American Richard Berger became a part of Godzilla history quite by accident. As a journalist in Japan, his agent arranged for him to appear alongside Chuck Wilson as the diabolical Futurian Grenchiko in Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah (1991). In 2005, Mr. Berger discussed his memorable part in Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah with Brett Homenick.
Brett Homenick: What was your background before moving to Japan?
Richard Berger: I was already hooked on Japan before moving here in 1990. As a university student, I spent two years in the mid-1980s studying at Tokyo’s Waseda University and, during that time, decided that I would like to live and work in Japan after graduating. I got my degree in 1988 in Art 2D/Graphic Design from California State University, Northridge (CSUN), but, considering the outstanding level of graphic design from Japan, didn’t really think that I would be able to pursue that line of work here with much hope of success.
Through the introduction of one of the Japanese friends I made at CSUN, I landed a job in 1989 working for the Los Angeles bureau of Nippon TV, one of Japan’s national broadcasters. I worked primarily as a coordinator for shoots but also got some on-camera time as a reporter. With the help of the bureau chief, I managed to get a five-year journalist visa for Japan and was introduced to a talent agency specializing in foreign talent. It wasn’t really a direction that I had planned on, but it seemed interesting, so I decided to see where things would lead. The rest, as they say, is history.
BH: Why did you come to Japan?
RB: I had always been interested in the country and my interest just started to snowball after high school. I discovered Japanese food, started training in karate—which I’ve kept up with—and, prior to visiting the country, began studying the language, which I had always been curious about. I had always wondered what all those little squiggles meant and how you were supposed to read them. In retrospect, I think there had always been a strong magnetic force drawing me here.
BH: Did you have any interest in acting prior to your role in Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah?
RB: I don’t know if I’d call it “interest.” Growing up, I had always been the class clown and invariably found myself trying to be the center of attention. In that respect, I guess that I had always had an interest in “performing,” but had never focused my attention on acting, per se. After watching my performance in Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah, however, I became painfully aware of my lack of acting ability.
BH: How did you land a role in the film?
RB: I have the talent agency that was representing me at the time to thank for that. One day my manager handed me the script and said that I had been given a role in the next Godzilla movie. I was floored.
I think Omori-san, who wrote and directed the film, had planned to use Chuck (Wilson) from the start for the role of Wilson. Since Chuck and I were in the same agency, I’m sure that my manager used his subtle negotiating skills to get me a part as well. In other words, he probably told Omori-san that if he wanted to use Chuck, then he also had to use me.
BH: Did you do any research or preparation for your role?
RB: Aside from trying to figure out how I wanted to portray my character, not really. I didn’t feel that viewing all the previous Godzilla films would really provide me with any additional insight into the role I would be playing. Besides, I didn’t have that much time between receiving the script and the start of filming, so I spent most of my waking hours reading the screenplay and trying to memorize my lines.
BH: How was Kazuki Omori as a director?
RB: Well, due to limited experience on my part, I don’t really feel qualified to compare him with other film directors. But I do remember that he was very down to earth and easy to work with. I thought he was a genuinely nice guy. For some reason, one of the memories that sticks out most in my mind is being crammed between him and another couple of people in the back seat of a taxi at around 2:00 a.m. on the way home from the cast and crew wrap party after we had finished filming.
The first party had probably been in some nice restaurant, after which we headed to a Japanese-style tavern where we could be a little more rowdy. I got pretty drunk, so I don’t remember much of the evening, but do recall having done a lot of laughing and thinking in the taxi that Omori-san was very much one of the guys.
BH: Robert Scott Field, who played Android M-11, is well-known to G-fans. What was it like working with him?
RB: I was very jealous of Robert’s role in the film. I thought that he, by far, got the best role out of the foreign cast.
Robert and I got along very well and were pretty much cracking jokes the whole time during filming. I think we exchanged phone numbers at the end of production, and I had intended to get in touch with him but, as so often happens, never got around to it.
Robert had been living in the western part of Japan, where Japanese is spoken with a distinctly different accent than the “standard” dialect spoken in Tokyo. By way of an example, think of how a native Bostonian speaks compared with someone from the Midwest. Anyway, I remember once when Robert just couldn’t get himself to say his line with the accent in the right place. It was the funniest thing. He’d say his line in the pre-take rehearsal before rolling, and then Omori-san would immediately tell him how he was supposed to say it.
And then the two of them repeated the same routine, over and over and over. Pretty soon the entire staff was saying the line back to Robert along with Omori-san, but Robert just couldn’t get it. Before long we were all laughing so hard that the tears were streaming down our cheeks. Even now I can’t help but chuckle when I think about it.
BH: Any thoughts on Chuck Wilson? You shared a lot of screen time with him, and Robert didn’t seem to get along with him too well.
