Mick Preston was cast as the tough-talking New York City cop in Ryuhei Kitamura’s Godzilla: Final Wars (2004), Godzilla’s 50th anniversary film. While his scene may have been short, it is one of the most memorable parts in the entire movie. In this 2005 interview, Mr. Preston recalls working on what would be Godzilla’s last movie for 12 years.
Q: What was your background before Godzilla: Final Wars?
Mick Preston: Initially, I’d trained as an actor in New York with Uta Hagen. She was both an amazing actress and teacher. I was also asked by her to act in the film made about her and her teaching called Acting by Uta Hagen. Whilst in New York, I studied a lot of different styles of acting and had a number of wonderful teachers, including Carol Rosenfeld and Austin Pendleton. I worked a lot in independent film and theater, as well as television, including Guiding Light and The Late Show with David Letterman. One film I worked on in New York, The Definition of Insanity, is still doing pretty well in festivals. It’s won a couple of best feature awards and has played all over the world. Peter Bogdanovich is in it. I lived in New York for nine years before moving to Los Angeles where I lived for another two years. Currently, I’m living in Sydney, Australia.
Q: How did you get involved in Final Wars?
MP: I’d only been in Sydney a short time when I got a tip from a couple of people I’d recently met that they were casting the part of a New York cop. So I rang the casting director and asked for an audition. I had my first audition at Fox Studios, and then later on I had a callback at a hotel in the city. Soon after that, I got the call asking me to come on board.
Q: What was Ryuhei Kitamura like to work with?
MP: Ryuhei was great to work with. I worked with him in both Sydney and Tokyo. In Sydney, we filmed in the city at night. Before shooting, Ryuhei approached us and told us that he wasn’t that happy with the dialogue he’d written, and so he’d like to collaborate with us to make some changes. So we got together on set and began to discuss and improvise ways to make the action more effective. He was very open to our (myself and actor Darren Schnase, the New York pimp) suggestions. So we came up with some new dialogue and choreographed it with the Mexican standoff and the section where Rodan arrives and blows us hundreds of meters into the air.
He was completely open to our suggestions. He was also incredibly supportive. Even at the premiere in Hollywood, I remember he came up to us a couple of times and told us how much he liked our work and that he wanted to work with us again soon. In Tokyo, we were filming all the blue-screen action. We were directed in this sequence by the international director, Ryuchi Takatsu. He was also terrific to work with. Ryuhei directed us in the dubbing studio.
Q: What was it like working for a Japanese director as opposed to an American one?
MP: That’s a really tough question to answer. Ryuhei is one of the first Japanese directors I’ve worked with. During my time in the U.S., New York in particular, I worked with directors from many different countries because it has such a variety of ethnicities there. Ryuhei was very calm, very supportive, and very enthusiastic about his work. He was also very professional and confident about what he was doing. It was obvious he loved directing. In the U.S., that’s not always the case. I’ve worked with some good directors, but I’ve also worked with many people who didn’t really know what they were doing. I think that part of the problem may be that there doesn’t seem to be much training around to really teach directors how to communicate with actors in a common language.
There’s lots of training to teach them how to deal with the technical side of things but very little to help them understand how to help the actors give the best performance they can. Some directors know how to do it instinctively. So differentiating on the basis of nationality is difficult. I think it probably comes down to instinct, maybe training, and personality. And the cultural background is a part of someone’s personality, but I’m not really sure how it influences their directing style. There are a couple of things that I did notice in Japan, however, that I have rarely seen before. One was the incredible work ethic of Ryuhei and his crew. He told me that his record for continuous shooting was forty-eight hours straight. And the other was that the crew applauded when we walked on set. That doesn’t happen in America very often!
Q: Were there any language problems? Did they have a translator handy on set?
MP: For the Sydney portion of the shoot, where Ryuhei was directing, there were no language problems. But for the Tokyo sequences, I had a personal assistant/translator who was with me both off and on set. She would help offset in communicating with the producers and various other behind-the-scenes people. And then on set she would translate the international director, Ryuichi Takatsu’s, directions. He would direct me as best he could in English, but if he got stuck he would rely on the interpreter to translate. Same thing with the stunt sequences. The stunt coordinator would demonstrate the moves and then the translator would explain them in English.
