At the heart of the epic adventure Thor is a story of family, and the struggles between a father and his two sons. King Odin (Anthony Hopkins) is looking to hand over the throne of Asgard to Thor (Chris Hemsworth), a mighty warrior whose arrogance and reckless actions reignite an ancient war that leads his father to banish him to Earth. Meanwhile, the highly intelligent and cunning Loki (Tom Hiddleston) sets out to prove why he is more worthy of the power and unleashes dark forces on the unsuspecting human population.
During a press conference for the film, co-stars Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hilddleston and Anthony Hopkins talked about heroes and villains in the world of Thor, working with director Kenneth Branagh at the helm of this big superhero movie, how costumes can inform character, and the importance of having humor on set. Hemsworth and Hiddleston also talked about how they’re looking forward to starting on The Avengers in a couple of weeks, and how Joss Whedon has turned the conflict and egos of the characters that will be teaming up for that film into the film’s strength. Check out what they had to say after the jump:
TOM HIDDLESTON: Well, I think there are no villains in this world. There are just misunderstood heroes. I think Loki thinks he is the hero. Essentially, if you boil this film down to this barest elements, it’s about a father and two sons, and both those sons are brothers competing for the love and affection and pride of their father, Odin, played by Tony [Hopkins]. There’s a deeply misguided intention within Loki, and he has a damage within him. He just goes about getting that pride in the wrong way.
Is it true that you wanted to be Thor, since that’s the role you auditioned for?
HIDDLESTON: I didn’t actually want to be Thor. But, my hair is in all sorts of trouble, at the moment. I was born with very blonde, curly hair, not unlike Gene Wilder in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, and I’m 6’2″. So, like every other English-speaking actor over six foot, who’s got blonde hair, I went up for the part of Thor, but I’m not built like a house like [Chris Hemsworth], and there’s no way in Odin’s Asgard that I could have delivered what Chris has done. It was always meant to be this way, I think. I’m much happier, as things are.
CHRIS HEMSWORTH: Growing up, my parents were my heroes, in the way they conducted their lives. My dad works in child protection and he’s spent many, many years in that line of work. As kids, our experiences shape our opinions of ourselves and the world around us, and that’s who we become as adults. He’s certainly been my hero. In movies, the idea of a heightened reality and then the fantasy that is something that we can be swept up in, and these larger than life heroes who are much more powerful than we are and greater, that can come and save the day, is inspiring. People who put themselves on the line and sacrifice their own safety for the greater good and for others, and anyone in any profession whose concern is the welfare for other people instead of the individual, are inspiring and important.
Growing up, did you have any favorite superhero characters?
HEMSWORTH: Yeah, growing up, I loved a lot of different films. Superman was probably the very first one I was aware of. I would run around the house, pretending to be him when I was a kid. I also had a Robin costume – Batman’s sidekick. It was a nice pair of green underwear and a yellow shirt and red cape. I was six or seven. And, I loved Han Solo, too.
What did you do to get your physique the way it is in the film?
HEMSWORTH: The most uncomfortable thing was the eating. I didn’t mind the working out. I’d never really lifted weights to that capacity beforehand, and it was certainly a whole new education for a good six months. And, I just don’t naturally sit at that weight, so I had to force feed myself with 20 chicken breasts, rice, steak and very boring, plain things. The most exhausting part of the whole film was the eating. It wasn’t fun stuff either. It wasn’t hamburgers and pizza, and what have you.
