Vantage Point Interview readers know him as the captain of the Russian submarine in Godzilla 1985 (1984), but Dennis Falt has enjoyed an extensive acting career in both the United States and Japan.
Born in San Carlos, California, Mr. Falt attended San Carlos High School where he studied drama. During his senior year, Mr. Falt received the Best Actor Award for all his plays in high school over the four-year period. During his high school years, he performed in plays as a professional actor at the Circle Star Theater. After graduation, Mr. Falt went to San Francisco State University, which is now California State University, San Francisco, and earned a B.A. in drama. Following that, he then moved to Hollywood where he lived for 11 years. During this time, Mr. Falt appeared on General Hospital, Columbo, Cagney & Lacey, and other TV programs, films, commercials, and radio shows. He was one of the four main leads in the cult science fiction film Spawn of the Slithis (1978).
Mr. Falt first came to Japan as an exchange student in high school and lived with a family in Kofu, Yamanashi Prefecture. After returning to San Carlos to finish high school and university, and after 11 years in Hollywood, Mr. Falt decided to relocate to Tokyo where he knew he could find work as an actor. In 2011, Mr. Falt returned to Japan where he has lived for a total of 38 years. He continues to appear in films and commercials, as well as providing his voice for narration work. In fact, the magazine Tokyo Journal declared Mr. Falt a “Tokyo superstar.” In this 2010 interview, Mr. Falt recounts his memories of Godzilla 1985 for the first time with Brett Homenick.
Brett Homenick: How did you get started in the entertainment business, specifically in Japan?
Dennis Falt: Well, I had been there a couple of times before, first as an exchange student, and then stayed for a while, for like a year and a half, while I was living in Hollywood, and then went back to Hollywood and stayed there for another six years or so. Then I just gave up on Hollywood and moved over to Tokyo altogether. But I had worked with agents and production companies a few times, so I knew that I could move back and easily get work. So I moved back, got my agents going again. In Japan, it’s okay to have a number of agents. In America, you only get one, and they’ll take their 10 percent. But in Japan, they can take as much as they want! (laughs) You never know how much they’ll take. They say they’ll take up to 25, 30 percent, but I’ve heard horror stories where they’ve taken 90 percent of the pay. But not with me. I try to control them. I try to find out how much they’re getting, so I know what they’re taking.
So I knew I could work there, and got together with my agents, voice agents as well as acting agents, as well as commercial agents and modeling agents, and just took off from there. So like I said, I was there for 25 years this last time. I may go back again. I still have a permanent residency there. It’s like a green card here.
BH: How did you get cast in Godzilla 1985?
DF: I was with an agency. I actually forget the name of it. It was such a long time ago! I think we had an audition for the part, and they liked me. I probably had the most experience.
BH: When you were auditioning, was there any consideration about whether you’d look like a captain, or maybe you could speak Russian well enough that you would be credible?
DF: No, nobody spoke Russian on the set. We all had to have a tutor come and work with us. We had English guys, Australian, Irish, and American, and maybe a couple of other nationalities, just on that ship. None of us spoke any Russian at the time.
But they did say I wasn’t fat enough, so they stuck a pillow under my shirt, to give me a belly — to make me look more Russian or more captain-ish or something!
BH: Well, that actually addresses my next question a little bit. Can you talk about preproduction, about whether they fitted you for your uniform that you wore or anything else that happened during preproduction?
DF: Well, we were all fitted for uniforms. Our hair was cut. Like I say, the pillow under the shirt. That’s about it, really. They really didn’t give a lot, but of course, everybody was fitted. It was at Toho Studios, and they have a very good costume department. Their wardrobe people were really good, and hair and makeup. They also had a big bath area, so when shooting was done, everybody just jumped into the bathtub! (laughs) A communal bath kind of thing!
BH: Did you work with the director, Koji Hashimoto, very much, or was it all done through translators? Who gave you direction during your scenes?
DF: We might have had translators. I’m not sure if he spoke English or not. I did work with a couple of directors who spoke really good English, but I can’t remember if he did. Anyway, most of us, including myself, spoke Japanese, so taking direction from the director was no problem.
BH: Talk about the Russian dialogue, and how that was all coached on the set.
DF: We had a Russian teacher. Her name was Julie Suga. She was from Ukraine. She was married to a Japanese stage actor, so she would get stage work and other film and TV jobs where she was needed. Godzilla needed a Russian coach. She was fairly well-known. In fact, I had actually worked with her before onstage and in TV productions, so she came and worked with us every day on our lines. At one point she actually said, “Ha! I’m so glad this movie is not going to Russia! You guys really suck! You’re not saying it right. You don’t sound Russian.” (laughs) I don’t know — maybe the film did go to Russia! I’m not sure.
But we did get better. We got much better. But she kept working with us, she kept working with us, and we did improve. So I guess she was kind of happy in the end that it worked out. She kept working with us, and pushing us to improve, a real good drill sergeant, though I’m not sure if we ever really sounded Russian or not. Nowadays, whenever I meet Russians, I will ask them, “Hey, what does this sound like to you?” I’ll say one of the lines, and they’ll say, “Oh, yeah! We understand that!” Or one of them might say, “What did he say?” “Oh, he said this.” “Is that what he said! Oh, okay!” (laughs)
BH: What do you remember about your fellow cast members, who were also in the submarine? Do you remember any of their names or who they were?
