Kenneth Branagh, Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston talk Asgard and Avengers
In Thor, the powerful but arrogant warrior Thor is cast out of the fantastic realm of Asgard and sent to live amongst humans on Earth, where he soon becomes one of their finest defenders.
The Fan Carpet were lucky enough to be in attendance at the Thor Press Conference. In attendance were Australian hunk Chis Hemsworth who plays the titular hero, English thespian Tom Hiddleston who plays his villainous brother Loki and director Kenneth Branagh.
The trio talk about their experiences, staying true to the source material and what the future of the Marvel Universe has in store.
I just want to ask you when you first became acquainted with Thor before this movie, were you familiar with it at all?
Kenneth Branagh: Well I was, as a kid growing up in Belfast, I remember seeing this very colourful, very dynamic comic with some of the framing that we tried to put it together in the movie. I remember being struck by how colourful, vivid, and massive it was.
The first picture I saw of Thor, we never did this in the movie was with Thors arms yoked around a tree truck with his arms bigger than the tree trunk. We did the classic pose on the throne.
Chris Hemsworth: Pretty much when I got the part six months before I received a stack of comic books. I knew vaguely a little about the character, but wasn’t sure where from. I probably knew more about the Norse Mythology bit to it all. When I got the part it was about educating myself and going through the books.
Tom Hiddleston: Well I as a child had a deck of Marvel Top Trumps, I had all of the Marvel superheroes and super villains in a deck and I used to play it with my friends. So literally every character you could think of was listed by their height and weight, and agility and their super powers and Thor and Loki were in there, so that was my memory.
The relationship between Thor and Loki. How important was it for you to nail that? Obviously there’s lots of action and explosions in the movie and what not, but there’s that core relationship.
Kenneth Branagh: In terms of the approach it was three fold; definitely beyond contemporary Earth to bring this story to Earth, to bring humour to the story and then to create character and then cast it with a kind of detail in the characterisation and in the execution of them to be as real as we could be. It’s a relative reality in a comic book movie but I think what works very well is when the boys catch your breath with the intensity of which they feel things.
When you’re rehearsing with them and with Sir Anthony Hopkins and you’re talking about that dynamic between the two rival boys and a father who is demanding, and you have sub scenes, that can take the intensity and passion that can spring from some of those challenges it’s part of what distinguished the film; made it a little different, is that we could, in the drama of Asgard, go quite a long way, but that would depend on who we cast and they both did a fantastic job.
Chris Hemsworth: Sometimes you get lucky, and you work with people you really get a long with, it’s easy to process and easy to find the hooks in the relationship. And we both know what its like to have siblings and have that rivalry, it’s just so much fun to play around with it.
Tom Hiddleston: Yeah, I think it’s kind of an advert of boring, competing brothers are just intricacy, inherently, dramatically, interesting; it doesn’t matter if it’s Kane and Abel back in the bible or it’s Edmund and Edgar in King Lear or any story where you’ve got essentially two opposing forces competing for the same thing. In this case it’s the love, affection and pride of their father and what’s great about the two characters is that they are both enormously gifted; Thor is powerful, nobel, strong and physically athletic and the leader of the pack while Loki is intelligent, and a strategist and a master of magics. So the two of them together are a force to be reckoned with. But going up against each other is a whole other thing. I should also add that as an actor it’s much much easier to be nasty to someone you really like, you can’t ask for that, you can’t buy that.
Ken, it seems although anything in the world of Asgard meant fulfilling a childhood ambition and if that’s the case, does that mean there’s only two left; playing Paul Linfield and appearing in Coronation Street?
Kenneth Branagh: Well I think the Linfield one is probably gone. It was a fantastic opportunity, a great adventure and in some ways a great surprise to be considered for it and then to go up for the job and try and get it. And then to do something I’ve not done before which is to spend a couple of years in Hollywood; I’ve never done that before; I’ve flitted in and flitted out, been privileged to go and do things there.
But the whole combination, some of the things the boys have been talking about in terms of the story elements, that you probably wouldn’t be surprised interested me in terms of those big problems in Royal families, but the great sort of mystery of the visual effects, the CGI, the 3D, developing a story that is a part of a great big film universe – that is fiercely protected by the people who have worked so hard to create it across a long period of time and keeping your energy and your focus on the job that was quite something. So I was in some familiar territory with great cards, and some unfamiliar territory, which I did deliberately. Once I had the joy of getting the job, I embraced putting myself way out of my comfort zone but it was a very thrilling bumpy ride.
Speaking from you theatrical background are there any similarities between stage acting and green screen acting do you think? And given the popularity of the comic book, did you feel any pressure when taking on this project when referring back to the source material?