HOPKINS: It was Ken Branagh. I said once that if they gave me enough money to read the phone book, I’d do it. I live in a total state of non-expectation. I don’t expect things, and I keep my expectations very low about everything, especially the last few years. I had come back from a movie with Woody Allen (You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger), which was a big surprise – I enjoyed that – and I left my agent because I wasn’t very happy, and I got a new agent. Within two days, they said, “Would you like to meet Ken Branagh?” I said, “Yeah, what about?” And they said, “Odin.” And I said, “Oh, that’s God, isn’t it?” And they said, “Yeah.” The only thing was that I hadn’t seen Ken in some years and I wasn’t sure how he’d respond to me because I was one of the bad boys that ran away from England, many years ago, and came out to cuckoo land out here. I had never fit into British theater. So, I wasn’t sure how he’d receive me. But, we met for breakfast in Santa Monica, and he was very pleasant and friendly, and we had a chat about old times. He said, “Would you like to play Odin?,” and I said, “Yeah, okay.” He gave me the script and I read it, and I thought, “Yeah, I’d love to work with him.” I’ve always been a fan of Ken’s, actually. I had never read the comic. I’m not a geek, you know. But, it turned out that it was the most enjoyable film I’ve been involved with, for a long time, particularly because of the cast and everyone and Ken. I’d gone through a patch where I was getting very indifferent to everything and could care less about anything. To work with Ken, he just pushed the right buttons to get me to give up my best. I really valued that because I had gotten lazy. He’s one of the best directors I’ve worked with. That was the principle reason for doing it. That and the fact that I wanted to work. I’ve got to pay the rent, you know. And, I thought this was a nice part. I didn’t have to do too much. The only thing was that I wish I had gone out to New Mexico. I had such a good time in the studios, but my time was so brief. I was only on it about three weeks, on those great sets. There was no acting required. I wrote N.A.R. in my script, for no acting required. I let the armor act for me on the sets. I showed up and put on my voice, and that was about it. I really enjoyed it.
How was it to work with Kenneth Branagh, as a director?
HEMSWORTH: Ken challenges you, all the time, in a very nice, gentlemanly, charming way. He’s very cunning I like the way he says, “My learned, esteemed colleague, I would like you to stand here, and then Chris will come up behind you. Do you have any suggestions?” I said, “Yeah, but I’m not going to tell them to you because you want me to stand here, don’t you? So, just tell me where to stand, and I’ll do it.” He knows so much. That’s the most comforting thing. You don’t have to work. You just do what he tells you. That sounds pretty wimpy to do that, but why not? He knows what he wants. A good director knows what he wants and what it’s going to look like.
HEMSWORTH: I started with the comic books. I didn’t read all of them – there are 40 or 50 years worth – but I certainly read enough to get a sense of who he was and the world he was from. And then, I read some things on Norse mythology and the fatalistic view they have, that everything is pre-ordained. That would lead the Vikings into a fearless attitude in battle and with their lives. They would certainly back their opinions and they were not swayed easily. That spoke volumes to me about the character. You fill your head with whatever information and research you have, but on set it was just about making it truthful and finding a simpler way that I could relate to it. Instead of thinking about how to play a powerful God, it became about scenes between fathers and sons, and brothers. You personalize that and that helps ground the story for an audience. That way, we can relate to it and, hopefully, an audience can too.
How did your costume inform your character, in terms of becoming that person?
HIDDLESTON: If you get up in the morning and wear a pair of shorts and a t-shirt and some flip-flops, it’s a signal that you might be going to the beach. If you get up in the morning and you wear a breast plate and a back plate and a cape and a pair of golden Satanic horns on your head, it’s quite clear that you’re doing something else. Also, we were so helped by the beautiful sets built by Bo Welch, the production designer. There was no furniture to lean on, really, and no props to busy your performance, so there had to be a simplicity to it. The costumes were incredibly heavy and made you stand straighter. It’s like being in a neo-classical museum. If you go up to the Getty, you have a sense of the size of the place, and that just does stuff to the way you stand.
Anthony, did you get to pick which eye you had covered?
HOPKINS: I don’t know. I can’t remember. It was the wrong eye, first of all. I said, “I think you made this for the wrong eye,” because it wouldn’t fit. And they said, “Yeah, we did. Just put it in the other eye.” The only problem was that I had moments of anxiety because I had no three-dimensional vision. I’m not that young anymore, but I had to be guided onto the set and I felt very embarrassed. I couldn’t see, but it would come off very quickly. It was a costume, with the helmet and all of that. You don’t have to do too much except speak up. You don’t have to act, you just let the costume do it for you.
