Whenever a new Kaiju story is announced, there’s always one question on everyone’s lips- how much do the creators love giant monsters? A lot of the final product can be inferred from this.
With the first two episodes of Monarch: Legacy of Monsters available now on Apple TV+, we caught up with Executive Producer and Showrunner Chris Black, as well as Matt Fraction (Executive Producer) and Matt Shakman (Executive Producer and Director) to talk all things giant atomic lizards and more.
Here Be Godzilla Fans
When it comes to being a Godzilla fan, there’s none quite like Matt Shakman. He excitedly explained his appreciation not just for Godzilla- but for everything the character stands for.
“I mean, I’ve loved Godzilla since I was probably 5 years old”, Matt Shakman says. “I have the fondest memory of my childhood is sitting on the couch, in the middle of California, with my dad watching the original Toho Godzilla movie. And I think that he is unknowable, mysterious, and he brings a sense of wonder, which is the thing I love the most about cinema, which is wonder in its purest sense is both mystery and terror, the inexplicable”.
While some fans are more attached to the “Godzilla as an allegory for nukes” approach, Matt Shakman believes that the Godzilla mythos allows him to be anything the storytellers need.
“He’s neither good nor bad. He protects and destroys. He’s everything that you want out of a movie star, right. And he has survived, I think, generation by generation because of that fascination. And he is allowed generations of filmmakers to look at their own world and use Godzilla as metaphor to look at the issues that are in their world and to create complex stories”, he says..
“We can certainly attest to Matt’s lifelong fandom because in one of the, if not the very first meetings that we had together to talk about the show, he brought along his childhood Godzilla toy”, Chris laughs. “So it was like his bona fides were secure”.
It wasn’t just Matt Shakman, though- Godzilla is a pop cultural icon, being a symbol of the kind of spectacle associated with cinema. Even the trio agreed that Godzilla has an iron grip on public consciousness like quite nothing else.
“It’s funny because I couldn’t tell you the first Godzilla movie I saw or the first Toho Kaiju movie I saw” says Chris. “It just feels like it’s always been a part of my cultural consciousness. I know. I remember watching them when I was young and my parents, black and white television on whatever the Saturday afternoon Million Dollar Movie was. And they end being absorbed and fascinated by them. But what the first one was, I couldn’t tell you because they were all always there.”
“I think it speaks to why the character is so enduring, in that it’s, I don’t remember a time without Godzilla”, says Matt Fraction. “I grew up watching it. And then, one of the great joys of parenthood for me of, has been getting my kids into it”.
“It’s the same thrill. I can see it in them. It’s the same energy and excitement and wonder and fear and all that kind of stuff. And it stays with you”, he explains. “The older you get, the more sophisticated your fears and concerns about yourself or the world get. Godzilla remains a frame that can contain them all and the character and the franchise and all of the films and all of its kind of permutations just continues to give that same fascination and wonder and horror and fear and excitement every time”.
“I’m so impressed at how Godzilla continually reinvented”, Matt Shakman says. “The Toho Godzilla movies of the recent past, including the one that’s about to come out here, Godzilla Minus One. But Shin Godzilla of the recent past is an extraordinary movie that’s working on so many levels, telling a beautiful story about bureaucracy and how you handle crisis and the inventiveness also from a stylistic standpoint how they’re the monster is literally being created and evolving throughout the movie it just shows that there is continued interest in the character but also continued new ways to look at the character and use the character so there he remains really impressive”.
That being said, as much as all three of them love Godzilla, the show couldn’t just be about Godzilla elbow dropping Kaiju for ten whole episodes. That doesn’t mean no Kaiju at all, though, they just needed to make threats that could still fit in frame with a human cast, which also gave them a chance to make some kaiju of their own.
Choosing The Titans
But how does one go about choosing a Kaiju line-up? While they’re called Titans in-universe, Chris explains that the monstrous line-up had to be considerate of the Monsterverse events.
“We started from a place of what was the journey of these characters”, he explains. “It started from a place we knew that they lived in a world where the Titans existed. That was sort of a given. The timeframe was set after G-Day that Godzilla and the MUTOs have revealed themselves to world. So there’s not a mystery to that. So we decided what is the point of view of these human characters who are uncovering a mystery”.