Kenneth Branagh: It’s so thrilling making this picture and not answering questions that began with why have you made a remake? The pressure from purists if you like, has always been there, you know you can’t please everyone, but you hope to at least entertain everyone. I love the debate and passion that’s attached to this source material; to have that many people interested in what you’re doing is an absolute thrill.
Chris Hemsworth: We’re very fortunate that there was far less green screen, we had these beautiful beech sets that we could interact with and be a part of. The small parts of green screen that we had thankfully we had Ken to fill us with the visual, a vivid and colourful picture of what was going on. And anything to hold on to, it’s a very numbing feeling being on green screen; the hum of the lights, it’s very sort of hypnotic, you really need t bring your energy up. On set these big glaciers were built for the big throne room you know you feel part of that world.
Tom Hiddleston: At the very end of the film, when the two of us are fighting on the Rainbow Bridge in Asgard, this shining city in the sky; it’s very difficult for locate scouts to go out and find those two things. So the two of us were in a green screen warehouse and quite often because of the position of the camera and I do all sorts of crazy things; which really should be under special skills on my CV like self duplicate and disappear, reappear and fly through the air. Some times when Ken needed the carea to be in a specific position, moving in a particular way to give a huge dynamism and vitality to the shot and a lot of the time it meant that I was talking to Chris and he couldn’t actually be there because that would mean him hanging from the ceiling in the most uncompromising position unknown to man. So you kind of have to light some sort of bonfire under your imagination.
Often it might not be Chris it might be his double, or more often a tennis ball or a coloured mark of Sellotape next to the lens of the camera. But acting is all about imagination anyway, doesn’t matter if you’re on stage, television or film, your imagination is working overtime and the great thing about having Ken do it was that he was always on hand with a microphone, quite often literally painting the picture on our behalf. In Yogenheim, the ice planet, we would be walking along brilliant sets of ice flows surrounded by green screen and Ken’s there saying ‘on your left there’s an ice tower crumbling into pieces, on your right there are shadows; frost giants could be coming out of those at any time, you’re excited, you’re freezing cold, you’re terrified, beyond you is a cold larger.’
Kenneth Branagh: The thing that Tom hinted at was that a year before we started shooting they were rehearsing, and reheard again in the Summer and again before we started shooting and rehearsed on their own all of that was there for them to call on.
Chris how was it working with Anthony Hopkins in god-like mode? And Ken, were you influenced by the fact that this is part of a franchise with other films in it, were there marks you had to hit or plot lines you had to follow?
Chris Hemsworth: Yeah, walking into this, the idea of standing opposite Anthony Hopkins in god-like regal outfit, and he has that quality in every film, was intimidating, but I have to say that the moment I got on set and met him, I couldn’t have felt more support, he was extremely collaborative and kind. He has a great sense of humour, and a great passion for film making – for story telling. A couple of times we’d turn to him and say ‘this is fun, isn’t Ken wonderful’ that was the vibe on set it was such an enjoyable experience.
Kenneth Branagh: He told lots of great war stories about his time as a young actor, his first time in film, he loved seeing the beginnings of the great careers the boys are about to have and that was exciting.
As far as the Marvel Universe is concerned, I basically kept my head down and concentrated on Thor. Occasionally I would say ‘the place name of that place has changed, why is that? and they explained. None of which I can tell you, otherwise I’d have to kill you. They did it so subtly that I didn’t feel we were being tugged in any particular direction. They were smart enough to know, they have Captain America and The Avengers coming out, so they didn’t have to plan that much but they have hopes and dreams I’m sure but we all knew that unless we put all our eggs in this basket and really concentrated, there would be no point in worrying about how it fitted in with the rest of the Universe. Lots of little surprise in there, but once I was told about them, they did it so brilliantly that I didn’t even notice.
What is your reaction to appearing at various Comic Con’s and whether your reaction with that completed and informed the way you approached the film?
Kenneth Branagh: When I went to Comic Con in San Diego, my first experience of a comic convention, I felt like I was looking at a lot of people who reminded me of how I was at sixteen, seventeen, eighteen and discoing that I loved being an actor and was travelling around Stratford von Avon to watch plays and getting copies of a magazinee called Players Bio where a young actor named Tony Hopkins appeared for the first time and making those connections. I was obsessive, a fanatic. So not of the attentiveness threw me. If we were to listen to every passionate fan about making a film there would b thousands and thousands of different films. You can spend a lot of time with a comic fan talking about helmet length, type of horn, the type of metal, which powers it has, which wolds it could survive in, which worlds it couldn’t survive in. We tried to address that to help tell the story. We hope there are a lot of things in there for fans, but honestly we also wanted to have the film open to the people who weren’t aware of the story.
Tom, you’ve worked with Ken on stage and TV, and now he’s your director. How did that dynamic change?
