Sitting in a small, dark screening room meant to view the latest dailies, I and a group of journalists awaited the entrance of the first actor from GODZILLA VS. KONG we would be speaking with – Brian Tyree Henry. The actor – whose credits have skyrocketed since his acclaimed work on the series Atlanta, having roles in movies like Widows, If Beale Street Could Talk, and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse – has excelled at gliding between comedic and dramatic roles, and here, in what is likely the most expensive movie he’s been apart of, his character (Bernie Hayes), looks…strange. Coming off his earlier scene work with young co-stars Millie Bobby Brown and Julian Dennison, Henry is dressed in a dirty jumpsuit and has one or two strange contraptions attached to go along with it (including a rather intense-looking watch he refused to tell us the function of). In short, he looked like a doomsday prepper who happens to have a deep appreciation for Data from The Goonies.
Truth is, that’s not very far from the kind of person Hayes really is. A former employee of the in-movie corporation, Apex Industries, Hayes teams with Brown’s Madison and Dennison’s Josh to expose to the world the company’s evil corporation ways before it’s too late. During our discussion, Henry seems to truly have an affinity for this strange character, and during the talk, he opened up about his character, sung his co-stars’ praises, and shared his enthusiasm for Godzilla going back to the Taco Bell promotional material for the 1998 film.
Brian Tyree Henry, “Bernie Hayes”:
What can he tell us about his character?
Brian Tyree Henry: My character is Bernie Hayes, he used to be an employee of Apex Industries, kind of one of the cogs in the chain of all the things they do there. He lost his wife along the way and kind of turned in on himself and decided to expose Apex for what it really is. He’s kind of like an inside conspiracy theorist, he runs his own podcast that kind of exposes what’s going on in this random world of technology we have found ourselves in and the corruptness of it all. Nobody knows that it’s his, because that’s just how Bernie flosses, and he ends up being befriended by these two kids – Madison (Millie Bobby Brown) and Josh (Julian Dennison) – to kind of embark on this journey with them to expose this industry that is kind of bringing amongst the destruction with Godzilla – and all the things going on with Godzilla and Kong. He just really wants to do what’s right for mankind and do what’s right for these kids and do what’s right for what he believes in himself – because he kind of saw this coming – like he kind of knew these things were gonna happen. So he joins the adventure, and as we go along the way, there becomes this kind of bond between him and Madison where he understands what she’s lost and what she’s fighting against. He understands the work of her mother (Vera Farmiga in King of the Monsters) and father (Kyle Chandler) and he wants to continue that, but at the same time, he wants to make sure they’re safe. And he wants to make sure he kind of leaves a legacy for himself, because he doesn’t want his work to be in vain. I feel like, it’s easy to call him a crackpot, it’s easy to call him a crazy guy – which he is, he is – but at the same time there’s heart to him, there’s this loyalty he has. He just wants to make sure the world doesn’t get destroyed.
What can he tell us about his dynamic with the young actors and their characters?
It’s insane because I said…I would look at Julian and Millie all the time like, “I’m your legal guardian [laughs]. I’m going to sign the paper and teach you everything I know and we’re gonna take over the world.” They’re absolutely incredible, you know. I get a little nervous sometimes when I think about working with teenagers in this capacity because what they have to do and what they’re called upon is so difficult and so hard, and especially with Millie [her character] there’s an emotional center for what she’s lost from the previous movie. So my duty is just to be there to nurture them, and just protect them in this way. I kind of refer to myself as the Brienne of Tarth of this movie [laughs]. Other than that, you know, it’s a weird kind of comradery of being the adult with these teenagers and you wanna make sure there is this an authority figure, that there is someone watching out for them, but at the same time, I’m still going through what I’m going through of trying to figure out how this industry can do something so harsh and so mean and so cruel to the world, while also trying to give them hope for the future. I feel like that’s my place as Brian with them [the actors] too, honestly. I don’t let them leave my side and any time they feel like they’re strained I’m like “Alright, guys, okay let’s do this.” It’s very weird because I just did a movie with teenagers, I did Child’s Play, I had these teenagers who had never heard of Chucky and who had never understood the Child’s Play franchise, so I’m sitting there like, “What do you mean you don’t know?!” But at the same time, you want to kind of move them into that kind of thing, and you want to bring them into the fantasy of what that is. All in all, it’s been great. It’s been a whole other relationship that I’ve discovered amongst these characters, amongst the actors. It’s great.
