Godzilla returns in Monarch: Legacy of Monsters
Kurt Russell as Lee Shaw
Wyatt Russell as the younger Lee Shaw in the 1950s
Kong: Skull Island's Mother Longlegs pays a visit to Monarch
With Monarch: Legacy of Monsters, Apple TV+ had the kaiju-sized task of paying homage to the King of the Monsters, Godzilla.
But with a very deep bench of feature films from Japan, as well as three big-screen blockbusters from Hollywood, trying to give the “Big Guy” on television the scale and spectacle fans are used to meant upping the ante by way of adding more monsters. Lots of ’em.
Series co-creators Matt Fraction and Chris Black, working with executive producer and director Matt Shakman (WandaVision), decided to peel back the curtain on Godzilla’s corner of the MonsterVerse with a narrative that follows the aftermath of Legendary Pictures and Warner Bros.’s 2014 movie, while flashbacks to the 1950s reveal ties to King Kong’s stomping grounds, Skull Island.
Shakman recently spoke with the Television Academy about how he and his creative partners brought Godzilla’s second TV series to life.
Television Academy: Why do you think this MonsterVerse, Godzilla in particular, has resonated with fans for so many decades?
Matt Shakman: It's a great question! Godzilla has resonated with me since I was a little kid. I've loved the Godzilla character since I saw the first Toho movie with my dad as a rerun on TV on the couch in Ventura, California. And I think it's because he's so hard to define. He's neither hero nor villain. He helps balance the world; he's terrifying, he's full of wonder. If you happen to be in his path, he's a villain. But if you happen to be threatened by some dangerous kaiju, and he's saving the day — he's a hero.
I'm so excited that we get to tell a new chapter of that story, and to find a new way to look at Godzilla and his impact on the world.
This show has a unique blend of family drama mixed with sci-fi action. How did you and your fellow creatives maintain that balance?
That is what really pulled me in. I read what Matt Fraction and Chris Black had created — I read the first episode — and it was just so unexpected and extraordinary. And poetic! They were doing this very ambitious [show] in terms of the human storytelling. Matt and Chris were trying to tell a multigenerational family drama with some mystery, that intersected with existing mythology, with other [MonsterVerse] movies in ways where you were kind of building a puzzle as you went. But it was deeply emotional and these characters were all dealing with trauma. Trauma that was, in part, caused by monsters, but also trauma from people in their own lives. It was a messy family story, and I love those. Whereas in the case of Godzilla, again, he’s neither a hero or a villain. But people that we love can also hurt us. So that was interesting to me.
Kong: Skull Island’s Mother Longlegs is back on the show, and it’s exciting to see new monsters, too. What was it like for you to add new creatures to the mythos?
It was incredibly fun to create new creatures; it's fun to play with the existing monsters that you love. But to create new monsters was another huge hook for why this was going to be a great job as a filmmaker. I can't speak too much specifically about the creatures themselves, but the process is this: Go look at the weirdest creatures you can find that exist in the real world. They're at the bottom of the ocean, they're in trees in the Amazon rainforest. And then we think: “Oh, if I smoosh these two terrifying things together, and then make it really big, what does that look like?” Then you kind of try to see, hopefully, [is this] something that feels as awe-inspiring as the rest and does it fit in with the family?
The bits of humor in the pilot where everyone offers a conspiracy theory, like the cab driver with a podcast, feels very timely. Is that an intentional statement or commentary on today’s society?
Yes, of course. When you're dealing with IP that is timeless, you always want to make sure that your approach is timely. That you're looking at it through the lens of your life today. And truth is something that is, apparently, subjective now. And how people react to major events is very, very different. How they react emotionally, how they respond. And so, we wanted that to be a part of this world, too. We're in the wake of a major event that has changed what everyone thinks about the world. And we wanted that to feel as real as possible.
So, on the casting front of playing Lee Shaw, who was brought on first: Kurt Russell, or his son, Wyatt? Or were they brought on as a team?
They were hired and approached as a team! The idea was just so exciting to us — the idea that you could have these two amazing actors, who also bear this striking resemblance to each other, to play the same character. And, luckily, they thought that was a fun idea, too. They had been offered father-son stuff before, but had never been offered the chance to play the same character. Which meant they had a project together. And they brought elements of each other's approach together. Because they're very different actors, they brought a little of what Kurt does, a little of what Wyatt does, and they kind of made a new guy in the middle.
The series films in some very unique locations. Which was the most exciting for you to shoot in?
We were in several continents, based a lot in British Columbia. I didn't personally go, but they shot on glaciers and in deserts. I got to be in the jungles of Hawaii, which was really awesome.
But I have to say the most special place was going to Tokyo; it’s a place that I have never been before and we went to scout there. But the fact that we were there making a Godzilla project in Tokyo was a “pinch me, this is amazing” moment! To know that you're a part of the continuity of Godzilla, literally there in that city, visiting Toho Studios and seeing where the first movie was shot — and where Kurasowa made films! That was a really great experience.
Monarch has several Easter eggs for Godzilla fans. But what would you tell the more casual viewer who's just discovering this MonsterVerse?
I'd say, “come on in, the water is warm!” You don't have to have watched all of the MonsterVerse movies. You can actually have watched none of them and I think there will be enough for the new viewer, because we're trying to tell a human-centric story. We are focused on the people, not the monsters. We are involved in other mythologies, but hopefully that is being revealed to the new viewer in a way that they will be able to understand, because it's also being revealed to our characters for the first time. So you're following our point-of-view characters as they go on a journey to understand what this mystery is. And that way, you don't need to know everything about the MonsterVerse. But I'd also say, if you're a big MonsterVerse fan — you're gonna love it, too. Because you'll pick up on some Easter eggs, you'll know these characters and you'll be excited to see them. I think that's part of what I found appealing; this show is a way to create something that feels fresh and new for all audiences. And that felt uniquely suited to television. We weren't trying to make a movie on TV, even though it's of epic scale.
But it's doing what TV does best, which is create characters that you love and care about and root for and want to tune in week-to-week to see how their lives are affected by these monsters. You'll still get the scale and the scope, but you're being pulled through by those emotional throughlines.
Monarch: Legacy of Monsters is now streaming on Apple TV+.