In Godzilla: King of the Monsters, O’Shea Jackson Jr. plays Chief Warrant Officer Barnes, a military officer assigned to the Monarch research organization as it travels the world to discover, track and contain the ancient, giant creatures known as Titans. But in speaking with Jackson at the recent press day for Godzilla in Los Angeles, you get the impression that he’d be happy to play anyone in director Michael Dougherty’s massive monster bash.
Jackson Jr. is a huge Godzilla fan, watching the movies since he was a kid with his siblings and his father, rapper Ice Cube. So appearing in just his fifth feature film alongside classic Toho Studios monsters like Ghidorah, Mothra, Rodan and the Big G himself is, as Jackson puts it, “a dream come true.”
Of course, Jackson has human co-stars as well, in the shape of Kyle Chandler, Vera Farmiga, Bradley Whitford, Ken Watanabe, Millie Bobby Brown and more. After his breakout debut in Straight Outta Compton — where he played his dad in the story of the rise of rap pioneers N.W.A. — Jackson has landed a string of striking roles in films like Ingrid Goes West, Den of Thieves and, more recently, Long Shot with Seth Rogen and Charlize Theron.
But going up against Godzilla and the other Titans is especially close to his heart, as the actor and rapper tells us below.
Den of Geek: So we have a a bunch of Godzilla fans in the house today, and you’re apparently one of the biggest.
O’Shea Jackson: Yeah, dude! It’s crazy to be a part of this shit right now. I mean I’m geeking out a little bit harder than the rest of my cast members. But it’s just dope, you know, it’s a dream come true.
Tell me about your history with Godzilla. You used to watch the movies with your dad and your brothers.
Yeah, ever since I was a kid — like 5, 6 years old — my dad brought Godzilla figures back from Japan. He’s like the coolest dinosaur I’ve ever seen and I can’t see them anywhere else. Where are these at? And then the Sci-Fi Channel would always play Godzilla on Saturdays. So that’s where I really got engulfed in the lore and some of the villains that I would watch: Mechagodzilla — Ghidorah is Ghidorah — but Mechagodzilla was just always dope to me because it’s another Godzilla, you know what I mean? He’s robotic, and I’m like, “he’s an issue,” you know what I mean? He’s a problem.
I remember Godzilla vs. Gigan, Godzilla vs. Mothra — that’s the only time I’ve ever seen Godzilla lose is against Mothra. I just became a fan. Over the years I’ve always been a supporter — even the Hanna-Barbera cartoon. They even had a small run basing a cartoon off of the Matthew Broderick Godzilla. I watched that. Any video games that came out, I tried to get them. Now, where I’ve got into a position where I act now, and then for my fifth movie to be Godzilla, I’m spazzing out still.
What do you think it is that has held people’s imaginations through different generations?
There’s certain things that we imagine all through our humanity: the thought of dragons and things like that, and giant creatures have always been there and so when you’re allowed to see it, when you’re allowed to visually see it without it just being in your imagination — that’s the closest we’re going to get. Godzilla is the king of that, he is the godfather of that giant creature movie.
Godzilla’s always been adapting to a newer fan base. Whether it’s being in black and white and a man in a suit at the beginning to CGI that takes two years to render to show its realism. It’s always been adapting and changing to fit the times and every director that gets the rights to Godzilla or keys to the franchise has put their own flair on it in some type of way. Whether it’s a new design of how Godzilla should look, they come out with their own unique stories of Godzilla like Shin Godzilla or the Godzilla anime on Netflix. I love that we as the U.S finally are getting it right.
The Mathew Broderick one just fell so short as far as — no disrespect to the filmmakers — but as far as paying respect to the original content I just think it fell short and Legendary is doing an amazing job of paying homage to where Godzilla comes from and his true purpose. This movie, Godzilla: King of the Monsters, is the first time I’ve heard Godzilla’s original score with the American Godzilla. The American Godzilla going up against the Titans that we know and love from the original movies. King of the Monsters, we U.S fans should be proud of it because it’s paying homage to what we know and love and it’s being accepted into the family.
What did Michael do on the set to get you in the right headspace so that you weren’t just looking at a tennis ball or something where Godzilla is supposed to be?