Is his character Team Kong or Team Godzilla?
I think Bernie is a defender of the truth, honestly. He wants the truth to be revealed, and it just so happens that the team of Godzilla came to me first. He’s more intimate with the inner workings of Godzilla because part of him was there crafting and mastering whatever Apex told him to do, and I think because of his consciousness and because of his understanding that it’s not really providing a great service to the world, he left. He was like, “I can’t. I can’t do this. This can’t be it.” But I think in the end, he’s a defender of humanity, he really cares about the human condition and how the human condition is kind of being diluted and no one really seems to care about the fact that Godzilla – be whatever god he or she is – is still a god and still living and breathing, and Kong is the same way. The fact that they’re pitting them against each other is…the whole concept of war, that whole concept of battle, that whole concept of power and what power really means to people and what happens when you give just an inkling of power to somebody who doesn’t deserve it. And then again, who deserves the power? I think Bernie is trying to figure out how to survive whatever it is that they’re doing and how to crush it. I always refer to Bernie as “Anonymous” – Bernie’s like the head of “Anonymous”. He can see the injustices, but no one really listens to him.
Has he got a chance to do some CGI work featuring Kong or Godzilla?
Yeah. We’re coming up on some heavy-duty stuff. I’ve already been doing my neck stretches [laughs]. But what I like about what Adam [Wingard, director] is doing is that he’s really focusing on the relationships of us, the ones who are down here on Earth, because those are the things that work their way up. If you don’t have the kind of have the relationship with the person to the left or right of you then this “thing” can immediately solve all that and just completely destroy and completely take it all away from you in the blink of an eye. And I think what we’re focusing on now as a whole is just how small we all are in the spectrum of what goes on on this planet – how just one little thing on this side can affect something on that side. But it’s coming – I’m terrified! But after a while, you start to realize you’re not alone, which is one thing I love about this movie. No one is alone. No one is absolutely destitute of any kind of friendship or connection, or we’re clinging onto these things from the past when actually we need to be creating these kinds of relationships for the future. But I’m prepared for Godzilla [laughs]. I’m like, “So are we going to be playing all the screams and the scratching? Because that’s terrifying to me.”
Given this is his first huge action blockbuster, was it hard for him to make the transition as an actor?
I treat Bernie as – I really love him. He’s been added to the belt of characters I can’t really seem to shake, because I really do care about these men that I portray and where they come from. I think that this is a lighter side of me that people are going to see – a completely different side of me that people are going to see. What I like about Bernie is that there’s joy in him, and he’s going to make people feel joyous about going on this journey that is incredibly insane. I get to wear a mechanic’s suit! I get a belt with all these gadgets and all these things, and it’s real easy to look at Bernie on the surface and think that he’s menacing, and that whole stigma that goes on with that. But with Bernie, I truly love where his brain goes, because he is incredibly intelligent. He could’ve ran Apex if he wanted to, and I love that I’m getting the opportunity to play this other kind of side of him and to give him this – I don’t wanna say wholesome – but he is the guy that you wanna root for. I like playing those guys that are the underdogs, the ones that you really don’t see, the one that may seem like he’s lost everything, but at the end, he gains everything. He’s a great person, there’s a great heart to him. He’s different, but he’s great!
At the time of this interview, King of the Monsters had yet to come out, so he was asked about what it’s like to be in a sequel to a movie that has yet to be seen – even by him:
It’s bizarre. I was saying the other day, I remember when the first Godzilla [the 1998 film] came out, you had Diddy’s “Come With Me” playing in the background and had Taco Bell cups and all that stuff. I was just like, “Wow, this franchise of Godzilla is so vast and wide.” You can continue to tell these stories for another generation that has no idea. Like I know that Millie and Julian have no idea about Diddy doing “Come With Me” from Godzilla! [laughs] And I was like, “You guys don’t understand! When I was your age I was like ‘This is the best thing in the world!’” So to be part of that franchise now in a whole new retelling of it with a movie I have yet to see…it’s fine, because at the end of the day, it’s about the connection. You would be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t know who Godzilla is. Like, if you don’t know who Godzilla is I can never talk to you again. We know the premise, but I like where they’re going with it is it’s a story about the people and about preserving these creatures as opposed to making them out to be the villains and these big destructive things. It’s kind of interesting how these stories can manifest over awhile, and they become deities to us, in a way. I’m just really excited. I don’t know who wins the battle. I was like, “Who is the Don King of this fight? Who’s got the most money in the game?”
