstream in the fifties, the top of the call sheet has always been the monsters. Everything else is secondary.
“It’s tonally quite different to what I’ve done,” Skarsgård says with a knowing smirk in a break between shooting back in the Summer of 2019 when the production was underway on Aussie shores.
“Especially the last couple of years. I’ve done slightly smaller indies, more cerebral projects and dark, intense subject matters … It has been fascinating, but after two years of back-to-back dramas, I was quite ready to do something big and fun. It was something I hadn’t done in a while.”
From Nicole Kidman’s ill-fated abusive ex-husband on Big Little Lies to Ruth Negga’s abusive husband in his Godzilla Vs Kong co-star Rebecca Hall’s critically acclaimed drama Passing, the blockbuster is a notable shift back to Tarzan and True Blood territory for Skarsgård. That is to say, fun. Specifically, big dumb fun which is the modus operandi of all the films in this meaty monster franchise.
It’s not particularly surprising then that since the first in this rebooted Hollywood series — Godzilla in 2014 — the cast for these flicks has read like a literal who’s who of show business, with a mix of bonafide stars, Oscar winners, foreign film legends and those on the come up. Elizabeth Olsen, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Bryan Cranston, Brie Larson, Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, Millie Bobby Brown, Sally Hawkins, Kyle Chandler, Vera Farmiga, Ken Watanabe and O’Shea Jackson Jr are just the names that skim the surface on these highly unusual cast lists that run deeeeep.
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That’s definitely the case in Godzilla Vs Kong, with critically acclaimed performers like Skarsgård and Hall joining returning cast members Bobby Brown and Chandler along with new additions to the franchise like Julian Dennison (Ricky Baker!), Brian Tyree Henry, Danai Gurira and Eiza González.
According to Skarsgård though, the person who “steals the movie” — besides the giant lizard and grizzled gorilla, that is — is an actress nobody has heard of: Kaylee Hottle. Coming from an all-deaf family, Hottle was just nine-years old at the time of filming Godzilla Vs Kong and seemed entirely unfazed by what was her first role … ever. “I kind of just go with the flow,” she signed through an interpreter, before adding that monster movies aren’t really her thing. She’s a Disney girl, loving anything with singing and dancing, and citing Bailee Madison as her favourite performer alongside Millie Simmonds, a fellow deaf actress who appeared in A Quiet Place. “I think that it’s important having deaf actors plays deaf characters,” she signed. “Because deaf people are aware of their own language and they’re more familiar with the culture.”
Hottle shares most of her scenes with Skarsgård and Hall, who learnt American Sign Language specifically so they could communicate with her on set when they weren’t in character. “It’s her first movie,” says Skarsgård, with a disbelieving shake of his head. “It’s fascinating how comfortable she is in front of the camera and how quickly she takes notes from the director Adam (Wingard). He’ll explain something and she’ll be like ‘got it, got it’ then she’ll just do it and everyone’s like ‘the fuck … how did she?’ She’s so professional and just incredibly … there’s so much going on on her face, her expression and the subtleties of that is fascinating to watch.”
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His comment about her stealing the movie seems to be on the money, with Hottle already the human character that has featured most in the months and months of marketing material for Godzilla Vs Kong after the initial 2020 theatre release was delayed due to COVID. The upside is that has given audiences even more time to get used to the neon aesthetic of the movie, something that slowly became more prevalent with the last outing — Mike Dougherty’s Godzilla: King Of The Monsters — but is now in full force with Adam Wingard taking over the reins as director. A lifelong fan of kaiju films, the palette of his outing more closely matches that of his beloved cult thriller The Guest: few droll greys, many bright colours and eighties sensibilities. It’s even found in the costuming, with designer Ann Foley casually moving a brand new Oscar out of the way as she shows off some of the retro-inspired fits: her colleague and head of make-up Kate Biscoe just returned from LA that morning with the gong in tow after winning for Vice.
It’s the micro and the macro of it all, however, that help create a multilayered picture: you need the Lt. Ripley jumpsuits alongside the 60 foot gorilla skull illuminated with what looks like the world’s entire supply of glow sticks. In the words of producer Jay Ashenfelter, Godzilla Vs Kong is “the biggest battle royale you can have in movies”, so they want to make it count.
Maria Lewis is a journalist, screenwriter and author of The Witch Who Courted Death, It Came From The Deep and the Who’s Afraid? novel series, available worldwide.