Strange but true: every Marvel Cinematic Universe villain up until Thor: Ragnarok has been male. Sure, there have been female henchwoman (Nebula, Ellen Brandt) but the main villains – always a guy. It’s pretty shocking that over sixteen films and nearly ten years, not a single woman has been the ‘big bad’. That all changes with Thor: Ragnarok as Cate Blanchett costars as the film’s heavy: Hela, The Goddess of Death.
On the set of Thor: Ragnarok, every actor – Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Tessa Thompson – all praised Blanchett, citing her performance as the gold standard for future Marvel villains. Blanchett, herself, seemed to be having a ball, chewing the scenery away from even Loki. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen an Oscar-winning actress, decked out with mo-cap dots and heavy Goth eyeliner, pantomime throwing force-field bombs with her hands. It may have taken sixteen films – but the MCU not only has its first female villain but also (seemingly) one of its best.
In the following group on-set interview with Cate Blanchett, the actress discusses portraying Marvel’s first female villain, finding the right tone for the performance and whether Hela will factor into the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe. For the full interview, read below.
What can you tell us about playing Hela?
CATE BLANCHETT: Well — she’s the Goddess of Death, but what I liked about playing her was that I really didn’t know anything about her. Obviously, the deep, hardcore fan base knows a lot. [But for me] there was a really interesting process of discovery. Like with any of the of the Marvel characters, they have really interesting and varied backstories…
What can you tell us about what motivates Hela? I know she’s the Goddess of Death but is there a more personal reason [for her actions]?
BLANCHETT: She’s been banished for a very long time and if you were locked under the Asgardian stairs for 5,000 years, you’d be a little bit cross. It’s interesting to bring the concept of Death into a world that’s ostensibly immortal. There’s a side of Death, which can be gentle and kind, and there’s a side of Death, which can be brutal and savage depending on whose death it is. [She has] a lot of unresolved issues with Asgard [and] the more havoc she wreaks the stronger she becomes.
What kind of powers does Hela have?
BLANCHETT: You know, having not made a Marvel movie before, I thought it would all be set in stone. You’d just be stepping into the silhouette and the strings would be pulled for you. So the fact that very early on, I threw a lot of ideas into the ring with Taika and with the Motion Capture people and the Special Effects crew and then they took [my ideas] and ran with it. It’s like what if I shot this out? What if I play with my cape? Could stuff come out of that? It’s been an organic thing [and] quite loose actually. But she’s got a lot of powers.
There’s been a lot of talk around Hela being Marvel’s first female villain. For you, when you signed on, did you feel any pressure about representing that?
BLANCHETT: You only feel pressure if you think this is the only shot that women will have, which is ridiculous. I mean, there’s a huge female fan base and having a daughter myself, you want them to be able to identify with [the villains] as well as the heroes. Of course, Marvel [just] announced Captain Marvel. [So] this is the beginning of a rolling stone that’s gonna gather a lot of female moss. Oh that’s a terrible image… Anyway, I didn’t feel pressure. I was super excited because, like with any film, whether it’s an action film or a small indie drama, it depends on who’s looking down the lens and when it’s Taika – that for me was a really exciting thing.
A lot of the Marvel villains had a hard time living up to Loki. Is that something that concerned you, especially since you guys share a movie?
BLANCHETT: I have a vagina. And I don’t think he has a vagina. Although [to be fair], I don’t know if Hela has a vagina either (laughs). No… but, you know, the original sketches that I got – Tom [Hiddleston] and I talked about how Loki and Hela looked very similar. And I said, ‘OK, well how can we either make that a virtue or be a little bit more creative?’ [Taika and the producers] were really receptive so even though Hela doesn’t carry the whole film, I’ve [worked] with the makeup, hair and all the different departments to give her a visual journey so that’s she’s got somewhere to go as she becomes increasingly powerful. Her look evolves and calcifies a little bit.
I feel like Taika has directed more humor into Thor: Ragnarok. The scene we saw today between you and Loki, there seems to be a playful energy… Is that something that Hela possesses throughout the movie? Is there a lot of playful taunting in her villainy?
BLANCHETT: Yeah, I think there’s got to be. That’s what I love about the Marvel universe — it knows when to put its tongue in its cheek. That’s what makes it fun. It knows when it’s doing something grand and, in terms of the comic book universe, important. But it also knows when it needs to send itself up. Taika’s got this rare ability to be at once really cool and incredibly ‘daggy’.
BLANCHETT: I don’t know what the translation is… It’s not nerdy. It’s more kind of endearing than nerdy. Nerdy is a bit more pejorative. Daggy is just like… It’s quirky, dorky, nerdy, cool… Daggy equals daggy. We’ll get the T-shirts printed.
It looks like there’s a history between Hela and every character: Valkyrie, Loki, Thor, and Hulk. What are those relationships like and are some of them like more important?
BLANCHETT: Val and Hela have a rather problematic history…
We heard about a surreal flashback.
BLANCHETT: Oh My God, that was incredible. I’ve never seen anything like it… They had a horse, a real horse, galloping through the studio but the way it was recorded, it really did capture that feeling of… You know when you have a dream that’s also a borderline nightmare, it has both a lightness and incredible weight. It’s that strange. It really captured that dreamlike sensation that I have anyways. It was amazing.
[Having] worked on the Tolkien films, how much did that prepare you for your experiences today? Have you worked much with motion-capture previously?