A monster movie is never just a monster movie. There’s always a metaphor lurking beneath any creature feature’s surface ― it’s just not usually as odd and intriguing as the one in “Colossal.”
Anne Hathaway plays Gloria, a haphazard New York party animal who’s lost her writing job, her apartment and potentially her boyfriend (Dan Stevens). Returning to her modest hometown in search of a refresh button, Gloria encounters an old classmate, Oscar (Jason Sudeikis), who owns a bar that provides no aid in curbing Gloria’s inebriated tendencies. But things get twisted when Gloria learns a Godzilla-esque kaiju beast in South Korea is mirroring her actions under very specific circumstances. From there, “Colossal” zigs and zags, morphing into clever symbolism about the commanding hand men often attempt to wield over women. It’s one of the year’s best movies to date.
On the afternoon of the film’s New York premiere, The Huffington Post sat down with Hathaway and Sudeikis to discuss “Colossal,” which was written and directed by Nacho Vigalondo (”The ABCs of Death,” “Open Windows”). Along the way, we gabbed about “Interstellar,” “Saturday Night Live,” “The Intern,” being a public figure and how boys are raised to believe the world owes them good fortune.
I went into this movie cold, and I wish everyone could experience it that way. I only knew it was vaguely a monster movie. How was it pitched to you?
Jason Sudeikis: I remember there being a logline on a cover sheet, but I don’t remember what it was. I got it in its full script form, and I remember being delighted by it and very curious as it went because it made some interesting choices right off the bat. I knew the idea of a Godzilla-like monster at that point because of, I don’t know what, litigation reasons.
Anne Hathaway: Oh right, that whole thing. Jeez Louise.
JS: But it makes sense ― it helped to make the invisible visible. I was guns a-blazing. Did you read any coverage of it?
AH: No, what had happened was I had just seen a film called “A Field in England,” by Ben Wheatley, and it was so wonderful and weird and existed because Ben is a creative person and likes to make films and honor that creativity. So I just sent this really impassioned email to my representatives saying I need to do a movie like this. I need to know some weird things that are out there right now, I need to think, I need to be challenged ― this whole thing.
Had you just done a movie that made you feel like you need to go in a weirder direction?
AH: No, no, I feel like I had just done a lot of very serious films. I remember doing one of my final scenes in “Interstellar,” where I’m left thinking I’m ― spoiler alert ― the only person left in the universe, and just thinking, “How the hell do you play that?” and just going into this well and finding that I had just exhausted this well of tragedy. I remember sobbing and the producer, a wonderful woman Emma Thomas, coming over and putting her arm around me in between takes and me going, “I need to make a comedy.”
I was searching, and everything that was coming in, so much of it was high-quality, but there was a certain sameness to it. I’m very privileged ― I’ve made a lot of films, and I just needed to shake it up a little bit, you know? My wonderful agent, Maha Dakhil, sent “Colossal” and said, “This might be too weird or it might be the right weird.” So all I knew was that I was going to read something that was different, and I loved it, just loved it. I wrote back and said, “It’s the right weird for me. Can this guy direct?” And then I watched some of his short films and I thought, “This guy can really direct.” And then I met him and he was just the most adorable person, and it was a very easy yes.
It’s interesting to see monsters causing destruction in a movie that doesn’t have the same gargantuan budget as a typical “Godzilla” or “King Kong” would. Were you nervous the CGI wouldn’t hold up?
JS: I just trust that stuff.
AH: Yeah, I know! I’m so naive.
JS: I know it’s conditioning for me from working at “SNL,” where you get to work with Tony winners and Emmy winners. “What does the wig look like? You tell me.” I started training at “SNL”: Listen to the wardrobe, listen to the set design. When you write something, you produce it, too, so I’m just used to that. And it’s bitten me in the ass outside of that building several times, but I’d rather lean that way, where it’s like, “You be creative in your medium.”
