Taika Waititi on ‘Thor: Ragnarok’, How the Story Changed When He Signed On, and More

     September 11, 2017

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Marvel has always thought outside the box with their directorial choices. Who would ever think the guy who wrote & directed Slither would one day be responsible for Marvel’s biggest franchise? Who in their right mind would hire an indie filmmaker with two credits to his name to helm the Spider-Man reboot? And yet each of these choices have paid off in spades: James Gunn used his wild ‘Troma’ style to craft the irreverent Guardians of the Galaxy and Jon Watts used his indie skills to ground Spider-Man into the most relatable iteration of the character yet.

So on paper, sure, Taika Waititi directing Thor: Ragnarok doesn’t seem to make a whole lot of sense. The New Zealand filmmaker has cut his teeth only on smaller indie comedies (the hilarious What We Do in the Shadows & Hunt for the Wilderpeople). Who would ever think Waititi should direct the third feature in the billion-dollar Thor franchise? And yet again – somehow this feels like the perfect choice, Waititi’s cheeky yet always sincere sense of humor fits The God of Thunder to a tee.

On the set of Thor: Ragnarok, Waititi seemed to be completely in his element, blasting the band Goblin in between takes and cracking jokes with the crew & cast. If you thought Waititi would seem nervous at the helm of such a big budget tentpole, then you’d be sorely disappointed. Of all the sets I’ve visited – Thor: Ragnarok, easily, was the most relaxed and fun, a testament to Waititi’s playful directorial exuberance.

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Image via Marvel Studios

In the following on-set interview with Taika Waititi, the director discusses putting his own personal stamp on the Thor franchise, the most difficult challenges on the sequel and whom he’s playing in the film. For the full interview, read below.

What’s the balance between putting your own personal stamp on Thor while also serving a larger corporate beast?

TAIKA WAITITI: There’s definitely a challenge wanting to be true to what the fans want and to the universe itself, but also – I have to keep reminding myself that I was hired for a reason and one of those reasons is because of the stories I tell and the films I’ve made previously.  I’m trying to unify my type of storytelling with this kind of content. Hopefully it all comes out really nicely in the end. I don’t want to make an episode of some other larger thing.  It’s not my job to make sure that that this makes sense three movies down the tracks for one of the other franchises.  My job is to make a film that can sit as a standalone piece, that if it’s the only Marvel film you see, it’s a great film with a great story in and of itself. The lucky thing is that there’s a bunch of geniuses who run Marvel that make sure, even if it’s a standalone piece, that it’s part of a great big jigsaw puzzle that could be appreciated as a whole as well.

When you came on board the film, how much of the story was in place and how much did you change?

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Image via Marvel Studios

WAITITI: There were already story ideas when I came on board, but a lot of that changed over the first three or four months. Right from the beginning, [Marvel] wanted to lighten [Thor] little bit and embrace the adventure aspect of it. The last two films, definitely the last film, were a little darker. Personally I feel if the movie’s called Thor, then Thor should be the best character. My main focus was making him cool & funny when he needs to be and heroic when he needs to be. If you’ve seen my other films, there’s always a balance between comedy and drama. I think that’s a satisfying story to watch.

Talking about that balance, do you find that in the script?  Do you find it here on set?  Do you find that in the editing room? Where does that come in?

WAITITI: Everything – really. I’ve always found the script to be a bit more of a skeleton, the template.  We improvise most scenes. I’ll be next to actors and yell suggestions at them all the time, and that goes for everyone from Tony [Hopkins] to Cate [Blanchet]. It’s a bit messy, but from that messiness comes really great spur of the moment stuff. Then the main balance is found in the editing.  So with most takes, I would do stuff that’s way over the top and then bring it down & get something that’s exactly on the page and then something that’s a nice sort of middle balance where the tone is believable…

What kind of Thor do we meet at the start of Thor: Ragnarok as opposed to the previous Thor films?

WAITITI: He’s a lot grubbier.  I think everyone’s a bit too shiny and clean in the other films.  I love heroes that really go through ordeals and then come out the other end completely changed. They come out the other side and they’ve been through the ringer.  We do a lot to this character in the film. A lot of people want to see Ragnarok and know what it means; but, to me, Ragnarok means stripping down the establishment and then building it up in a new way. ‘Ragnarok’ is what we’re doing to the character and to the franchise and to the story.

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Image via Marvel Studios

It seems like the film is really inspired by Jack Kirby, Jason Aaron, and obviously Planet Hulk. Why those?  And is there anything else you pulled from?

WAITITI: It was really Planet Hulk and we pulled a little bit from God of Thunder and the Gorr runs. I looked at all the stuff that I personally feel are the coolest in the comics.  We should have that and we should have that and we should have that… But I think you can ruin things by staying too true [to comics].  With every comic run, there’s always a retelling. There are rebirths. There are alternate universes. This film is so crazy, so eclectic, and there are so many amazing characters – Hulk, Thor, Hela. Loki, Grand Master…  It really is, to my mind, the craziest of the Marvel films – in a good way.

What are the challenges of continuing the Thor franchise specifically?

WAITITI: The main challenge was working at getting away from the other two films. Yes, the other films are there and it’s great to watch them. I think they’re good films, but I don’t mind if people start with this film. For me this is my ‘Thor One’.  I’ve seen the other films and I respect them, but I can’t spend too much time thinking about this as a three-quel because then I’ll get tied up too much in respecting what went before and respecting what’s to come after.  [Thor: Ragnarok] has to be a standalone film because this could be the only time I do this. I just want to make it [my] version of a Marvel film in the best way possible.

Well, speaking of that – you’re known for a recurring ensemble.  We heard that Rachel House is coming back.  Is anybody else that’s been in your other films in Thor: Ragnarok?

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Image via Marvel Studios

WAITITI: Yeah.  There’s another actor, Cohen Holloway, who’s in all my other films. He plays one of the werewolves in What We do in Shadows and he’s in Boy. He’s been in all my films. There’s him… and I’m in it… I’m in all my films.  I can’t help it.  I’ll just jam myself in there if there’s a space.

Who do you play in the film? 

WAITITI: I’m playing one of the Planet Hulk characters: Korg, who’s a Kronan and a bit bigger than me.  It’s all mo-cap. And often, since Mark [Ruffalo’s] no longer here, I’ll often jump in for Hulk’s stuff.  We have stand-ins, but they’re not actors and they don’t have timing so I’ll jump in for those things.

They introduce Surtur too, right? 

WAITITI: I did Surtur as well, who will probably be re-voiced by someone else.

Thor seems much funnier in this film…

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