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Kurt Russell On Sharing Role of Lee Shaw With his Son in ‘Monarch: Legacy of Monsters’

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If you listened to our recent Godzilla episode of The Cosmic Circle, you’ll know I absolutely adore Monarch: Legacy of Monsters. The Apple TV+ series expands perfectly Legendary’s MonsterVerse, bringing in exciting new characters and storylines. This past weekend at Deadline Contenders Television 2024, star Kurt Russell took the stage alongside composer Leopold Ross and VFX supervisor Sean Konrad to discuss the groundbreaking series.  

[Editor’s note: quotes have been edited slightly for clarity.]

Lee Shaw in Monarch: Legacy of Monsters

Although he’s not the main character of the show, Lee Shaw plays a crucial role in the legacy at the heart of Monarch. Portrayed by Wyatt Russell in the 1950s and his father Kurt Russell in 2015, Shaw is central to the mysteries running throughout the series. Of course, everyone wants to know what it’s like for two family members to play the same character!

Kurt Russell did address his son’s absence: “Sorry that Wyatt’s not able to be here. He’s working on a Marvel production right now in Atlanta, it’s called Thunderbolts*. He’s the guy who laid down the character. […] When we came on, it was just a casting idea. Lee Shaw, in the maybe three or four shows that were being talked about at the time, was really a fifth or sixth character. So we had to come up with a reason why Wyatt and I were going to do the show. I mean, at some point, you say, ‘Why are they doing this?’ Well, we thought it would be an interesting challenge to maybe do something that would help explain or be very indicative to the audience of what it was we were trying to do with Monarch. Monarch is a ‘what if’. Unlike the movies, it’s a ‘What if this was really happening?’ I don’t think we’d be too happy about it. We’d be very afraid. It’s not a Jurassic Park thing where there’s herds of dinosaurs running around in a place. This is a bad thing that’s happening. Monarch is about the people who are dealing with it. And within that, there are some monsters too. There are human monsters.”

Keiko and Lee Shaw in Monarch: Legacy of Monsters
Keiko (Mari Yamamoto) and Lee Shaw (Wyatt Russell) in ‘Monarch: Legacy of Monsters’ (Apple TV+/Legendary)

Russell continued… “So we started talking about how [the character] could work within a concept that everybody was going down the same track. And it was really the only place where Wyatt and I got to work together because that was where we were, we sort of worked on what it was that Lee Shaw was going to be. It was a lot of fun. But the most fun thing for me was a couple weeks in, I was off, I wasn’t working. We were doing two different crews. I went to check out and see what Wyatt’s group’s doing. And it was fascinating for me because, you know, this was my son and I had known him all my life and all his life. As an actor, I’d watched him before, had been on sets with him and stuff, but in an appreciative sort of way. Now [I’m] suddenly watching this character be laid down that I was going to be playing the other half of much later in life. And it was really fascinating. I found myself watching this actor. And I remember thinking, ‘Fuck, man, this guy’s good. I better get my game going here because this can’t fall down when it gets to my part.’”

The Deadline moderator did point out that Kurt and Wyatt Russell worked together in the 1998 film Soldier decades earlier: “Yeah, it turned out when we were doing publicity for the show, we found [that] out from a bunch of people. It looked like it’s never been done before. There’s never a known actor, father and son, both of them being known, playing the same role. That’s not really true because Wyatt and I did that in Soldier. He played the character young, when he was 12, when the character of Todd was 12. Then I played the same [character] later on in life. So we’ve actually done it twice.”

It’s also worth noting that father and son playing the same character was employed to excellent effect in Black Panther. John Kani and Atwanda Kani portrayed T’Challa’s father, T’Chaka, decades apart, much like the Russells do in Monarch.

Next, Kurt Russell was asked about how his version of the character differs from the younger one established by Wyatt Russell

“He’s sort of The Man Who Knew Indians, he’s been to places and seen things that nobody else, except now for Keiko, has seen. When one actor is going to lay down a character that you’re going to be part of, it was interesting. Wyatt and I have physical characteristics that are similar and things like that. But his energy and my energy are quite different. I run a lot hotter than he does. He’s kind of a cooler cat. So we wanted to make sure that we were meeting somewhere. He brought some of his energy up in places, and I sort of brought mine down a little bit. Because we felt that it was right for Lee, right for the show. And you’re doing 10 hours. It’s been 50 years since I’ve done anything television pace. In effect, you’re doing five movies back to back to back to back to back. And each director is doing two episodes because you know, each episode’s about an hour, so two of them’s like a movie. So you’ve got five different directors on five different movies, and you don’t know exactly what the next thing is going to be. You talk about it. We’ve got a wonderful bunch that collaborate very well. Legendary and Apple both have been incredibly supportive in every way. It’s a tough thing doing these, it’s not like movies, they’re very different. I’m not sure I like it. It’s not easy, but I like the people and that’s been fun, and that will continue to be fun because I guess we’re gonna go again here.”

It’s interesting that Kurt Russell seems to hint at his return in Monarch: Legacy of Monsters Season 2. Given what happened to his character in the Season 1 finale, I didn’t really expect him to return for a second season.