AH: I just felt really protected because the way it was described in the screenplay is the way it is in the movie, which is that so much of the viewing of the monsters happens on devices. So I knew that, within the budget they were talking about, they could afford it. If they said that every shot was a huge lizard monster crushing buildings, I would know they couldn’t afford it and the CGI would be distractingly terrible. But to watch it on a phone is different. People can do the most amazing things on the internet with no money, so I just thought, “I don’t know exactly how this is gonna look, but I know it could look really believable if, on the big screen, it’s just on this little phone.” I thought that was a really cool way to discuss the way we would actually consume this news.
Our sympathies toward these characters get twisted as the movie continues. Gloria is presented as past her partying prime; she’s irresponsible and aimless, and then we slowly see that Gloria has it together in ways that aren’t obvious. Whereas Oscar gets the opposite treatment, with “nice guy” written all over his forehead, and then we see an inner darkness emerge. Where did your sympathies lie?
AH: First of all, I want to kiss you all over your cute-as-a-button face for not saying she’s past her prime, for stopping yourself. No, but when I describe Gloria to people, I say, “She’s that person where it’s time to pull the party bus over. She doesn’t quite know how to do that.”
I felt the words “past her prime” bubbling up and I knew that was not what I meant at all. She’s young and able!
AH: It was a brilliant catch. Thank you. You just saved me. I was like, “I gotta go get into a dress tonight and stand in front of photographers and project something to the young women of the world!”
JS (imitating Hathaway’s performative insecurity): “That’s what all this is covering! The beauty within!”
AH (suddenly belting as though she’s in a musical): “This doesn’t matter, don’t look! But look!”
JS: Click! Click! Click!
AH: Cinema is life! [Laughs.] So, my sympathies in this movie really do lie with everyone. It’s been a wonderful ongoing conversation about this movie. Somebody said today, “Would you describe this as a feminist movie?” And what we settled on is that the existence of this movie is feminist, but the movie itself isn’t actually about that. One of the things I think you’re seeing is Gloria has this inner strength and inner confidence because of who she is, but also we can’t discount the fact that she has probably been told her whole life that she can do anything. She was probably told that especially because she was a girl, and you can’t overlook the fact that Oscar probably wasn’t told that. It was just understood that he could do anything because he was a guy and it didn’t need to be overtly stated. So when things don’t work out for him, he takes it down to a really dark place. I think we’re seeing that play out in the world right now. I don’t think the key is to stop telling Gloria that she can do anything; I think it’s to start telling Oscar that he can, too.
JS: Or that he can do something else.
AH: Yeah, and also that the world no longer owes you anything, and it never did, and that was a construct. That’s probably a really tough thing to swallow, but for everybody else who has never expected anything from the world, we’re just like, “Well, welcome to the human race.”
JS: “Welcome to Earth.” Yeah, I feel like I’ve been variations of each character. And then when you play someone like Oscar, or at least when I do, you can’t judge it. For lack of a better way of putting it, I know the punchline. I didn’t feel like Oscar changed. He was the same at the beginning that he was at the end ― it’s just that the audience doesn’t know that. Things are revealed that have been in motion for years and years and years. That toxicity may have very well been inherited, but we don’t know, which is nice because I would hate to have it forgiven. We’ve all got shit. We’ve all got baggage in the way of our intuition, and the more often you can clean it up and fold the clothes with it and put the bag in storage, the more in touch with your intuition you’d be.
Anne, in thinking about Gloria and your character in “Rachel Getting Married,” and as a public figure yourself who has to put on a certain air when you’re not behind closed doors, do you find a certain power in playing characters who don’t have it together?
AH: Well, I identify with them. Without stating a preference, it’s just a matter of identification. I identify with Gloria more closely than I identity with Jules Ostin from “The Intern.” Jules always felt like this lovely, lovely woman to me, and I was so, in a way, relieved at the end when it turns out that her life is falling apart.
