Director and Executive Producer Matt Shakman discusses his history with Godzilla and expanding the Monsterverse in the new TV series.
A mystery has been brewing since viewers visited the monster-filled lands of Legendary’s 2017 film, Kong: Skull Island. The movie revealed a shady organization called Monarch with special interests in the growing presence of titanic monsters like King Kong and Godzilla. We’ve seen these behemoths crush and clash on the big screen, along with a breadcrumb trail of clues around Monarch’s machinations. That trail continues today as Monarch: Legacy of Monsters premieres on Apple TV+, continuing the Monsterverse story from exciting new perspectives of its nuanced human protagonists.
To mark the hulking step for the Monsterverse, I had the pleasure of chatting with Director and Executive Producer Matt Shakman (WandaVision, Succession, Game of Thrones). We discuss the creator’s history with Godzilla, the process of bringing this cinematic universe to a TV series, and much more.
PlayStation Blog: Thanks for joining us, Matt. How did you come to be involved with Monarch: Legacy of Monsters?
Matt Shakman: It’s great to be here. Thank you. I’m a huge Godzilla fan. I have been since I was a kid. I used to watch them with my dad – they’re very fond memories from my childhood. So when [Legendary] approached me about directing the first two episodes of this show, I was immediately intrigued just because Godzilla was part of the package. But then when I got to read the scripts and see the really beautiful, multigenerational dramatic story that they had created, I was immediately pulled in. And then on top of that, there was Kurt Russell and Wyatt Russell playing the same character [Lee Shaw]. Hugely exciting. I was really ready to go. In terms of my journey before that, I’m a filmmaker, director and producer, I work in theater, film, and television. And that’s my story before up to this point.
You mentioned that the new series spans multiple generations. How are you approaching that in the show?
So Monarch is this organization that has existed in the Legendary MonsterVerse movies. It’s an organization that studies monsters. It’s a somewhat secretive group. Our story is about that organization, how it came to be, and then how it is in the present day. We follow characters in multiple time periods who have connections to each other in ways that are revealed during the course of the show. I don’t want to say too much about the history of those family connections. But it really is about many generations of trauma, about dealing with what monsters mean on this earth, and what is life like now that they’re a part of our everyday experience. That’s what’s happening in our present-day timeline, after the events of the 2014 Godzilla movie where the monsters revealed themselves to us for the first time. It’s about a society that has to deal with a new reality and how they’re going to live side by side with these creatures.
How far does the timeline of the show stretch in the Monsterverse?
I don’t want to say too much because I’d like people to discover it. “When” is a big part of the storytelling, but we are having events happen even before Skull Island events happen, after Skull Island, and events that have happened closer to our present. Obviously, it’s not happening exactly in our present day yet. But a few years ago.
You mentioned working with Kurt Russell and his son Wyatt Russell. As director, how do you approach two different people playing the same character at different points in their life?
I love Kurt Russell. I’m a huge fan, have been since I was young, and I’m a big fan of Wyatt, Russell, too. They’re both great actors. Interestingly, very different actors. They approach acting in different ways. Both are brilliant at what they do. So it was fun to come together and create one character with these two actors. And I think they loved it as well. You know, as a father-son, creative project, you can’t really come up with a better one, where they would meet in the middle and say, “Okay, well, who is this guy? What’s the sound like? How does he walk…”
When we started shooting Wyatt’s stuff, Kurt would hang around at the monitor, study, and think about it. He was watching and saying, “I can do that, I can bring a little bit of this.” I also think Wyatt was enjoying watching his dad’s movies and thinking, “Okay, how do I bring a little of that classic Kurt Russell stuff?” They kind of met in the middle and I just made sure that everything about that character was a group conversation. Wardrobe was both of them at the same time, hair and makeup, everything was about building this character together.
What’s your approach to keeping people coming back with each new episode?
It’s a human point of view the whole time. And that’s what makes it special. We’re following these characters which take us to monsters occasionally. We are watching monsters from the ground level, which I think is what differentiates it from the other Monsterverse movies, where a lot of things are happening at Godzilla’s eye height, and justifiably so. It’s thrilling to watch King Kong and Godzilla battle [from that perspective]. For us, we’re trying to make characters that you root for and care for, and want to join week in and week out and see how they’re going to do this week versus last week. That’s television, right? That’s why television is different from movies.
Speaking of the human character occasionally leading viewers to monsters, how do you pace out those key monster appearances?
It’s a great question. And it’s true, you obviously want to make sure that you’re spending just the right amount of time. Because ultimately, it is a story about humans. It’s about Cate, Kentaro, Lee Shaw, and all of these other wonderful characters and how their lives are shaped by these monsters. Less is more when you bring in the big guy [Godzilla]. But he also has to play a key role in the overall narrative. I can’t take credit for it. Chris Black and Matt Fraction are the creators of the show. They determined how they needed Godzilla to function in the narrative and where he would come in and play an important role in turning the story. And ultimately where his story ends up and how his story intersects with the story of Cate, Kentaro, Lee, Keiko, and all these other characters is the joy of watching the first season.
Can you talk a little bit about your first memory of seeing Godzilla on screen and how has that stuck with you?
My memory is sitting on a very old ‘70s-style sofa in Ventura, California with my dad watching the original Godzilla as a rerun, on some Sunday afternoon. I had this Godzilla toy from the late 70s that Toho made. The tail came off and would shoot off at a little spring… That was my favorite toy growing up. And I played with it until it was in tiny little plastic pieces. I recently pulled it out of the garage, at my dad’s house and tracked it down. And it’s actually not that bad. It’s missing the hand and I had to glue the leg back on. But it’s probably back on my shelf in my office. Now that this show is coming out it’s great to bring it back out. I just love Godzilla, and my dad did, too. This show is making me feel connected to my dad, similar to the way I’m sure Wyatt and Kurt [Russell] enjoyed working together.
Anything else that you want to add?
I’m excited for people to check out the show. We’re really passionate about it. It’s been a tremendous amount of fun making it over the last year plus, and we hope people enjoy it when they watch.
Watch Monarch: Legacy of Monsters now on Apple TV+ with a limited-time 3-month extended trial on PS4 and PS5.