Was he a fan of these monsters before joining the movie?
Absolutely! I’m a huge manga fan, and I used to draw Godzilla and stuff. For some reason, I was always a Godzilla fan more than a King Kong fan, because the story of King Kong is so deep-rooted. It’s like, “If y’all had left his ass alone and not gone to that island and brought him to New York it would’ve been totally fine. But you keep going over there and you keep bothering him. Let him be! What’s the problem?” Whereas Godzilla emerges from the depth of the Earth, out of something that we have done as well. I am happy to be on Team Godzilla. It’s a dream come true.
Millie Bobby Brown and Julian Dennison; “Madison Russell” and “Josh Valentine”
Late into the Australian evening, we finally got a chance to talk with two of the movie’s youngest stars – Millie Bobby Brown and Julian Dennison – who had spent many of the hours before doing a scene with co-star Brian Tyree Henry, which involved sneaking into a seemingly very dangerous place. To the uninitiated, doing that kind of work late into the night would’ve meant going straight past a Q&A and headfirst into a soft bed, but considering these two are no strangers to action-packed vehicles (Brown from Stranger Things and King of the Monsters; Dennison from Deadpool 2), pulling late-nighters is already in their blood. In fact, not only were they awake and ready for whatever questions we had, but they actually had bouts of energy, continuing to play off their winning chemistry that will surely translate to the big screen.
Brown, making her second appearance in a Godzilla movie, talks about where her character (Madison) is after the events of the last movie, talking about how far her compassion for Godzilla takes her. New to the franchise, Dennison plays Madison’s friend Josh, who joins her on a massive adventure to ensure she doesn’t get killed, squashed, eaten, or anything else that can happen when giant monsters are involved.
Can Brown tell us about where her character is post-King of the Monsters?
MBB: Five years have gone by, and Madison has grown up. It’s definitely a coming-of-age story for her. Her storyline has evolved greatly in the way she deals with things, her attitudes towards life – much stronger of a person. She’s really trying to follow in her mother’s footsteps (Vera Farmiga). She’s more independent and more understanding of what she needs to do. So, yeah, five years have gone by and she’s basically a badass.
What is her relationship with Godzilla this time around?
MBB: In King of the Monsters her relationship with Godzilla was pretty distant, it was more talks about him and she was very curious. There are moments in King of the Monsters where she gets to have some amazing scenes with him, but definitely this movie it’s much more about the technical side of things. Learning about the data of him as a Titan. She’s much more knowledgeable about him.
Can the two of them speak to their characters’ dynamic between each other?
JD: I think my character is more of a nerd, he doesn’t have a lot of friends. Madison is kind of his only friend. He’s kind of always trailing behind her and she’s always very direct…she’s become such a badass he’s kind of the realist in the duo. He kinds of brings it like “Uhhh we shouldn’t do that, because we’ll die.” And she’s like, “Nah, we’ll be fine.” So I think they play really well, and they’re a very good mix of craziness.
Can Julian talk about his character’s background?
JD: He’s kind of like…when Madison needs something done, but she doesn’t wanna do it [laughs]. She’ll be like, “I need this password!” And he’ll be like, “Oh, okay. I don’t have any other friends, so what else am I gonna do?” So that’s kind of Josh, so he kind of gets dragged into this.