“Kate and Kentaro discovering that they are siblings, discovering that their father were for Monarch, that he had two families, that he kept a secret about his life and his work from them. And that was the rabbit hole that they go down and on that journey, on that personal journey of searching for their father, that brings them up against the Titans in that journey”, Chris explains. “For the first season, we just knew we wanted to do Godzilla, that he is the legacy character, the OG character. He was initially the source of Kate’s trauma from the attack on San Francisco”.
“We’re hoping that we have a lot of story ahead to tell and that future Titans from the legendary Toho canon, the pantheon of great and characters that they’ve created will make their appearances”.
“As Matt and Jess Holler, Director of Photography on these first two episodes work to build the visual language of the show, it really became about scaling to people being down and looking up rather than up and looking down”, Matt Fraction says. “These, we don’t have the God’s eye view of things. We’re down with our human characters and at that level and kind of that means there can be all kinds of smaller scaled threats”
“They’re not all 400 m tall, nuclear powered enigmas of nature. So that was part of the front of the show is just getting to be here and playing the toy box and like, oh, what about this and what about this and could we build this?”, he says. “And where our characters went, we would start to kind of build out ideas. Well, what would make sense to live in this place and this environment in this ecology that we’re in, whatever the kind of as the season goes on and different things pop up, part of this the fun was getting to make up new stuff”.
Thankfully, Kaiju fan extraordinaire Matt Shakman was on the case, helping give the human cast something to deal with too.
“Matt [Shakman] was really instrumental in choreographing and orchestrating things”, Chris explains “Matt, I think to some extent helped forge okay, what was this thing gonna look like? What were its capabilities gonna be? How was it gonna move? What was it gonna do?”
“Yes, I’m working with Sean Conrad, our amazing VFX supervisor and his team we would imagine what this creature needed to survive in this environment and then we would start looking at the weirdest creatures that already exist in the world right from that environment and maybe from some other places, things that are already terrifying and mysterious, smash them together and then make them big and you go, wow, will that fit in with the family of other kaiju and do we like it? And so that’s basically the process for creating new ones”, Matt Shakman says.
Putting The Band Together
Speaking of the human characters, while getting Kurt and Wyatt Russel to both star in the series was a big feat, Chris clarified that the role wasn’t created for the duo.
“The project had been in development and we had been working on the pilot script before the casting process began”, he explains. “We knew we had this character who was an important character, who was the only character who appeared in both timelines and sort of link those worlds together. And we knew that we wanted to cast a great actor, well, actually two great actors, because we knew there would be a younger version and an older version of that”.
“Then when we got into the casting process, there was a relatively short list of people who we felt were right for that. And as soon as we working with Ronna Kress, who is our amazing casting director”, he adds. “As soon as the idea of the Russels came up and that they had been looking, I guess for a long time for something they could do together, but had often been offered roles to play father and son, but they had never been offered something where you’re actually playing the same character in different time frames. And as soon as we knew that they were interested in wanted to potentially do the role, we were okay, done. So it’s like, who else are you gonna get?”.
The praise for the many hands involved didn’t stop there, either- Matt Fraction also chimed in with his appreciation for director Hiromi Kamata.
“She is a superstar. I would walk up mountains to work with her again”, Matt Fraction explains.
“Hiromi is smart, incisive. She loves her actors. She knows what she’s shooting. She’s got big, fun ideas. The scale doesn’t scare her. She jumped, she wanted the big kind of action set pieces, the small character set pieces. She shot some of our favorite scenes in the season. And there are two people in a room. And then she set some of the most exciting scenes in the season. And they’re one of the biggest set pieces we had to put together. She’s a superstar. Everybody loves her, like the world of television and film is lucky to have her”, he says.
The first two episodes of Monarch: Legacy of Monsters is available for streaming now on Apple TV+, following the adventures of two brothers on the trail of their father- and how it ties back into the mysterious organization Monarch.
Our thanks to Chris Black, Matt Fraction and Matt Shakman for taking the time to share their love for not just Monarch but the entire Monsterverse.