From director Taika Waititi (Hunt for the Wilderpeople), Thor: Ragnarok is the latest epic adventure in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, as Thor (Chris Hemsworth) finds himself having to get back to Asgard to stop the destruction of his homeworld and the end of civilization there, at the hands of the scarily powerful Hela (Cate Blanchett). Utilizing a refreshing level of humor and fun throughout the story, Thor must get his duplicitous adopted brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston), the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) and the fierce warrior Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) all fighting on the same side, if they’re even going to have a chance at being victorious.
During a conference at the film’s press day in Beverly Hills, co-stars Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Mark Ruffalo, Cate Blanchett and Tessa Thompson were joined by filmmaker Taika Waititi and Marvel Studios producer Kevin Feige to talk about what makes Thor: Ragnarok is different from other Thor movies, why Marvel wanted Waititi at the helm, the Hulk character arc, whether Loki could ever experience some real growth, the biggest challenges of this film, and the desire for a female superhero movie.
Question: Chris, what makes this Thor movie different from the others?
CHRIS HEMSWORTH: Taika Waititi, basically. 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. That meant doing away with what we knew and just reinventing it, and it all came from his crazy, wonderful brain, his inspiration, and him pushing us, every day on set. He constantly encouraged us to improvise and explore and take risks. It was one of the most enjoyable experiences that I’ve ever had on a set, and it’s a film that I feel the most proud of, just because of this whole team and the collaboration, and the fun we had.
Kevin, people are invested in these franchises and they love these characters. What made Taika Waititi the right fit?
KEVIN FEIGE: We wanted a new sensibility. If you look at everything Chris has done, as this character, there have been moments of humor, throughout, and we wanted to build on that. If you look at the movie, it’s got the epic action and it’s got Thor arguably more powerful than he’s ever been, in any of the films, with his powers going up against the Hulk, but at the same time, it’s embracing what Mr. Hemsworth does, better than anyone up until now has ever been able to see, which is expanding his acting chops to comedy, in an amazing way. Taika gave the cast the confidence to explore that and to try things, and most of that is in the movie because it was on story, and yet, at the same time, it expanded each of their characters.
Taika, you brought an independent sensibility to this huge, big-budget film, and you gave it fun and a little heart, too. What was that process like for you?
TAIKA WAITITI: When they first asked me to come make this film, obviously I thought that Marvel had lost their minds and were just hiring anyone now. No. I knew my strengths were tone, character and relationships. I had to ignore the scale of this monster. It’s a huge film. What can be distracting, on set, is if you look over your shoulder and see 300 people standing there. I just had to keep reminding myself that what’s more important is what’s inside the rectangle, which is usually two or three people trying to remember their lines. The scale of the film doesn’t matter. That’s always the same. So, I just focused on what I was used to, which was what’s in front of the camera.
Where is Lady Sif? Is she still alive?
FEIGE: If she had been on Asgard, she might not be alive, so that’s one of the advantages [of not having her in the film].
WAITITI: Lady Sif is played by an actor in New York, on a TV show (Blindspot on NBC), at the moment. She was busy.
Mark, are you interested in doing a solo Hulk movie, and are there aspects of the character that you would be most interested in exploring?
MARK RUFFALO: I would love to do a Hulk movie. I think we all would love to do one. About a year ago, before I [was even in this film], Kevin had asked me to come over for a script meeting. Basically, he sat me down and said, “What would you like to do, if you had a stand-alone Hulk movie?” And I said, “I’d like to do this, this, and this, and then this, this and this. And then, it would end like this.” And he was like, “I love that! Let’s do that, over the next there movies, starting with Thor 3, and carry it on through Avengers 3 and Avengers 4.” So, that’s my stand-alone Hulk movie. And Taika is gonna take all three of those movies and cut them into one movie.
FEIGE: Someday, I think a stand-alone would be great, but for the time being, what we’re going to be able to do with his character arc, over these three movies, is super exciting.
Tom, in this movie, we see a change in Thor. Do you think there could also be a change in Loki?
TOM HIDDLESTON: I did ask Taika if I could get a haircut, as well, but his answer was a quick, “No!” In this film, the development of the relationship between Thor and Loki is interesting. Thor has evolved, grown and matured, and Loki is stuck in his struggles of the past. The challenge for Loki, in this, is that he’s got to confront the fact that time is moving on and people change. We’ll see. There’s room to grow and I’m still here, so we’ll see where he goes next.
Cate, how was it to fight with Chris Hemsworth?
CATE BLANCHETT: I didn’t do enough of it. I kept wanting to do more. It was hugely enjoyable for me. And apart from working with these guys, the chance to finally, in my deep middle age, to get fit and wear that much lycra was really exciting for me. I worked with Chris’ trainer for 20 minutes a day, which doesn’t sound like much, but my god, it was intense. And Zoe Bell, who is an extraordinary actress and director in her own right, was my stunt double, which made me feel blessed, every day. She’s a great action director, so I moved from the humiliating to the exhilarating, in a matter of five days.
Tessa, how did it feel to play a character that was white in the comics?
TESSA THOMPSON: I didn’t feel any pressure with that, specifically. The things that I thought about the particulars of Valkyrie had more to do with mass and size. For example, I thought, “I’m short,” or “I’m not buff enough.” She’s arguably as strong as Thor. How do I stand next to a person like Chris Hemsworth and feel like that’s true? So, I didn’t think so much about satisfying Norse mythology. It’s mystifying, fantastical, glorious, very confusing, and doesn’t make a lot of sense. I remember someone online saying, “Tessa Thompson playing Valkyrie is white genocide,” which is just as mystifying as Norse mythology. I just figured that the thing I’m tasked to do, with any character that has its own iconography, is to capture the spirit of the character. The spirit of all of us, at the risk of sounding cheesy, has very little to do with what color we are, so I just didn’t really invest in that.
How did you guys feel about Hulk getting to talk so much in this?
HEMSWORTH: I loved it! This is my favorite version of the Hulk‘cause we actually got to act together. We’d only really fought one another on screen, in the previous films, but this time around, we got to improvise our way through it and invent this chemistry that we hadn’t explored before. We built this new version of the Hulk, which was a little bit more articulate and vocal than he had been, prior to this. There’s just so much more room for the humor and fun that the character embodies. I think it’s fantastic.
RUFFALO: I loved it, too.
WAITITI: I love the scene on the bed, when they’re making up, after the argument. That shouldn’t exist, but it does, and it works. I think that grounds the film a little bit more, for the audience. Superheroes have to make up after arguments, as well. That’s what I love about being given the opportunity, with this film, to show that side of these really crazy, big characters.