RB: As I mentioned earlier, Chuck and I were in the same agency. He’s quite a character. We had worked several times together before Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah, so I pretty much knew what to expect.
If I recall correctly, Chuck’s original connection to Japan was through judo. He’s very competitive and has spent a lot of time in the very strict and regimented environment of the martial arts. He’s also incredibly strong and sometimes plays rough, even when he’s just having fun. I will admit that he’s not always the easiest person to get along with, and it can take some time to figure out what makes him tick, but if you get on his good side, he can be a very nice guy and a good friend. If, however, you rub him the wrong way, then you would be well advised to give him a wide berth.
BH: Did you have any input on your character? For example, were you able to rewrite dialogue that you thought didn’t seem natural?
RB: That’s a good question. The truth is, I don’t really remember. I remember that I was given the freedom to play Grenchiko the way I wanted, but I don’t think that I ever felt as though my dialogue needed any revisions. Also, keep in mind that my lines were all in Japanese. While I had gained a fair level of proficiency and felt pretty comfortable speaking the language at the time, I don’t know if I would’ve been confident enough to recommend any changes.
BH: How would you describe working with the Japanese cast, such as Anna Nakagawa (Emmy in the film)?
RB: We all got along very well, and I always felt a sense of camaraderie with the rest of the cast throughout the production. Anna-san in particular was a real pleasure to work with. I recall that we got along very well together. In fact, when she got married a few months after we finished filming, she invited me to the evening’s wedding celebration. There must’ve been a few hundred people at the party, and I didn’t know a single person, but I was still honored that she had invited me. I think I spent most of the night talking to her manager, who I got to know very well during the filming of Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah.
BH: Do you have any memories of the fight scenes that take place on the Mother Ship just before it’s destroyed?
RB: Not really. I do, however, remember getting a few knocks during the pre-take rehearsals that weren’t part of the originally choreographed action. Everyone’s moves were, of course, carefully planned out, but when the adrenaline starts flowing, people forget exactly what they’re supposed to do and sometime start throwing in an extra blow here and there. For me, it’s hard to tell if we pulled it off or not because I have a hard time viewing the film with a completely impartial eye.
BH: What kind of involvement or interaction did you have with the special effects crew?
RB: A couple of times I watched the special-effects guys filming some scenes where Godzilla stomped around a bit, which was very cool, but aside from that I didn’t have any involvement with them.
BH: What did you think of the interior sets of the Mother Ship?
RB: I don’t really remember them that well. Part of the reason is that one of the first scenes I shot was inside the Mother Ship, and I was so worried about getting my lines right that I didn’t have many brain cells left over to take a good look at the set. Part of me was saying, “This is so cool! I can’t believe I’m really here filming a Godzilla movie,” while the other part of me was saying, “Please, God, don’t let me screw up!”
BH: Were there any interesting stories from the set that you can share?
RB: I think I’ve already mentioned the ones I remember best. Unfortunately, I can’t think of any others that stand out in my mind.
BH: The movie made headlines in the States because of its supposed anti-American message. Did you see it that way?
RB: Not at the time. I probably would’ve seen it that way, too, if I hadn’t been involved in the making of the film. But then again, it could’ve been viewed as a warning to Japan not to get too carried away with the idea of “the Japanese economic miracle.”
Being in the middle of the production, however—trying my best to learn my lines before we started filming followed by the thrill of working on the set and being a part of a Godzilla movie—didn’t provide me with a very impartial perspective. While I understood the story, I don’t think that I was able to really judge the content objectively.
If the film was intended to convey an anti-American sentiment, I honestly don’t think the fans in Japan were that interested in it. They just wanted to watch a fun movie starring Godzilla and King Ghidorah.
BH: Were you a Godzilla fan at all before you appeared in the film?
RB: Dangerous confession time: No, not really. I think that I had gotten a little turned off by some of the sillier Godzilla films that had been made in the early 1970s, but liked the direction things were taking when Godzilla reappeared in the mid-1980s.
BH: What did you think of the film?
RB: I thought it was a fun romp. As I mentioned earlier, having been so involved in the production of the film, it’s a little hard to be completely impartial, but I thought the monsters looked very cool, and I also liked the fact that we got to see how Godzilla came into being. All in all, I think it’s a pretty entertaining movie.
BH: What did you think of the experience overall?
RB: It was a blast. It was a time-consuming and, at times, emotionally exhausting process—more for the staff and crew by far than for the cast—but it was a tremendously enjoyable experience. I think I was extremely lucky to have been able to take part in something that means so much to so many people. And on top of that, it seems that a lot of people really like Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah out of all of the Godzilla films. That’s just (the) icing on the cake.