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Digesting the lowest rung of pop culture so you don't have to!
The TriStar Pictures produced American remake of Godzilla was a hotly anticipated film back in 1998. Sony’s marketing team worked overtime, making sure the film was absolutely everywhere (I still remember the Taco Bell tie-ins and the awful soundtrack). The special effects looked, at the time, stunning. Godzilla’s creature design itself was a huge secret going in, with even the toys being blacklisted from release until a certain date so as not to spoil the “surprise.” Director Roland Emmerich had scored mega-success two years prior with Independence Day, one of the highest grossing films of the 90s (and the biggest science fiction film at the time since Terminator 2). Star Matthew Broderick had been a successful screen presence since the early 80s. Co-star Jean Reno was internationally renowned for his work in films like The Professional, an influential action film from successful producer and filmmaker Luc Besson. The weak-link, if there was indeed a weak-link in the pre-release hype for the film, was in its female lead and co-star, the little-known (and still little-known today) Maria Pitillo.
Maria Pitillo never expected to get into acting. Raised in an Italian-American family in New Jersey, Pitillo only took up acting during a chance encounter with a summer theater troupe. After this experience, she began finding work in commercials in New York City in the late 1980s. She then gained some experience in smaller projects such as various CBS After School Specials (which I kind of wish were still around because they’re hilarious), but never took acting seriously until after appearing in 1992’s critically acclaimed Chaplin. After Chaplin, she gained higher profile roles in True Romance, Natural Born Killers, Bye Bye Love (which aired continuously on pay cable in the mid-90s), and the failed Greg Kinnear vehicle Dear God (the commercials for which still haunt me occasionally some odd 17 years after its release). Pitillo, who had never starred as a billed main character in a mainstream movie, was an unlikely choice then for Godzilla.
When the film released to absolutely dreadful reviews, a certain amount of scorn and hatred was reserved for Pitillo’s character, would-be plucky news reporter Audrey Timmonds. A character so dumb you’d think she’d be on The Walking Dead, Audrey Timmonds is the ditziest of the ditzy blondes. She provided absolutely nothing to the movie, and despite Pitillo’s up-for-anything style of acting, the script was just too bad to salvage the character. Broderick and Reno got off comparatively light, and both have gone on to continue the successful careers they already had. Emmerich bounced back not long after with projects like The Day After Tomorrow and 2012 (though his recent White House Down was one of summer’s biggest flops). Godzilla was not well received whatsoever (to put it nicely), and the film quickly leveled off at the box office without so much as sniffing any of the all-time records it seemingly had its sights set on just weeks before release.
I legitimately hate the Razzie Awards. I find them mean-spirited, unfunny, and unfair in many cases. I don’t think that Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt were bad in Interview with the Vampire. I don’t think it was fair to nominate Katie Holmes for her work in Batman Begins. I don’t find it particularly fair either that Nic Cage and Sylvester Stallone receive nominations every year just because it’s popular to harp on them (if anything Stallone and Cage are doing great work in not-so-great productions). I do, however, totally agree that Pitillo deserved the nomination and win she got for her role in Godzilla. She is abysmal in it, and I find it to be one of the worst supporting performances in any film I’ve ever seen. Godzilla is not a good film whatsoever, and Broderick looks like he is sleepwalking throughout the entire thing. But Pitillo is a different kind of awful. You can tell she’s actually trying, and there’s just nothing there whatsoever. I know the script is bad. I know that the shooting schedule was short and hectic. I know that director Roland Emmerich has expressed disappointment in his own work on the film. But Pitillo remains the absolute worst part of Godzilla, and that is very special in its own terrible way.
It is quite difficult to talk about Maria Pitillo’s career without also talking about Godzilla. The two are now and will forever be tied together. The horrendous failure of the film, a film which has zero defenders because of how truly awful it is, had the largest effect on Pitillo’s career out of any other major player in the production. Look no further than her post-Godzilla filmography and this bears out as true (as well as sad). Before Godzilla, Pitillo appeared in 17 movies. After its failure, she appeared in just three, one of which was a made-for-TV special. Her filmography since appearing in Godzilla is both sparse and sad. She appeared in three unsold pilots for various networks (one of which featured a pre-Two and a Half Men Jon Cryer), and her most recent credit is from a 2008 television show called Big Shots that lasted all of 11 episodes before cancellation.
So whatever happened to Maria Pitillo? Despite Godzilla essentially ruining her movie career, Pitillo seems like she’s doing just fine for herself I guess. She’s been married since 2002 and has a daughter. She’s described as a Yoga and running enthusiast, so she’s got that going for her too. Not everyone can have the level of sustained Hollywood success that someone like Sandra Bullock or Meryl Streep enjoys. Every once in a while (and probably more than every once in a while) there’s a Maria Pitillo out there, someone who never expected to become famous, and then flat-lined when her star-making role was terrible. Who knows, maybe 5 or 10 years from now we’ll ask ourselves what Blake Lively or Gemma Arterton are up to. I think we could certainly ask what Eva Green’s been up to for the last couple of years. During the whirlwind Godzilla production, Maria Pitillo probably felt fame and fortune within her grasp, but the two are fleeting and she just never quite made it. Had Godzilla been a good movie, then who knows how things would have shaken out for her. It wasn’t, however, and her career died on the table.