As you might imagine, when you’re the director of a huge budget Hollywood movie like Marvel’s Thor, every moment of your day is accounted for. So when I got to visit the set earlier this year when the production was shooting outside Los Angeles, I knew we might not get to speak with Kenneth Branagh. On many set visits, getting to speak with the director is more difficult than an A-List actor.
But even though Branagh was incredibly busy, he came over to where I was standing (along with a few other online reporters) to talk about his first Marvel movie. During the brief encounter, he compared his film to Iron Man 2, how the movie is huge in scope and more sci-fi than a lot of us expected, and he also talked about how the characters of Thor are incredible and how much fun he’d been having. Hit the jump to either read or listen to what he had to say:
You can either read the full transcript or click here to listen to the audio. Look for links to my other on set interviews and my full set report at the bottom of this article. Thor gets released May 6, 2011.
Kenneth Branagh: It’s a huge scale. But you can see the set… the hydraulics… it took months and month, actually years of planning. This is actually my eighteenth, nineteenth month on the project, and I’m enjoying it hugely. It’s massive and it what it contains actually that has a parallel to what the comics have is this is a combination of very personal stories that we recognize, you know, fathers and sons, but they’re amongst families of enormous power and consequence, so when they have an argument, the rest of the universe suffers, you know. And so they’re personal to the epic kind of thing, is, I think, is very enjoyable, from very intimate scenes with this challenge to try and find a way of talking that fulfills what I think people love about the comics, which is this sort of differentness and distinctiveness — you believe that they’re gods, they’re non-human. But, I don’t want them sounding like Shakespearean times and sounding in any way non-human. in a strange way, so the blur of the comics is always to make the feel at one and the same time, they’re god and they’re just like us. So far, I think we’ve trying to capture that well. We’re blessed with the actors. We have an amazing group of people who’ve been very excited, very motivated. They all came with incredible passion for the characters, for the comics, for the stories. You’ve probably spoken to some of them. Jaimie Alexander absolutely knows chapter and verse on set.
Yesterday, we were shooting… am I allowed to say this? But Stan Lee I had lunch with a year ago, starting to talk about this. He was around yesterday. Incredible passion for it all. We’ve been involved with other key people who are part of the Marvel World. We’re trying to find that balance that is in touch with what I believe is sort of learning from the past. It’s not an accident that Marvel is here now, the comics are here, that Joe Straczynski’s version of the comics is doing a fantastically imaginative treatment of the character and the landscapes of Asgard and contemporary Earth. What I’ve really enjoyed is the collaboration of all of that. My job is to guide and direct and move things along a bit, but it’s trying to select from a vast amount of talent that are around who know these stories so well. So I feel like … this one? These people have an incredible knowledge and incredible enthusiasm. It feels… it has… around Marvel and this project is kind of awash with passion and distinctiveness. People enjoy the challenges of it. Lots of ways to get it wrong. And lots of pitfalls to avoid. That makes it very interesting and very difficult, but really thrilling when you think you’ve got somewhere near it. But, you know, we’ve got miles to go and promises to keep and all sorts of things that we need to get right. But its been really huge, huge fun and challenging and continues to be so. I’m having a ball and just trying to do my best with it.
This is your first foray into science-fiction. Until today, a lot of us didn’t realize just how sci-fi Thor was going to be. Did your background doing period historical epics, like Henry the V, did that help prepare you and help get you on board for understanding the scale?
Branagh: Certainly, I’m excited by epic subjects. It doesn’t particularly frighten me. And I like that moment of going into the dark with 2,000 people, that you’re ready to accept larger than life things. You’re ready to accept a kind of heightened reality that is a kind of cathartic release that you enjoy vicariously the much greater problem than you’ll ever face — unless you’re trying to run nine realms across the cosmos — but nevertheless, there’s still central human problems that remain in the same sort of… the size of things is one of the things that is partly attractive. How do you make that attractive to people? We’re always interested in the lives of great people and what goes on behind closed doors, like The West Wing, what happens on a series like that in the corridors of power and how as, it were, “normal people” are there in the middle of these epic things like an inauguration or a coronation and how does that human and larger dynamic work. So I’m practiced in it, which doesn’t make it any easier, but I find it fun. It’s part of the escapism that this offers, and I mean that in the sense of it’s truly cathartic, it truly is fun to be part of a world where those things can be discussed in a way that maybe offers insight, but, bottom line, offers entertainment. I’m making a really entertaining film that doesn’t insult the audience but isn’t trying to be a secret art film or anything. It’s just a big-hearted kind of account of these incredible characters who have lasted across the several thousand years of Norse mythology and the last 50 years of Marvel, who raided this mythology so brilliantly, with such imagination, that you’re really aware of a fantastic amount of talent behind you. Which you can go and be inspired by and borrow from and ask questions about and so that’s … You know, one of the problems with Shakespeare is that you can never give him a ring. I’ve tried bo many times. He never calls. You can talk to Stan Lee. You can talk to Joe Michael Straczynski. There’s a lot of people that are key to all of this. And then you’ve got the feverish enthusiasm of the guys here. You do feel as though they want to make these movies, they’re passionate and enthusiastic about it. And it’s that that we talk about. We don’t talk about bottom lines or whatever.
(He gets a sign he’s needed elsewhere)
What they do talk about, however, is that I need to turn over 40 visual effects shots by the end of today. That’s what I now have to go and do. So I’m going to look at things that will turn into extraordinary fantastical things, but I have to choose them now, so that they can go off and be in the edited version of my film when I show my cut in a wee while. So if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go and do that. Thank you. I appreciate you being interested. Thanks so much for coming. Thanks a lot.
For more THOR coverage: