‘Godzilla vs. Kong’: Why Deaf Actor Kaylee Hottle Plays the Most Important Character

Godzilla and King Kong overshadow any of their Godzilla vs. Kong co-stars, both literally and figuratively. They tower over the human cast, and even more so over Kaylee Hottle. The young actor plays Jia, a little girl who can communicate with Kong via sign language, because she herself is deaf. Hottle is also deaf and speaks American Sign Language

[Spoiler alert: This article contains mild spoilers for the first half of Godzilla vs. Kong.]

King Kong and his human friend Jia
Kaylee Hottle | Warner Bros. Pictures and Legendary Pictures

Godzilla vs. Kong writer Max Borenstein and director Adam Wingard spoke with Showbiz Cheat Sheet about Hottle’s role in the film. 

‘Godzilla vs. Kong’ forces Kaylee Hottle to lie to King Kong 

Jia goes with Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall) and Nathan Lind (Alexander Skarsgård) to bring King Kong to Hollow Earth. They rely on Jia to get Kong to go along with them. 

Kaylee Hottle reaches to touch King Kong's finger
Kaylee Hottle | Warner Bros. Pictures and Legendary Pictures

“She’s been encouraged by people to lead Kong, manipulating Kong and lying to him essentially that your kind is down there, take us there,” Borenstein said. “She doesn’t know that to be true. I think it’s a beautiful moment. It’s a moment of really human, complicated kind of lie that’s being told to Kong for the right reasons.”

Kaylee Hottle gave ‘Godzilla vs. Kong’ an audio tool

When King Kong fights Godzilla, it’s going to get loud. You have the big monsters roaring, and all the destruction they cause. So, Wingard needed an opportunity to balance those noisy moments with some quiet.

“You’ll notice a couple times in the movie we really suck the sound out of the movie so that it goes really into her perspective,” Wingard said. “So you can see that part of her relationship with the monsters is that there’s kind of like a serenity from her perspective of when she sees Kong, he’s not this big, loud thing. That’s completely taken out of the context for her. He’s not threatening because she just sees him for who he is. All the extra stuff is cancelled out and you’re brought down into that.”

Removing sounds has more impact than simply simulating Jia’s perspective. Wingard used silence strategically to give the loud moments more impact.

“These movies are big, loud movies,” Wingad said. “You constantly have to find clever ways to reset the audio palette of the movie because if you just hammer people over the heads for two hours, you just get exhausted. Have you ever been at home and you’re watching a movie and you have the volume up really loud and you have to pause it to go do something else? And when you come back, you’re like whoa, this movie’s so loud, you have to turn it down. You get desensitized to all the loud noises.”

Kaylee Hottle adds a Steven Spielberg touch to the monsters

Borenstein said previous writers already invented the character of Jia. When he began writing, Borenstein recognized the value of an innocent, young character in a creature blockbuster.

Godzilla vs. Kong: Eiza Gonzalez, Alexander Skarsgard, Rebecca Hall and Kaylee Hottle look out the window
L-R: Eiza Gonzalez, Alexander Skarsgard, Rebecca Hall and Kaylee Hottle | Warner Bros. Pictures and Legendary Pictures

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“Look, it’s impossible to talk about any of this stuff without Spielberg’s influence because that’s just the ultimate example of this kind of storytelling,” Borenstein said. “In particular, the innocent child in our story who’s truly misunderstood, the monsters are misunderstood. That’s a thing that Spielberg really understood his whole career. She existed by the time I came in, but it’s drawing on that influence heavily.”