This superhero franchise is going through some ch-ch-changes! Since the promotional tour began, it’s really been a lovefest for Thor: Ragnarok director Taika Waititi. The brilliant marketing campaign gives the impression that this corner of the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been been injected with a new sense of life, and the cast is quick to credit Waititi for revitalizing the series.
During a recent chat with journalists about the film, the ensemble spoke about how they were impacted by Waititi’s guidance on telling an epic story through his keen sense of working with the heart of what carries the film outside of the CGI landscape and huge budget. And Waititi shared his simple approach of allowing the actors to explore the truth among the characters within the frame while trying to not be overwhelmed by the blockbuster expectations.
Before Taika Waititi got the job as director, Chris Hemsworth was aware that he was a contender and had been hoping that the job would go to him. Feeling that Thor needed a change, he saw the sensibilities Waititi could bring to the table.
Chris Hemsworth: I think we all had a vision, and an idea, and a want to do something vastly different than what we’d done before, and take it to a different place. And that meant kind of doing away with what we knew, and just reinventing it, and it all came from his crazy, wonderful brain, and his inspiration, and him pushing us every day on set, and constantly encouraging us to improvise, and explore, and take risks. And it was one of the most enjoyable experiences I’ve ever had on a set, and a film that I feel the most proud of, just because of this whole team, and the collaboration and fun we had.
Transitioning from indie films and to a franchise that was a core component of a sprawling film universe was a daunting task for Waititi, but he didn’t let that get in his way. He decided to focus on the story unfolding behind the camera.
Taika Waititi: I came in, and I knew my strengths were just like tone, character, and relationships. I had to ignore the scale of this monster, this beast – it’s a huge, huge film. And what can be distracting on set is if you look over your shoulder, and you see 300 people standing there. I just had to keep reminding myself what’s more important is what’s inside the rectangle, and usually, it’s two or three people trying to remember their lines. And so it doesn’t matter the scale of the film – that’s always the same, you know. So I just focused down on what I was used to, which was what’s in front of the camera.
Actress Rachel House (Moana) has previously worked with Waititi on Hunt for the Wilderpeople. She joins Ragnarok as Topaz, the Grandmaster’s guard, and she shared what the differences were to working with him on a small scale production versus a larger scale one.
Rachel House: Well, he’s a lot better dressed because usually we’re running around in the mud, and the snow, and the rain. So it was wonderful to come in each day and see Taika in a suit, and Italian leather shoes. It’s been wonderful to see Taika so calmly and easily step into the helm of such a big, awesome film.
Cate Blanchett plays Hela, one of Marvel’s most bad-ass film villains to date. While she’s one of the most dynamic baddies, there’s also an element of spontaneity with the character that was more of her own than what she pulled from the page of the comic books. Blanchett spoke about how this was encouraged by Waititi.
Cate Blanchett: I went back to the extraordinary images that are there in the original comics, and then I went to the fan base, ‘cause there’s all these Hela fan girls who are doing these extraordinary make-ups online. And so when we were thinking about what she’d look like visually, I went to that.
Taika would just keep throwing lines. And there was one day when, when we’re on set, and I had, “I’m the Goddess of the Death, and what are you the God of, again?” And Chris had said, “I’m the God of…” and Taika said, “Dumbos.”
The film functions on a standalone level, allowing Thor and company to explore their relationships and bring to light various aspects that aren’t usually seen in the giant team-up films. In The Avengers, we got to see how Hulk could overpower two Asgardians for a laugh, but here we see the breakdown of who these characters are to one another. It’s a great way to see an interesting and unique story from the pairing of Hulk and Thor, and Waititi was inspired by that perspective.
Taika Waititi: We’re going on holiday by accident. I’m really happy about it in the film. I have the scene on the bed when [Hulk and Thor] are making up after the argument. That shouldn’t exist, but it does, and it works. And that’s where I come from, that’s probably from where we all come from. That’s what, I think, grounds the film a little bit more for the audience, is going, ‘Yeah, that’s right. Superheroes do have to make up after arguments, as well, you know.’ He’ll have to do the dishes. So yeah, that’s what I love about being given the opportunity in this film, is to show that side of these really crazy, big characters.
Karl Urban, who plays Skurge, talked about how even the motivations of the villains were given the complexity to pay off instead of being one-note (a flaw in most Marvel film villains) so that you saw where they came from, saw how they interacted and could be funny.
Karl Urban: I just had the most amazing time working on this film. I feel very blessed to be a part of this family, and to have had the opportunity to work with Taika, and for him to be so well supported by the team at Marvel, and for them to have the courage and the bravery to allow him to just do his thing. It was a real rarity, and I really appreciated the environment that Taika created on the set. It was fun; it was focused. He would often play music. And there was nothing sacrilegious about a take. Quite often, you’d be in the middle of a take and he’d go, ‘Oh, try this, or try that.’ And it was just wonderful, [it]felt like everybody had your back, and we had fun.
Working within the Marvel sandbox was a structured experience, but Waititi was still given freedom to express his work through an even bigger lens. He spoke about some of the challenges of adapting his usual style to accommodate such a large film.
Taika Waititi: The main thing is actually keeping your energy up, creatively. My shoots are very short, and I like to work super-fast. All my shoots [are]about 25 to 28 days, and by day 30 on this, I was like, ‘Well, no more ideas. I’m done.’ And you know, you’ve got 55 more days.
I had to like do some meditation, and like try and chill out, and just to kind of keep my creative energy going throughout that whole length of time, ‘cause the amount of stress or the exhaustion really does take its toll, and you don’t realize it’s happening until it’s too late, and then you can’t feel your legs.
My favorite thing is shooting. I love being on set with people, and laughing, and having a great time, and being creative. Then you’re stuck in a dark room with one person, trying to make sense of this whole thing for almost
a year, so that’s a whole new journey of exhaustion. And then you can’t feel your arms after that. It’s all come back, all the senses have come back.
Thor: Ragnarok opens on Friday, November 3rd.