MBB: Yeah but he’s kind of a perfect fit! He is the realist, but he’s also absolutely, utterly adorable. Everybody is going to fall in love with him — because Madison has. He’s taken her in after such a tragedy after the first movie. He’s taken her under his wing. Even though she’s a force of nature and she is very direct, she does feel this vulnerable side when she’s around him and he kind of takes care of her but in a silent way. In the scene we were doing today I just felt so uncomfortable because I was like, Madison never feels like this. It was like “Oh god, I don’t know what to do” –
JD: She was trying not to laugh.
MBB: Well, he always makes me laugh. So, I think we’re a really good match. Such a beautiful friendship.
We know how she feels about Godzilla. How does she feel about Kong?
MBB: No comment. [laughs]
We see she’s sort of the leader among this duo, but does she stay that way when Bernie (Brian Tyree Henry) comes into the mix?
MBB: Oh, 1000 percent. She’s letting no man tell her what to do.
JD: And Josh kind of gets really upset, because when Madison meets Bernie, they kind of have this thing where they’re like “Let’s do this thing!”
MBB: And they sort of become a duo.
JD: And he feels left out.
MBB: But then you come back! It’s okay!
JD: Yeah it’s totally okay.
MBB: And then he cries.
JD: Yeah I have this big emotional scene where I spill all the tea.
MBB: Yeah, you spill all the tea.
Can she talk about coming back with Kyle Chandler as her dad?
MBB: I love him, he’s the coolest. He really is. He has a really intimidating stare!
JD: The first time I met him I was like, “Hey, nice to meet you.” And he was like, [very serious] “Nice to meet you, Julian.”
MBB: The first time I met Julian I ran up to you and jump on you and hugged you and was like “Let’s go!”
JD: And then he kind of warmed up to me –
MBB: Are you kidding, he loves you!
JD: And then we were laughing and telling jokes. Like, Kyle and Brian are so funny. Especially Brian.
MBB: He’s the greatest. He makes me laugh to the point of crying.
JD: He was like, “I’m gonna miss you.” And I’m like, “You’re just saying that because I’m here, but, like, I’m gonna miss you too.”
MBB: They are like brothers, and it’s really annoying. Because they’re like best friends and they just don’t stop talking. So, when they talk and talk – if Brian were here and I wasn’t – you guys would wanna walk out. Because they’re just in their own little world! They’re just absolutely in love with each other and they have a beautiful friendship, and I’m the one who’s like, “Let’s all have fun,” but at the end of the day I’m like, “I will literally hurt you.”
JD: But that’s really good and I think that helps with our on-screen relationship. Every time I do a movie I really want to get to know the people I’m working with. I really wanna have an off-camera relationship with them, because it’s hard shooting these emotional scenes, and it can be uncomfortable…because you don’t know that person and you don’t want to cry in front of a person you don’t know.
MBB: But the script was supposed to be that we [Madison and Josh] were in a relationship…
JD: Our first screentest together we have to recite some “Romeo and Juliet” lines…
MBB: Oh my god.
JD: It was so bad.
MBB: It was so bad. But [by the end] we weren’t even doing the script, it was just me and him laughing. We were laughing and talking. And then I remember they left and they were like, “So, Millie, do you like him?” And was like, “Uhhh do I like him? He’s like an angel. Yes. Tell him he has the job, like, right now.”
MBB: [continued]: He really brings a light onto set. When I was working on King of the Monsters there were no kids in the movie. It was hard, and there were all these adults were around me, and I’m always usually bubbly, but it’s really hard to make grumpy people happy.
JD: It is really hard.
MBB: But when Julian comes to set everyone’s like, “Aww”. He’s like the light and the angel and we all love him.
Can Millie talk about the difference between working with directors Adam Wingard here and Michael Dougherty on King of the Monsters? Do they have different energies?
MBB: You know, they don’t. They’re really the same…they’re just absolute fanboys. They’re very different as people, but they both have the same energy on set. They’re the ultimate fanboys of Godzilla. This is their dream. This is really their dream, and to work with someone who is so passionate about the movie you’re in it’s fun because you get to feel like you’re part of their dream too. They’re so passionate and dedicated and driven to making every scene and every detail perfect. It’s awesome. There’s never a dull moment.
For More details and interviews from our set visit, Click Below!
GODZILLA VS. KONG opens on March 31 in the US both in theaters and on HBO Max for 31 days following release.