Marvel, Captain America And Thor Q&A
Empire Online, 14 August 2010
KENNETH BRANAGH AND TOM HIDDLESTON TALK THOR Photo
Where do you start with a character like Thor?
Branagh: We've been here this week working on the latest cut of Thor with Kevin Feige, head of Marvel. Our place was to start with trying to understand what die-hard fans would like, but to try to make the film available for people who didn't know the comics, and not compromise either, which is an incredible challenge. For me it was about the thrill of working on a massive canvas like this, and try to give people the experience of what it might be like to be a Norse god of thunder. One of the things is that you get intrigued by is the humanity of gods, and how much they're like us. That might sound like nonsense on a Saturday morning, but that's what we've gone for.
We then saw the astonishing footage shown at Comic-Con, and welcomed back Feige, Branagh and Loki himself, Tom Hiddleston. Honestly, this crowd should start pacing themselves, or they'll all have lost their voices and bruised their palms from cheering and clapping by the end of the weekend.
Tom, how do you get into Loki, since he's evil on the inside but good on the outside?
Tom: I think there are some moments when he's evil on the outside as well as the inside. I just thought in terms of, what is evil? I don't think Loki starts out as pitch-black evil; he's a troubled soul. He's the younger brother, the unheard voice in the family at Asgard, and he wants to claim his own place in the pantheon. His ambition is an ambiguous thing, he's wrestling with demons. You don't play evil, you play what he wants. He wants the love of his parents, he wants respect. The more obstacles in his way, the deeper he goes into a darkness from which he can never return.
Kenneth, how did you get involved?
It was the only comic I read growing up. I knew about Batman and Superman, but I had no idea of the depth of characters in the Marvel universe - there's what, 2000? [Feige corrects him: it's 7000]. I loved Thor from the front cover. I loved the primitive, wild quality that the character has, I loved the Viking, berserker element of it, and it's been great to try to get that out of the performances here.
Is there something Shakespearean here?
Branagh: The size of the problems and obstacles changes: if you live at the top of the universe and your name is Odin, they have a human dimension to their jealousies, problems etc, but their problems have massive repercussions across the universe, and Shakespeare does the same. Also, Shakespeare stole all his stories and used them better. Stan Lee too did a wonderful thing of taking Norse mythology and making it work in the modern world and making it fun - and funny. It's been great to do that on a large canvas.
How has Thor developed over the years?
Feige: In one version he was exiled to Earth in the Viking era. That was before we were our own studio, and the problem we had with it was that the back-and-forth, the dichotomy between worlds wasn't as apparent. The fun of the comics is that he comes to this Earth in the present day.
The idea of magic and science being indistinguishable, is that how you make this work in the universe of Tony Stark?
Feige: Yes. The biggest question I would get during the Iron Man 2 junket was how Thor would fit in to that, but this piece, contrasting science and magic, was structured to answer that.
Did Branagh's approach differ when adapting a more contemporary form of literature like this?
Feige: The truth is always paramount, truth in the story and characters. Here, I had to ask why is Thor, the comic, so successful? I think it's because they use classical story arcs, the one here is the prodigal son story, the Odysseus story, he's going on a journey where he must acquire wisdom through sacrifice. It seems as though these myths have that inbuilt. They had it in 1961 when it started and they have it now. The fact that it's a classical structure is irrelevant; the question is does it make you want to turn the page, is it exhilarating? And here, yes it was.
Directing Thor at the same time people are doing Iron Man and Captain America, how do you feel passing your character along to Joss Whedon?
Branagh: I was shooting this at the time that Favreau was doing Iron Man 2, and Joe Johnston was around, so it was an incredibly friendly and supportive atmosphere. It was incredibly useful to have conversations with them that this one (Feige) doesn't here. There was a collegiate feel; I spoke to Joss a while ago as well. You feel like you're part of the same thing. Even though I'm concentrating on getting this film finished, they keep me filled in on how this fits in. You're the temporary guardian of something lots of people feel passionate about, so I'm very glad to have custody for a short time.
All the other Marvel films kept very faithful to the comics; why ditch Don Blake?
Feige: We didn't want to have two actors playing Thor in one film - even Stan and Jack had to drop that a couple of dozen films in.
The 3D looks spectacular. Were the sets designed to fit 3D?
Branagh: We were definitely talking about that early on. There's been some controversy about how to use 3D, whether to shoot in it. This is a conversion but 90% of our CG will be done in 3D. I was sceptical to begin with, but as the kind of shots and the kind of sets developed, I was converted.
Feige: And we had the time. This has been in the works for a long time - this is only August, and we have until May. And we think we have time to make it work.
Branagh: Once you got into the science of it, that was fascinating too.
With Iron Man being such a success, is that going to be a template for further Marvel films, or will this be darker?
Feige: The larger Marvel thing is that we're not going to put every one in a mould. That's a classic Hollywood mistake, where you hit something and try to make everything else like that. But Thor's a very different character.
Branagh: We tried to make it bespoke to the particular demands of the story. Once you get actors involved, you get stuff you didn't plan for.
Hiddleston: Also, doesn't Tony Stark live in Malibu? Thor lives in ASGARD!
How were you cast, Tom?
Hiddleston: I was working with Kenneth in the Wyndham across the river, a Chekhov play called Ivanov. Everyone was thrilled when he said he was going off to do this. I was dressed as a 19th century Russian doctor, and looked completely different. I remember going into his dressing room with an empty water cooler and pretending it was Mjolnir. And he said, don't joke love, you never know! I'd planned to go to Los Angeles in January 2008, and Ken was already there setting up shop, and my agents called and said would I like to go in and read? It was a very general piece, not very character specific. One was quite flirtatious, one emotional and one very martial and epic. I was tested for Thor, and put on about two stone of muscle. About two months later I was asked to lose it all again! But I did try on the wig! In a way it was quite good for the character to have had a go at being Thor and not be Thor. It was the first time I'd gotten this far down the line in a film like this. Ken took me out for breakfast and asked if I'd like to play the bad guy, and I was like, are you kidding?!
The Avengers, is this a particularly big film for Marvel?
Feige: They're all big, for Marvel. They are all the future of the studio. But this is particularly big in that the idea of heroes crossing into each other's movies and fighting side-by-side has never been done before, unless they start as a team, and now we get to do that.
How difficult is that?
Feige: Well, logistically it's a bear. But they did it in the comics first, and they did it pretty darn well.
The Avengers originally got together because of Loki - will he turn up?
Feige: Well, the great thing is that anybody we have the rights to could turn up. But that is a character at our disposal. Here's the little teaser...