HEMSWORTH: I remember Tom talking about having breakfast with Tony, at one point, and I was like, “What?! He’s having breakfast with Tony? Where was my invite?” It’s much easier to hate someone on screen, if you actually like them off screen. It’s a more enjoyable ride. There’s nothing personal about it. We got along. We came into this, at the same point in our careers, with the same enthusiasm and love for these types of films, and just had a great time doing it. You either have chemistry with someone or you don’t and, thankfully, it was there. To play brothers was easy and fun.
HIDDLESTON: It’s quite literally a bromance. The “bro” aspect of the word is for real. Chris is absolutely right. I can’t imagine having to go to the emotional extremity that we both had to go to, if we actually didn’t like each other. It would have just been horrendous to go to work. The fact that we get along, we just egg each other on. We raised each other’s game. We just had a really, really good time. There were so many things that went wrong, that were just accidents that made us laugh. It’s such a huge journey. We both spent two years of our lives working on this film, and it’s so nice that there’s somebody else who’s alongside. Chris had a few drinks at the wrap party and was hanging out the window on the way back to the hotel, and before we went up to our rooms he said, “You’re the only one who understands, mate.”
HEMSWORTH: I have no idea what I was talking about.
HIDDLESTON: But, in terms of vying for the attention of Tony, Tony was amazing. I haven’t actually said this on record, but on our days working with Tony, he would just regale us with stories of when he was a young actor, starting out in The Lion in Winter with Peter O’Toole and Katharine Hepburn. I’ll never forget the story he told about Katharine Hepburn saying, “Stop acting, Tony! You’ve got a good face, you’ve got a good voice, you’ve got a good body. Stop acting!” Then, we did the scene in the Vault, where Loki finds the big, dark secret of his personal history and, after the first couple of takes, Tony leaned across and said, “Have you got a good agent?,” and I said, “Yes, I think so,” and he said, “You’re going to need it!”
HEMSWORTH: I remember being on set with Tom, for our first day with Tony, and Tony said, “How are you going to do it?” I did it and he said, “He’s kidding, right?”
HOPKINS: It would be terrible, if you met somebody who didn’t have a sense of humor.
HIDDLESTON: When we were walking down towards the casket, Tony said, “Can I tell you something, Tom?” I said, “Absolutely!,” and I sat up straight and said, “Tell me anything.” And he said, “You’re doing this very strange thing with your wrists.” I said, “Oh, my god, what am I doing?!” He said, “Well, maybe you could butch it up a bit. It’s a bit effeminate.”
HOPKINS: That humor gets you up. You have to have humor. If you don’t have humor and you take yourself seriously, you’re dead in the water. You have to be jostled. I love it. You’ve gotta have a laugh. It’s better than working for a living.
HEMSWORTH: The big thing I learned from Tony was to have a good time doing it, have an appreciation for it and have fun. What should have been the most intimidating experience walking in was the most enjoyable.
HIDDLESTON: Really, I took the character that I saw in the comics. Loki is a master of magic, and in the Marvel Universe, he’s the agent of chaos. His super-power is his intelligence, if you like. He’s a shape-shifter and has the ability to stay 10 steps ahead of everybody else. So, Ken, Chris, Tony and I all talked about having those layers. He’s someone with a fierce intelligence, but also a very damaged heart. I think a red dot will form on my forehead, if I give anymore information about Loki in The Avengers. All I can tell you is that Loki will be in The Avengers, and it will take more than Thor to stop him, this time.
Chris and Tom, you guys both play very larger than life characters in this film, and now you’re going into a movie with a number of other larger than life characters for The Avengers. What’s the biggest challenge that you see in combining all these archetypal heroes and villains into this one movie?
HIDDLESTON: I think the thing that looks like a challenge is actually the reason it will work. How can one movie contain so many different flavors, colors and characters? I think Joss Whedon has made that a strength, and the conflict between each of them is something that will be expanded on.
HEMSWORTH: Yeah. Also, we don’t balance all the other characters. That’s Joss Whedon. It’s his job to navigate that. We come in and do our bit, and that’s all you can really concern yourself with. I definitely think it will be an interesting combination, and it will work because of that conflict, and those larger than life characters and egos clashing. I think there will be some great tension there.
Have you already started shooting The Avengers?
HIDDLESTON: Joss Whedon has started. We start in a couple of weeks.