Tom Hiddleston: Acting is a bit like tennis – you can’t do it on your own. And I suppose acting takes a degree of mutual trust and respect and over the years of working in Wallander and the West End we’ve exchanged a few words. It’s actually a huge privilege to be directed by someone who I felt so known, understood and trusted by.
Ken was asking me to go to some extreme places emotionally from time to time and it’s always nice to know that the man behind the eye, behind the lens, behind the camera is someone who knows what it’s like to go to those extreme places with performance. We all know how challenging that is and he’s just very supporting and trusting.
Ken, you said Marvel were very subtle in the directions to The Avengers, did you seek advice from Jon Favreau or anyone about making the film, like Joss Whedon?
Kenneth Branagh: I did speak to Jon when prepping, I spoke to Robert Downey who I’d worked with before; he was incredibly friendly. And I had spoken to Joss wh had also spoken to me about Chris and spoke to me before he had joined the Marvel Universe. There’s not much yo can do other than pass on instincts and feelings, the particularities of each film are so separate and so distinct that what you share is the knowledge of the immensity of it and in Jon’s case to take things one step at a time and concentrate on what you’re good at and surround yourself with talented people and try and keep up with them. That’s what you do on something like this and visual effects and everything that come with it are new to you.
Jon said interestingly however, and I don’t know if this will end up being true or not, he said ‘once you’ve done one of these, it’s hard to go back to reality’ and he was right in the maelstrom of Iron Man 2. It’s an unusual job to do and it’s good to talk to others that have done it.
Chris Hemsworth: When I came on with Thor there was the knowledge that we would have The Avengers in the future, but it didn’t effect me playing Thor, Thor was certainly what I had in front of me and in order to develop Thor in order to use him in The Avengers so it became about what I had right there and then.
Tom, do you know of any events that will follow in The Avengers at this point in time?
Tom Hiddleston: All I know is, is that it’s being made.
Ken, obviously the film is effects heavy, but it is also in 3D, how did the knowledge of knowing it was going to be different from what you saw on the monitors effect how you made the film?
Kenneth Branagh: We worked as hard as we could with the knowledge of 3D, we knew we didn’t want to give people a headache with 3D. There were two reasons not to shoot in 3D and to convert the three hundred odd effects shots were to have more time on set, because it’s pretty challenging, especially for me working out the parallax, the retinal rivalry and the depth curves and all of that.
But we also wanted to work out the depth script, so you set up two cameras and you work out the depth of one particular shot that was perfect for that. You may find that shot against others may hurt your eyes in 3D is quite significant. In conversion, we would watch it twice a week for nine months in the year to check that when a hammer comes at you or the stars whizz by then it cuts to a shot of the Mexican desert that it doesn’t hurt your eye and produce the best effect all the way. Through the movie and how we wanted to tell the story it was definitely a learning experience, it was definitely a time where we would be on set and ring our 3D collaborator and say ‘I’m about to do this, if you tell me to do a whip pan will it hurt people? Can we do t in slow motion or speed it up in post production? Is that going to help you? We just kept talking about it.
Norse Mythology as shown in Thor seems to delegate that higher beings are as infallible as the rest of us. What’s your take on that?
Kenneth Branagh: I think it’s part of the Norse Myths and the reason why people like then so much is to see human traits reflected in gods. Some how it seems to be part of the fascination with the lives of the mighty and powerful. They in this case have the powers that we don’ and that ought to make them happy. It’s often a thing to aspire to and often doesn’t. And so in the height of circumstance where their mistake can cost lives or can mean that countries change hands or worlds explode. Following their love affairs, their rivalries, their hatred, their jealousy, their self doubt etc. I think is a cathartic way to understand some of our own. And of course along the way you are entertained because their lives are involved in space travel, and worlds of ice and worlds of gold and the comic clash between entitled prices of Asgard and very indifferent waitresses in Mexican diners. So we always thought that the tensions between other worldly privileged people is illuminating.
Kenneth, I’m wondering if the increase in Comic book movies is down to ternology or is it down to Hollywood picking these up as genuine art forms?
Kenneth Branagh: I think it’s a combination of those things where film technology means that the spectacular, larger than life worlds of many of the kinds of stories that we are talking about are possible to create big screen experiences, very distinct for these tent pole movies that may be at the places you want to go see that sort of story and preferably rather than in your brilliant smaller home systems. So it’s a venue for a certain kind of story, and I think there is this tremendous community of interested and passionate people who are ahead of the curve with understanding the word comic doesn’t mean easy, simple, simplistic, it’s often connected to what is often fiendishly clever plotting, fiendishly clever story telling, fiendishly iconic and allied with incredible artistry of visual artistry, so many exciting ideas are there.
Chris, you’re playing larger than life characters, how much did the costumes help?