Q: Do you remember who wrote your dialogue?
MP: I think that Ryuhei wrote it. It actually changed a great deal between the audition and what you see in the film. At the initial audition, I was told that I had some freedom to improvise some additional dialogue. Then at the callbacks again we started out with set dialogue but also had the freedom to improvise. In fact, the whole callback became a series of improvised scenes with different and multiple characters. Then between the callback and the actual filming, I think that Ryuhei went away and rewrote the scenes again based on what was coming out of the audition. And once at the set he told us that he wasn’t happy with what he’d written and would like to work in some changes – which we did. And even then, some of the actual scene was still improvised. And finally, when we got to Tokyo, Ryuhei told us that we were going to have to dub over all the swearing because they wanted the film to be available to the younger audiences, as well. And a lot of that footage remained on the cutting room floor. So the dialogue changed many times!
Q: Whose decision was it to redub some of the more “colorful” dialogue?
MP: I don’t exactly know. When we arrived in Tokyo, Ryuhei directed the scenes where swearing took place. I don’t know who is responsible for making a decision like that. I guess it’s either the executive producer of the studio or the executive producer in conjunction with the ratings board. I do know that the dubbing process was very difficult. I had sworn many times during the course of the action, and so to dub over all those f-words was challenging. I suppose that’s part of the reason that in the finished film you see that there are sections where the lips and the dialogue are out of sync. But then that’s all probably part of the charm of a Japanese Godzilla film!
Q: Do you have any interesting or funny stories to tell about your experiences on the film?
MP: Yes, I have many! But I’ll just pick one. Before we began shooting in Sydney, Ryuhei approached me on the set and asked what flavor of donuts I’d like, cinnamon or chocolate, because he was going to buy a whole bag. I told him that I was pretty health-conscious and so not to worry about me but to go ahead and get whatever flavor he wanted. However, he kept insisting that he was going to buy donuts, fifty of them, and wanted me to choose a flavor.
Eventually, I gave in and chose chocolate, I think. Anyway, it wasn’t till later when we started filming that the crew produced this huge bag of donuts, and Ryuhei described the action to me. I was to be a typical New York cop – drinking coffee and scoffing down donuts! Boy, did I feel stupid! So they gave me a spit bucket, but those donuts ended up tasting so good that I didn’t spit any of them out and even kept eating them between takes. I think I ate about forty-eight of them that night. So much for being health-conscious!
Q: How would you rate the experience overall?
MP: It was an amazing experience. All the way through from filming to being part of the premiere at Mann’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood. Everyone treated me amazingly well. Both in Sydney and in Tokyo. And it’s nice to be part of history. This is possibly the final Godzilla movie of all time, the fiftieth anniversary of Godzilla, and the first time a Japanese film has had its world premiere in Hollywood.
Q: What did you think of the film?
MP: I really enjoyed it. I especially enjoyed seeing it at the premiere for the first time. It was obvious that there were a ton of Godzilla fanatics in the audience. It was great the way that they would cheer when a famous monster would appear on the screen or when they’d recognize one of the Japanese actors. There were lots of little things I liked about the film. I remember that at one point in a fight sequence that an actor was thrown into a wall that looked like it was probably made out of concrete and the wall itself physically moved! It was great to see a film that seemed to take pride in being a little wacky!
Q: Were you a Godzilla fan before working on the film?
MP: I’d seen a bunch of the Godzilla films growing up, and I’d really enjoyed them. But I wouldn’t say that I was a die-hard fan. I’m not even sure how many of the twenty-eight Godzilla films that have been made are available in Australia. In the point in the film where I had to look up and see Rodan, the creature that blows us up into the air, I’d never seen this monster before. We were just told it was a one hundred meter high monster with huge wings. Rodan was added in later in post-production. I heard that Sony would be distributing the film in the U.S. Hopefully, this one will make it out to Australia!