By AMY LONGSDORF
For 21st Century Media
It wasn’t the fire-breathing King of All Monsters which got Aaron Taylor-Johnson hooked on “Godzilla.”
Instead the 23-year-old actor found himself mesmerized by writer/director Gareth Edwards’ promise that the latest reboot would be driven less by special effects than by human characters.
With a varied filmography that includes everything from playing John Lennon in “Nowhere Boy” to portraying the title role in “Kick-Ass” to partnering Keira Knightley in “Anna Karenina,” Taylor-Johnson decided to trust his instincts and follow Edwards to the land of creature features.
“I sat down with Gareth the first time and we just didn’t stop talking for six hours about our love of film and how he wanted to shoot `Godzilla” and where he wanted to take the characters,” says the actor.
“I came out of that meeting thinking 100% that I wanted to be on this journey with him and everyone involved.”
In fact, the more time Taylor-Johnson spent with Edwards, the more he became fascinated with the history of “Godzilla,” which was created by Japan’s Toho Studios in 1954 as a metaphor for nuclear-age anxieties.
“I never really saw any of the movies until I went to see the  original because [Edwards] wanted to embrace that version in the [new] movie and have the origin story there, and also create Godzilla from that look.
“We had the Toho approval. We had the Toho guys come to set. It felt very much like we were bringing [Godzilla] back to its roots and setting it today, in modern society.”
“Godzilla,” which is now playing in area theaters, is an origin story that both hints at the mammoth creature’s beginnings as well as the reasons why he’s making a re-appearance in the present day.
Taylor-Johnson stars as a Naval officer who has just reunited with his wife (Elizabeth Olsen) and son (Carson Bolde) in San Francisco when he’s called away to Japan to help his nuclear engineer father (“Breaking Bad’s” Bryan Cranston) deal with the impending disaster. The cast also includes Ken Watanabe, Sally Hawkins, David Strathairn and Juliette Binoche.
Taylor-Johnson might not have begun work on “Godzilla” as a fan of the giant lizard but he came away happy to be a part of what could be a new franchise.
“I think `Godzilla’ is fantastic and I am proud of it,” says the actor. “I think it’s a brilliant emotional journey for the characters in what feels like [the midst] of a natural disaster. It all feels pretty believable to me, like it could really happen.”
In the film, the CGI-created Godzilla stands 355 feet tall, which makes him the biggest Godzilla in cinematic history. He’s quite a departure from the creature played by a latex-suited actor named Hario Nakajima in the original film.
In the years since Godzilla let loose his first fiery breath, Toho has turned out 28 films starring the beast. There have also been other reboots as well, including 1998’s “Godzilla” starring Matthew Broderick and Jean Reno.
Just like Taylor-Johnson, actress Elizabeth Olsen (“Oldboy”) jumped aboard “Godzilla” because she was fascinated with the story’s human dimensions.
“I really cared about everyone, and cared about the world [Edwards created] and cared about these people figuring this thing out,” she says.
Realism was important for the actress, especially as far as the domestic scenes were concerned.
“I think preparation for this film largely was just making sure that the family wasn’t too stereotyped,” says Olsen. “The characters had to be broad enough…to reach a world audience but also specific enough and rooted and grounded in a relationship so that you could get behind [them]. That was [the] conversation that never stopped between Gareth, Aaron and I.”
Johnson was similarly committed to making sure his character felt authentic. Before production began, he underwent training with military advisor James D. Dever, a retired major in the U.S. Marines.
“I play a lieutenant in the Navy so I needed to…get into the headspace of a guy who would do that sort of a job,” says Taylor-Johnson, who also bulked up for the role. “I needed to know how [someone like that] would talk and carry a weapon….[Dever] was a huge help in providing insight into my character.”
Another highlight for Taylor-Johnson was sharing scenes with Cranston. “I’m such a fan of his work and loved [`Breaking Bad’],” says the actor. “I think he’s brilliant. And he’s a super sweet guy and really funny. It was brilliant working alongside him. He’s a phenomenal actor.”
While both Taylor-Johnson and Edwards have toiled on special-effects-heavy films before, Olsen was a newbie when it came to acting alongside creatures who weren’t really there.
“Gareth comes from special effects,” says the actress, 25. “Instead of working for a production company, he worked for a special effects company. So he had confidence in that, fully, and he had confidence also in working with the actors. He also made us feel like he was there for the story. I never felt overpowered or overshadowed by special effects.”
Oddly enough, “Godzilla” helped Olson prepare for her work on 2015’s “The Avengers: The Age of Ultron,” in which she’ll play Scarlet Witch, the twin sister of Taylor- Johnson’s Quicksilver.
“Aaron and I spent time together in Vancouver and I got to know his family,” she says, referencing the actor’s wife, director Sam Taylor-Wood, and their two toddler daughters. “To play a really tight twin brother and sister team – it was really lucky that [I’m not working] with some guy I just met. I think we both like the fact that we have this other film in our repertoire.”
Olsen made her first appearance as Scarlet Witch at the end of “Captain America,” in which “The Age of Ultron” was teased. Even though production has begun on the latest Marvel adventure, the actress is still perusing as many comics as she can get her hands on.
“For me it was like, “throw it all in!” so I’m still reading the comics and also still looking at the fan pages,” she says.
“I’m the first human interpretation of The Scarlet Witch so you want to be able to honor the cartoons and comics but also bring your own thing to it…It’s been a really fun process and awesome because she’s so dope.”