Chris Hemsworth: It helped a lot. I remember first putting the costume on and having read the comic books previous to six months and imagining how I would play this guy and convincing myself and everyone else. This costumes were so incredibly detailed so the first time you put it on you feel like the character. It certainly makes our job easier, it makes you stand different, walk different, it was just another layer to add on and to work with.
Tom Hiddleston: I second that entirely. You wake up in the morning and you put on shorts and a t-shirt, you feel like going to the beach, but if you wake up in the morning and you put on a breast plate, a back plate and a cape and a horned helmet, you feel like sliding around a Norse palace. Alex Burn who designed the costume, did the most extraordinary job because their so faithful actually to the hype real quality of the comic book costumes. Not only did they look right and look great, but she was able to design costumes that we were able to fight in, to run in, and role around in the snow in. The greatest challenge was actually having a loo break.
Ken, how important was it to have the comedy thread running through the film and how do you find messing your two careers of acting and directing together?
Kenneth Branagh: I think we all felt it was curtail to have a lightness of tone. We obviously took the job of producing this piece of entertainment as seriously as possible but at the same time we didn’t want the film to take itself too seriously. And we wanted the characters to have a sort of twinkle in their eye but we didn’t want to mock them or second guess them. It was a very delicate thing to do, but it depended at all times to reach this simplicity, it’s sort of an archetype idea; gods among men that produces dramatic tension, comic tension and romantic tension if you produce a potential relationship between two people of different worlds.
It became the way to accept all of these different terms; if you want a film where people will be thrilled in the cinema by six warriors galloping across on horse back over the Rainbow Bridge in the middle of outer space, then you needed other points in the movie as a sort of sense that we are celebrating it but we aren’t necessarily saying that’s what’s happening even as we speak. As Jane Foster says at times with passion and with humour; magic is just science we don’t understand yet. So humour became essential and in terms of the acting and directing, I’ve tried to follow my instincts and chose things that’ll make me feel passionate and will engage me. As an actor what’s nice is working with these two fellows and our cast and crew is watching how other people do, they always do it differently.
Tom Hiddleston: I think with the humour aspect, Ken did a most extraordinary job of appealing to just about everybody, so Thor fans and die hard comic fanatics will be so satisfied with what they see that I think Ken has delivered a sci-fi fantasy action adventure but like a Russian doll wrapped up inside is a comedy caper romance epic drama, so that whatever you expect from your movie going experience you kind of got it all in this one.
Kenneth Branagh: You’ll find that after the movie there’s seven minutes of credits with thousands of names, which just goes to show how collaborative a project this is. Far greater than any other film I’ve worked on previously.
Ken, looking back at over a decade of working in the business, what’s the best and worse piece of advice you ever got from a fellow actor and did you pass anything onto these gentlemen?
Kenneth Branagh: Well the best piece of advice is to try and follow your instinct, easy to say, hard to do. Worse piece of advice, I don’t know, I sully give myself the worst pieces of advice I don’t know. It’s funny about advice in this business, you don’t really want it do you? I tend not to ask cause I’m too stupid not to take it.
Chris Hemsworth: For me what I got from Ken, his whole crossettes and his attitude to work, and the love for what he’s doing and the preparation and the enthusiasm. You know it was more of a general thing of how he lived and approached things on set. There wasn’t a sort of sit down.
Tom Hiddleston: I guess I’m sort of the same, actually this morning I was walking around the house with a t-shirt that said ‘work hard and be nice to people’ I think that’s something I’ve learnt from Ken. Actually, and Ken probably doesn’t know this is direct from him, but he doesn’t leave a single stone unturned. Every in story is excavated, every possibility is looked in to with extraordinary curiosity and the power of his intellect, with an almost encyclopaedic knowledge of different things.
In one instance he came up to me and said ‘Tom this is the moment where the thin steel rod holding your brain together snaps’ and then he walked away, he came back and said ‘I’m aware by the way that’s a rather challenging thing to ask you to do, so we can have a couple of goes’.
Chris Hemsworth: I’ve got a similar thing, he said ‘this is the take where you go bezzerk and you’re with your mates in a pub, just let loose and go’.
Kenneth Branagh: It was one of the things we wanted to retain was the wild man stance, you know the bezzerker strain of the Viking, the wild warrior nature with a bezzerker take and with Loki we wanted t capture the point where he may or may not have stepped over to the other side of madness or evil. So there was an ongoing conversation of when that might happen.
These two were ready to go across any number of takes, some actors think you’ve done something wrong if you go to three takes but rehearsal helped to go this is the moment when. If you can trust me that we will sculpt very single moment the glory of film is if you’re great for a split second it’s in.
THOR IS OUT IN 2D AND 3D NOW