Well in the beginning he had the pre-vis – before a scene he shows you the pre-vis – which is the pre-visuals, which is a little computer rendering of what exactly is going to happen. It looks like an old PC game or like a Playstation 1 game, so you go off that for what’s happening, just to give you an idea of just the magnitude of the scene you’re in.
The ‘behemoth’ as he likes to call it, is this giant speaker that he played the monster’s roars and cries and pains and anger through, and he loved having his finger on that button — just making a monster roar, or whatever he wants, and it drove me crazy. I love Godzilla’s roar. It’s important when you’re dealing with so much blue screen and green screen that you have somebody aiding you with as many practical effects as possible — the wind and rain is really there, the snow was actually salt and soap. You’re running through it and it feels like sand. There’s a lot of real things for you to go off of and as an actor the more tools you have to make it real the better.
Your character, Barnes, is part of the time-honored movie tradition of the frontline of military guys who firing their rifles up at 200-foot-tall monsters.
I remember going to set and Colonel Hans Bush, he trained us with our weapons and our formations and just the basics in being a formed military group, and I was like: “So, uh, what’s a CWO?” And he goes: “Chief Warrant Officer — you play Barnes? How old are you?” And I was like: “25.” And he was like: “All right, well you’re CW3…it means you have to have at least 22 years of military experience.”
So I did little things, I tried to have them put some gray in my beard. I just tried to make it feel like Barnes has been there before. Barnes has seen some things. I know that when he signed up to join the military it was to go up against bad humans and now he’s going against a bad type of something. I just know that the military process comes easy to him – that’s where he’s calm, droppping out of a helicopter or commanding the troops. I never wanted my energy to be overexertive. He’s been here before, this is how we’re going to do it: everybody stay calm and we’ll stay alive. It’s a dangerous job but I just try to make sure that I portrayed somebody who didn’t look at combat any differently just because it was Titans or humans. That his focus was to get the job done and have as less casualties as possible.
Are you in Godzilla vs. Kong?
No. They’re crazy for not putting me in it because I am selling the hell out of this movie.
Did Michael prank you on set? I heard about a rubber rat in Vera’s room and that he got Ken Watanabe and Zhang Ziyi on the set.
Ken and Ziyi, they were in Memoirs of a Geisha together and Michael just blasts their love scene all over the screens on the ship set while we’re all being super serious. It was great. Severed hands in the refrigerator, a rubber snake in the toilet. He sent me a poster after it was all said and done, signed, just thanking me and all that, and then in the tube was a fake cockroach. So even from miles across the globe he was still pulling pranks and that’s what you get when you’ve been on horror movies most of your career. He’s dark but he’s a hell of a guy. He’s just passionate about what he likes, and aren’t we all?
You came onto the scene with Straight Outta Compton where you played your dad. But now you’ve done three or four other things do you feel like you’re establishing yourself on your own terms?
Yeah, when Straight Outta Compton happened there was a lot of talk of, of course he can play his dad, of course he did great in the role — why wouldn’t he? It diminished all of the work that I put in, I left college, I had devoted everything to that part. I got an acting coach that I was working with for two years during an auditioning process. To this day it’s still the longest auditioning process I had to go through. Telling me that of course I can play my dad just diminished all of that and I hated that. I wanted to go just completely night and day from Straight Outta Compton so I did Ingrid Goes West and that was the indie route. All of a sudden people are starting to pay a little bit more attention and then I went into the action role with Den of Thieves. And then from there you go to the big blockbuster with Godzilla and then after that I do the comedy with Seth Rogen in Long Shot.
I just wanted to show them versatility, I wanted to show them that they can’t pinpoint me to be one type of guy and that the studios and naysayers would have to consider me like: Can he do this? Can he do this? I feel like I’ve been blessed with the roles that I’ve gotten and I’ve had to turn down a lot of roles and I’ve lost a few roles and that’s just part of the game — you can’t let it get to your head. The moments that you do have to shine you have to make sure that you flourish and I feel like I’m doing a good job of it. I’m so thankful to have both Long Shot and Godzilla out in the same month and hopefully it brings me some more work.
Godzilla: King of the Monsters is out in theaters now.
Don Kaye is a Los Angeles-based entertainment journalist and associate editor of Den of Geek. Other current and past outlets include Syfy, United Stations Radio Networks, Fandango, MSN, RollingStone.com and many more. Read more of his work here. Follow him on Twitter @donkaye