Behind the scenes of the MonsterVerse series

The visual effects in Monarch were nothing short of perfect. They’re the best effects I’ve seen in a television show, considering how easily compared they are to theatrical IMAX releases. In fact, Godzilla looks even better in some Monarch scenes than he does in Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire

Sean Konrad addressed the differences between the big and small screen effects. “It was one of the really important things when we were talking about the show at the beginning because sometimes with an episodic you’re talking about a lower budget. You’re talking about doing the small screen version of it, and it was really important for both Legendary and Apple that this is not the small screen version, we want the same impact of the big creatures on screen. I worked on Godzilla 2014 as an artist and worked on stuff like Godzilla’s atomic breath and the dorsal fin lighting up and a lot of tiny little pieces, and then later worked on [Godzilla: King of the Monsters] as a vendor side. So all those small studios working on that, I was a visual effects supervisors on one of those and then now taking that to a TV series, there’s a lot of different challenges, but fundamentally the same language applies to it all. You’re trying to find areas where you can make these creatures look as big as they can, you’re taking a lot of attention to detail and really trying to drive all those factors home.”

Sean Konrad, Leopold Ross, and Kurt Russell
Sean Konrad, Leopold Ross, and Kurt Russell at Deadline Contenders Television 2024 (Photo by Uday Kataria)

The moderator also asked if a performer inspired some of Godzilla’s expressions, since he has a humanity to him that you don’t usually see in monster movies. Konrad explained their approach: “No, I mean, you can do facial capture for stuff like this. The problem is that the facial anatomy of Godzilla is not like your facial anatomy. So it’s not going to map on cleanly. A lot of it is honestly looking at what we’ve already done in the feature films and saying, ‘Okay, this is that kind of expression, and this is what this character moment needs to be.’ It’s interesting with Godzilla. He’s not really supposed to relate to people directly, but I think that there’s a softness or intelligence there that we need to impart.”

Next, Leopold Ross was asked about working with executive producers Chris Black and Matt Fraction on Monarch’s epic opening title sequence.

“It was a real thrill to be asked. I’ve worked with Chris Black before. When I got the call about Monarch, it was just super exciting, the idea of being able to put music underneath such a screen icon – first of all Kurt Russell – but also Godzilla is a huge screen icon. So I was like, ‘Fuck yes, sign me up.’ To be honest, Chris sent me some of the scripts and I was so excited that I just started writing music. I hadn’t seen any visuals or anything like that, but I was kind of running on adrenaline. I wrote a bunch of stuff. They were away shooting, so I sent it to Chris. I was like, ‘Here’s some stuff and one of these could [maybe] be a main title theme.’ Didn’t hear anything back because they were shooting. I’m like, ‘Okay, whatever.’ Then, time goes on. We’re working on episodes, we’re getting deeper and deeper into the show. They cut the main title theme into a rough thing at the beginning. And I’m like, ‘They, put it in there, but not saying anything.’ Normally when you work on shows, as I’m sure everybody knows here, there’s a thing called ‘notes’. I get a lot of them. But I can honestly say that I never received a single note on the main title. That was it.”

“I was so thrilled because I was immensely proud of it, and the fact that they trusted me with it, and they went with it allowed me to kind of expand upon it and really kind of evolve it throughout the show, and in so many different iterations. It plays on so many different instruments and so many different keys and stuff. So it was a real thrill and I really appreciate the whole team for kind of trusting each other because it’s a real process. Sean and Kurt made my job easy, to be honest. I think there had to be a level of intensity [in the main title theme] and there had to be a level of mystery and intrigue because Monarch has always been this shadowy thing. I think that’s another fantastic thing about the show. Throughout the movies, there’s never been that much detail in how Monarch came to be. So yeah, it was sort of trying to imbibe this sense of mystery and wonder and excitement.”

The Titans in Monarch: Legacy of Monsters

Unfortunately, Sean Konrad couldn’t tease any of the monsters waiting for audiences in season 2 of Monarch. Kurt Russell did jump in with his favorite, though! 

“Yeah, the Brambleboar is my favorite. I thought what you did with the Brambleboar just in terms of how you played it, I thought was great. I can’t remember what was written. And whenever you’re doing something like this, you got to understand you’re not exactly sure what it is you’re going to be seeing or acting with. But I love that you had that Brambleboar. I don’t know who discussed it with you, or whether it was your thing. By the way, congratulations to both of you guys [Sean Konrad and Leopold Ross]. It’s really nice to meet them. I’ve never met them before. [That] Brambleboar comes right at her [Anna Sawai] and it just missed her. It’s not interested, apparently. And you kind of go ‘Oh, she got away with that.’ No, you didn’t. I loved it. It was really cool.”

Konrad offered some more details about the inspiration behind that scene. “Andy Goddard had been talking about that scene from Annihilation where the bear is scoping them out. It’s like a present threat. And the thing about a bear is you don’t know when it’s gonna snap. That’s the thing that we were trying to impart, like, ‘Okay, this thing can just turn on a dime.’ So that tension was built into it. The design of the creature, we were going back and forth on what we wanted to do and we realized that there hadn’t been a boar in the MonsterVerse yet. And I love those boars from Princess Mononoke and other films. I just thought this would be a really cool thing to do. So we pitched it and they went for it.”

Hearing about the technical side of Monarch: Legacy of Monsters​​, from the VFX to the music, was fascinating. I only wish even more creators and cast members had attended the panel so we could hear more! I can’t wait to see what’s in store for us in season 2 and I hope it’s as entertaining as the first one. 

Monarch: Legacy of Monsters season 1 is currently streaming on Apple TV. What do you think about the show so far? Would you like to see a Monarch season 2? Let us know on social media @mycosmiccircus or in The Cosmic Circus Discord. 

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Uday Kataria

Hi! I'm a huge Marvel, DC, and LEGO fan. I run my own YouTube channel (GoldenNinja3000) and write/host podcasts for The Cosmic Circus. I also created and produced the LEGO Ninjago short film "Golden Hour".

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