DF: I can’t remember the names now, but I remember that the guy that I was talking to most in the scene — red hair, taller guy than myself — was, I think, Australian, but had more of an English accent. One of the other people said that he was selected for the part because he had a better voice than the others. So he’s the one that I’m talking to most, my second-in-command.
BH: At the very end of the scene, of course, there’s explosions, and then the submarine gets engulfed with water.
DF: We get stepped on or crushed by Godzilla! They had this tower or thing of water above us, and when we get stepped on, they release the water. It washed us across the stage. I hit the periscope, I think. They did it twice. They dried us out and did it again from another angle. One of those times I actually hit the periscope that was hanging down and banged my leg on it pretty badly. But I thought it was exciting, though glad it was done. I was so happy, “Oh, boy, that’s over!”
That one really took a lot. We were washed across the soundstage, and then they said, “Okay, dry out. We’re going to do it again.” We’re going, “What?!” (laughs) “(You mean we’ve got to) go through that again?!” Looking back on it, it was kind of fun, actually, to be washed across the stage. Then they filled the tank again and released it on us again.
BH: Was there any concern about — because I know that there were sparks going on and whatnot — was there any concern about being electrocuted?
DF: I think the sparks were put in later — special effects. I don’t think they actually happened when we were doing it. No, there was no concern about that. I think that was just something that was kind of put in later.
BH: When you filmed your scenes on the submarine, how long did shooting last, and what was the shooting schedule like when you filmed your scenes on the set?
DF: Oh, it was all day. We were probably there, either rehearsing or shooting different scenes, for maybe a week. Like I said, it was probably all day we were going through this, from morning till night. We’d get there about maybe six in the morning to do makeup or started on just rehearsing everything. Finally, when the actual shooting came, we’d get there really early for the makeup and costume and go through it a few times, and then we go shoot the different angles. You have to have your different points of view. So you’d see me talking to my commander, then reverse it — him talking to me.
BH: What do you remember about the submarine set specifically, how it worked? I imagine it was also at Toho Studios, where the submarine set was.
DF: Yeah, it was inside the studio soundstage. It was a lot bigger than what you see on film, of course, because they have to get all their lights and cameras in there. No roof, unless they put it on to shoot up sometimes, but usually the roof of the submarine wasn’t on. So we actually had a lot more room than you would think.
When they shot the different specific areas, that would be maybe a lot farther away from where I was. But when they put it all together, it looked like it was a compact submarine that you couldn’t run around in. In actuality, it’s a pretty big area. If you’ve ever seen these soundstages, they’re very monstrous. You could probably jog a mile around in them. But this was only part of it, maybe like a fourth of the soundstage, but still a pretty big area.
BH: Do you have any other memories from the set, or any other memories from your experience making the film? Did you attend the premiere?
DF: I did go to the premiere, yeah. The premiere — I forget where they had it — but the announcer for it was a famous announcer from TBS radio who I’d known for years. He once interviewed me on his program about my acting career. He got up onstage, and he was introducing the actors. We were all sitting in the audience. He was introducing the main Japanese cast; some of them had smaller parts than I had. But I guess they were bigger names in Japan than I was.
He felt kind of bad that I was the American actor lead in the show, so he called me up onstage and introduced me, which was totally unexpected from the people who were producing this premiere! He wanted to do it as a favor to me, and he also felt bad that I wasn’t listed to be announced to get up onstage. So he said, “Now let me bring up Dennis Falt, the American actor who played the Russian submarine captain.” I think it surprised the Japanese cast who were onstage, too! But it was very nice of him to do that. As I was leaving, people in the audience were coming up, “Oh, can we have your autograph? Can we have your autograph?” So I’d draw a little submarine and my name by it!
BH: (laughs) I’m sure at some point you saw the film. What did you think of it?
DF: We did see it at that premiere. I haven’t seen a lot of Godzilla films, really. I remember the first one, Godzilla number one, back in the fifties, starring Raymond Burr. Funny thing, they put him in Godzilla ’85, the American version, but not the Japanese version. Anyway, I’d only seen parts of other Godzillas. They never really excited me that much until my own came. Godzilla, Mothra, or whatever — didn’t really watch those. So this one, the one I was in, I was more excited about it, and bought a copy of the cassette for myself and show it to people now and then when they come over, specifically my scene!
BH: Did you have any final words that you would like to say in the interview?
DF: Oh, here’s a funny story: In another Japanese movie I was in, where I played a Russian soldier in WWII in Manchuria where we were holding Japanese prisoners of war, the director asked me, “Do you know any Russian?” I said, “Yeah, I know a few words in Russian.” He said, “Okay, say them to the Japanese prisoners here.” So I just recited all my lines from Godzilla!
Of course, he didn’t understand Russian, so he didn’t know I was asking the guy, “Are you an American submarine? You can’t be a whale because whales don’t have sonar! Let’s load the torpedoes and fire them at this guy! Full speed ahead!” At the end, the director said, “That was really good!” I just said to myself, “I’m glad this movie isn’t going to Russia. They’re just going to wonder, ‘What the hell is this guy talking about?!’”