Colossal’s plot is so tricky to summarize that even star Jason Sudeikis told us he would “ramble for five minutes trying to explain the plot” after he took the role. The most efficient description would probably be something like, “It’s the one where a drunk Anne Hathaway can control a kaiju in Seoul,” but that would diminish how slyly political it is. Indeed, shortly after the film premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in September last year, the rumblings began about how it was actually a commentary on the insidious culture of men who feel ownership over women.
Nacho Vigalondo’s film follows Gloria (Hathaway), an out-of-work writer and alcoholic who, after being kicked out by her boyfriend (Dan Stevens) in New York, returns to her hometown. There she meets up with Oscar (Sudeikis), a childhood acquaintance turned bar owner, thus giving her a spot to fuel her bad habits. She also discovers that if she stands in one spot in a local playground at a specific moment, she’ll materialize in South Korea as a huge creature that’s causing widespread destruction. Soon it becomes clear that that monster on the other side of the world is really just a way to explore a specific sort of creepy male entitlement, one that’s all too familiar.
In New York last week, The A.V. Club sat down with Hathaway and Sudeikis to talk about this fascinating, tricky film.
The A.V. Club: There are so many disparate elements of the movie: Human drama, sci-fi, allegory. How did the script first come to you and what jumped out about it?
Anne Hathaway: I was in a little bit of an artistic no man’s land in terms of the age that I was as an actress. I played some excellent roles, but I hadn’t read a script in a while that resonated with me. I kind of didn’t know what I wanted to do. I was hanging out with Jonathan Demme, who was my director on Rachel Getting Married and has sort of always been my artistic North Star. He invited my husband and I to the Jacob Burns Film Center to watch Ben Wheatley’s A Field In England. I had no idea what to expect, and man, oh man, I got taken for a ride. I was transported. It was so great to watch a movie that you’re trying to figure out and then finally you just let go and you just experience it. I just at the end of it realized that’s what I want to be doing right now, that’s what I want to be a part of, something that’s just so creatively ambitious, might be a noble failure. I’m not sure, but I’ve got to try something like that. So I wrote this impassioned email to my representatives describing A Field In England, and this script is what came back.
Nacho hadn’t thought of me—they hadn’t thought of me for it—and I read it, and I just thought, “God, this is fantastic, and can he pull it off?” And I saw his films, and I thought, “Yes, he can,” and I met him and I loved him. He was so wonderful. It was such an easy yes for me. And the funny thing was, I’m feeling great about it, and I’m telling people about it, and everybody I tell about it, once I get to the fact that the drunk girl becomes a gigantic monster that terrorizes Seoul, South Korea, people start to shriek. And they’re like, “I have to see this movie.” So I was feeling pretty good about my decision. And then two weeks into the film, on the same day, like, nine separate crew members come up to me, and they’re like, “You know what, I did not understand this movie. I didn’t even really like it, but now I kind of get and I think I like it.” I didn’t realize I was so far out ahead of everybody on that one.
Jason Sudeikis: I think it was mostly the story on the page as it’s told. I think I was getting the metaphor when I put it through my own eyes, but then when speaking with Nacho, it was very, very clear that he was intending some of the things that I was insinuating from it. I liked the journey that the character I play goes through. But also just as stuff that I, Jason, have played as an actor leading up to that moment and to sort of have fun—as much fun as one can have—given where it goes with that notion, too. I was sort of sick of myself. Not what people have asked of me, because that’s nice, but at some point in doing and then having to talk about it and sell it and see posters, you’re kind of like, “Come on.” When I read it I was like, “Oh, Anne will be awesome at this.” It’s still wonderfully surprising to see it come in. Towards the description of what I was going to do, I would ramble for five minutes trying to explain the plot, but it always helped to say that Annie was in it. It made it be like, “Oh, it’s real.”
AVC: Anne, you mentioned Jonathan Demme. Was trying to tap into your Rachel Getting Married performance important to you?
AH: No, it wasn’t. I was just excited that Jonathan is so much of a “yes and” filmmaker, and so is Nacho. I felt that that was a movie that dealt with addiction in such an intimate way, in a way that we’re not used to seeing it. I find that to be a really honest and fantastically unshowy film, despite it being searing. And it’s not afraid to be funny, because my experience with addiction is that mixed in with all that tragedy are some of the funniest stories you’ll ever hear. They blend together, and you can’t take one out. One of the things I love about [Colossal] is that it allowed for that as well. It allowed for Gloria to be contradictory. It allowed for her to be a full spectrum of things. She didn’t feel like she had come from a writer’s checklist of what a character should be. The fantasy was in the movie, not in the character, which I Ioved. Also I loved that it was a movie where if you wanted to go see a movie that had a message you could, but there’s nothing preachy about it, and it would make you think without making you sad. I loved that. Because you know—I’m not pointing fingers—but there are some movies out there that you know are going to be so good, you know the quality’s so good, and you’re like, “I don’t have time to recover from this right now. This is going to wreck me for three weeks,” and that doesn’t mean those movies shouldn’t get made, they should, but it’s nice to have an alternative, to be able to think and laugh and giggle.
AVC: The critical narrative around the film has been taken over by this idea of toxic masculinity. You’ve talked about being inspired by Gamergate and the “alt-right.” Looking at where we are right now in 2017 and seeing these conversations only get louder, has it changed your perception of the movie? Have you gained any new insights?