For me, the thing about this movie that I love is how it plays with preconceived notions that you have coming into it. Earlier, two people in a row described her as a mess. “She’s a mess, she’s a mess.” And the word “mess” just denoted a finality to me. And then somebody else came in and said she’s struggling, and I really appreciated the specificity of the word that she chose, because I’ve struggled. My God, sometimes I’ll have a great month and then there’s that five hours in which everything falls apart, and then the ship rights itself. And sometimes it’s the opposite, where you have a whole month or more where everything has absolutely gone to pieces but you’re able to get it together for those three hours that you really need to have your life together, you know? We’ve all been that person. Some mornings you wake up and you meditate; some mornings you wake up and you’re hungover. We’re all all sorts of things, and I don’t feel a responsibility to represent that ― I’m just so relieved when I find it. It reinforced the experience I’m having as a human being, that we’re all contradictions and that we’re not only ever one thing.
Jason, this introduces an exciting post-“SNL” path for you. A lot of the comedies you made while on “SNL” fit in with the show’s M.O., if you will. Now you’ve got an Alexander Payne movie coming, and you’ve got “Kodachrome,” which is a road-trip drama with Ed Harris. Does this mean you’re heading in a weirder direction yourself?
JS: Yeah. I consciously say no to things a lot. Bernie Brillstein, who was one of the great talent managers of all time, was like, “A career is made out of what you say no to.” I heard that at the right time. Coming from a “yes, and” doctrine, the power of no is a good thing. But, look, I’m real lucky to have walked those halls with ― in my opinion, and I have a high opinion of that show’s entire history ― some of the best ever. The work that my generation has done post-“SNL,” I’d put up against anybody’s. As a fan of all those guys and gals, it’s nuts. It’s nuts. I was just trying to keep up.
But what you learn there is just to be part of something interesting and to be around people better than you even think you’re capable of. The concern of “am I gonna sink or swim?” is something we would feel every Tuesday night on writing night, every Wednesday on read-throughs. It’s something that, from job to job, I try to have, like in the instances of working with Matt Damon, or Annie Hathaway, or Ed Harris and Elizabeth Olsen. You’re like, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, please. This is the same way I felt when working with Fred Armisen, Seth Meyers, Andy Samberg, Kristen Wiig.” I like trying to keep up with people. “Always a student, never a master,” as someone more succinct than myself once put it. I believe in that, so that’s what it is more than genre-busting or trying to exceed expectations. It makes sense that the people writing the checks are going to go, “Well, he can do this,” or “She can do that,” so I try to be a responsible show-businessman. But once those make enough money ...
I applaud Annie for seeing that Ben Wheatley movie and knowing what it made her feel as a fan of the medium and to use the cachet that someone of her talent and her financial situation in regards to how her films have done, to be like, “Boom.” That’s a form of mentoring in a way. It’s allowing the audience and financiers to maybe see something they didn’t even see themselves.
AH: And, by the way, that’s why I’d never say that I prefer Gloria to Jules Ostin, because I love “The Intern.” I think “The Intern” serves a purpose. I don’t blame people for wanting to make money. As Jason said, I want to be a responsible businessperson, too, but ask anybody when they first start ― that’s not why they’re here. It’s great if that works out.
You asked me about personal responsibility before, and I feel a personal responsibility, especially now that I’ve gotten to do this for as long as I have, to look for the films that I personally, as an audience member, want to see that I’m not seeing out there. And if I can do anything to make them happen, I do. If they don’t connect with people, they don’t connect with people, but at least I’ve done my part in putting something out there that has the DNA that I’m interested in.
JS: It exists. That’s half of it.
AH: And now everyone else can do whatever they want with it. That’s not for me to decide. We were joking earlier when we were doing a Facebook Live thing ― I was like, “Jason, why do celebrities want to tell everybody want to do?” It’s like, now everyone can do what they want with it.
“Colossal” opens in select theaters April 7. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.