JS: Nacho and I spoke about those things—men’s rights activists and the “alt-right.” Those are things I knew ahead of the campaign, and certainly everything that’s been highlighted, all the good and bad that will come out of this highlighting. I guess there’s a little bit in being charged with having to play this person. Doesn’t mean I condone it, doesn’t mean I forgive it, but I see a great deal of pain when someone acts out in the ways that I see people acting out. I don’t think people know that at all times. Mostly the people themselves that are going through it, they don’t realize they are in as much pain. And I don’t think I have the wisdom to hug them when I want to push them. But the act of doing either starts out the exact same, with arms extended—I just don’t know the outcome. That’s maybe it—but even that, I wouldn’t like Oscar. But I feel like I know him a little bit better now than I maybe would have prior to this experience.
AH: I don’t know how much of this is [influenced] by being a mother or being a mother to a son, but I think about the ways that the world is waking up, and I think about all the wonderful things I was told by my very aware parents growing up about all the things I could do because I was a girl, and the way I internalized that message. That’s not a message that every girl receives, and now it’s not a message that every little boy receives. And I think one of the interesting things about Gloria is whether or not—because she was told she could or she had that thing inside of herself—she believed she could do anything. And so when she discovers she has this power, she’s able to use it for good because it doesn’t tell her anything about herself she doesn’t even know.
In the case of Oscar, who I think is somebody who feels—we don’t actually know that much about him, about how he got to be the way he was—but he seems neglected in some way, and I wonder how much that colors his need to force his power on other people. Because the quickest way to show that you’re weak is to need to strong-arm someone to overpower someone. I think it’s very interesting that in this movie, Gloria, the woman, actually just comes into it with more power than the guy, and then where I think the idea of toxic masculinity comes into it is this notion that Oscar has an expectation fixed into his mind about what he’s entitled to.
AVC: You never really think about that place of power that Gloria comes from.
AH: Because we don’t enjoy it in a lot of meaningful ways. We don’t have it. But the reason we’re all banding together and why woke men are banding together to demand it right now is because we believe we deserve it. And it doesn’t mean that men don’t.
JS: It’s so true, the little boy thing, too. It breaks my heart. Who have they got to look at? They have an entire patriarchy that will take care of them, especially coming from a good situation, like [my wife, Olivia Wilde] and I have been lucky enough to provide Otis. And then genetically he’s born a white guy in America, so he’s ahead of the curve there in many ways. But when he stops listening to us, his parents—because it happens eventually, right?—which influence will he take? Someone as seemingly cool—I only know him a little bit—like Chris Evans, or is he going to follow fucking dickhead number six?
AVC: This movie is very perceptive about the internet. Even the way Gloria loses her job.
JS: Yeah, just a little tiny thing that we talked about, but it sticks out to me, too.
AVC: The way Oscar keeps tabs on her from afar and the way people are looking at the monster—did that speak to you at all?
AH: I’m just going to address the elephant in the room. How could it not [speak] to me? [Everyone laughs.]
JS: Uh, yeah.
AH: And also, I know that I’m not special, and that you don’t have to be what I am to have experienced online whatever you want to call it…
AH: And I also was excited because I knew that the way that they received the information by watching the monster attacks on a shitty bar projection screen and on their phones, we could afford to make this movie for the amount that we could, which allowed us to have people who were not too particular about how interesting it got, quite frankly. Because the higher the budget is, the more they have to check these demographic boxes or the more they think that they do. And then you have something like Get Out, which was made for $4.5 million, which was just one guy listening to his truth, and how much has it made? Like one-hundred-and-a-fillion dollars? So for me, all of it felt right is the best way to say it. All of it felt true and right and now.
JS: And little did we know, because this was almost two years ago now. Little did we know.
AVC: What was it like calibrating your performances? You’re both doing a real balancing act.
AH: Two things really were affecting me. One was I knew the punchline. The minute I said yes to this movie—before I saw Nacho’s work, before I met Nacho—was because of that last joke. Killed me. I still am tickled by it. The second one: I was pregnant at the time, and I was just so freaking happy. I was just so happy, and I thought what a cool thing to play someone who everyone else sees as a train wreck but is having a great time. I remember early conversations with Antoinette [Messam], who is our costume designer and an amazing woman. She kept bringing me all these sad sweaters. And I was like, “I don’t think this is right,” and we sat down and we had a long talk about it. She was like, “Well, isn’t she depressed because of this, that, and the other?” I said, no. Gloria’s the party bus man. She’s having a great time—it’s just become untenable. Once I said that to her, we were off to the races. We had so much fun.
JS: Enter leather jacket. It was important for me that he was the same at the beginning as he was at the end, even though the audience doesn’t know that. There’s little signposts, little red flags, if you will, throughout. It was really just about making the extraordinary seem ordinary. Because we do have in this day and age, there are lots of evil things going on, yes, close to home, but just as much if not more so on a life and death scale that we’ve grown numb to. He’s just kind of delighted by the action, because all of this, in a very hubris-filled way, it’s making his business boom. It brought this energy back into his own movie, which he’s in and thinks he’s the star of and the hero of. It’s like this is all happening for a reason.
AVC: It says a lot about us that we think there could be a romance at the beginning.
AH: I know! Somebody said, “You’re like the nightmare OkCupid guy.” I was like, “That’s a good one.”
JS: It’s like Patrick Bateman. It’s like American Psycho.