Behind the scenes with Thor and Loki at the end of the universe
American superhero film Thor: Ragnarok is the sequel to 2011’s Thor and 2013’s Thor: The Dark World, and it’s also the seventeenth film of the Marvel Cinematic Universe
When Chris Hemsworth suited up again to play Thor in Marvel Studios’ Thor: Ragnarok, he was excited by the direction the character was taking. “This is the biggest character shift and a gear shift tonally in the storytelling, so that affects my approach,” says Hemsworth. “That was all birthed through director Taika Waititi’s vision and sense of humour, his attitude and need for exploration.”
Defining the word Ragnarok and what it means in terms of the story, Hemsworth explains, “Ragnarok is the end of all things, the end of the universe. Life itself as we know it ends. Ragnarok in this film applies to Asgard, and the ticking time bomb is to prevent Ragnarok from occurring, in order to save Asgard.”
Hemsworth offers some insight as to where we find Thor at the start of the film. “At the beginning we find Thor in a bit of a journey of self-discovery,” he explains. “He’s from Asgard, but turned down being king and lived on Earth. But still he’s not from Earth, so he doesn’t quite fit in there. So, he’s off searching for answers. On his way, he discovers all sorts of chaos throughout the realms and villains that have been unleashed.” He continues, “And no one’s stopping them, so he returns home to ask his father what’s going on and why the fires are not being put out. As we know from the last film, his father may not be his father. It may be Loki doing some sort of illusion. So we have some fun with that and then it really kicks off from there into the rest of the story.” That’s where we pick things up, and that’s where Thor starts.
Thor also endures a few transformations, as Hemsworth explains, “There are a few physical changes with the character. First, he loses his hair. He’s in a gladiator world where part of their processing is to chop the hair off, which happens off-screen. And he turns up with his hair hacked off. It certainly gave me a different attitude.” “Then he also loses his hammer. It’s destroyed by Hela, the villain. That forces him to question his existence, his own strength and his history and past, which sends him on a different journey. It was about stripping him back physically, and also emotionally, to rebuild him in some way, or have him rediscover something. That is a great way to break him down,” the actor offers. Also part of the fun for Hemsworth was the chance to meet up with the actors he started out with on the first Thor movie. “It gives you such a buzz as we started on the first Thor fairly early in our careers,” says Hemsworth. “Then you work with people like Anthony Hopkins, who turns up as excited as we are. There’s a real energy where we are doing something unique, and being a part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.”
In an exclusive interaction, we got the two lead actors to chat more about the film, and their journey so far. Excerpts from the interviews —
Where do we find Thor in this story?
Chris Hemsworth: The last time we saw Thor was in Avengers: Age of Ultron. At the end of that film, Thor sets off to search deeper into the villain who seems to be orchestrating all the problems affecting the characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But we don’t get bogged down with that back story. We made this one a unique story of its own.
How do you perceive your character after playing him for so many years?
CH: I’ve been playing the character for seven years now, which seems like a lifetime but also seems like yesterday. The first film was so much fun as it was one of my first big jobs. It was all so new. I was in the hands of Ken Branagh, which was wonderful. He brought the Shakespearian tone, history and the comic books to life in a way that I don’t think anyone else could have.
In the story, does losing his hair and hammer affect Thor’s strength?
CH: Initially, Thor thinks it’s going to affect his power. He feels that the hammer is the source of his power. It’s that classic idea that the power is within you. The hammer was just something that orchestrated it.
And what is the relationship like between Thor and Loki, here?
CH: Thor has always given Loki a second chance, and trusted him time and again, but in this one it’s different. He accepts what Loki is and leaves him at that. And maybe that’s out of a more intelligent attempt to bring him back. Or maybe Thor truly has run out of options and ideas to bring him back.
And it seems to get through to Loki this time. Who knows for how long?
I think, inherently, there is good in Loki but he has a warped view and an entitlement of where he should be and what he should be given. But it was fun to play that change in Thor’s attitude and to do something different. Yet we still have great brotherly moments in the midst of that attitude.
Tom, were you looking forward to get back to the character of Loki?
Tom Hiddleston: I was looking forward to it. I was looking forward to see Chris again and lots of familiar faces, and being in this world. Every time I play Loki, the challenge is to find new ways of playing him. It is a source of constant surprise to me that I’m still here. I never expected that when I started playing him. I feel a huge responsibility to deliver the character people know, though it has been four years since I played him.
Loki is such a mercurial character. I’ve spent six or seven years trying to get to the bottom of what exactly it is that he wants. When he seems to get close to what he wants — power, acceptance, belonging — he changes direction. I think that keeps him interesting in a way. He’s cunning and transformative and changeable, and will do everything he can to survive. He’s the trickster. He’s the God of Mischief.
When I put on the costume and the makeup and wig for the first time, and looked in the mirror, I thought to myself, “Wow, there he is!” It was like seeing an old friend. It was good to see him. I feel like I know him.
How was your relationship with Thor?
TH: For Thor and Loki, the stakes are so high in this story. All the things that anchored them to their own reality are gone. They are completely out of their depth, out of their element. I like the idea that Thor and Loki — the protagonist and the antagonist — these eternally warring brothers, are thrown into hot water together and have to somehow overcome their differences, or at least acknowledge their differences, to try to save Asgard.
This film does seem to be about siblings.
TH: Kenneth Branagh’s Thor is about a father and two sons. Alan Taylor’s Thor: The Dark World is about a mother and two sons, and Ragnarok is about, siblings.
Do comic books still serve as inspiration or does the script?
TH: I love seeing the visuals in the
comic books. They remind me of the larger-than-life space that these characters occupy, and the scale of performance required to match that. I read a lot of comics before I started the first time. But because the character, as I play him, has slightly diverted from the comic book character, I’ve read them less than before. I didn’t want to read too much as I wanted Loki to be as surprised by it as I was. Then the script inspired so many ideas as well.
What does Thor encounter in this film?
Chris Hemsworth: He’s from a world where he’s the most able, strong and powerful character. He’s thrust into the world of planet Sakaar, where one no one cares that he is a prince of Asgard. So that doesn’t buy him any power or value. His powers are reduced due to obedience discs that are attached to him. He’s an equal now. He doesn’t sit above the normal folk of the town. And that was a very smart way of stripping back his powers and making him relatable.
Does Thor have a new costume?
Tom Hiddleston: Thor does have new costumes. There’s more of a historical influence, more so than the futuristic kind of nod that the previous films had. There’s this gladiator-style leather costume that is shaped to the body with an incredible amount of detail.
And what about Loki’s new costumes?
TH: Loki has several different looks in this film but I don’t want to give them away as they go with story points, but there is a look that Loki wears, which is similar to what he wears in other films, with a different colour scheme. People have become familiar with Loki’s black and green leather, or black and green with a slightly burnished gold.
And suddenly now he’s wearing blue and purple leather, with a yellow cape, which gets discarded as he starts to become more dynamic. Taika called it “Biker Loki”. It’s just different. It’s got purple sleeves, blue forearm plates and a blue and purple leather tunic. It looks like a completely different character to any incarnation of Loki you’ve seen.
Was there any difference in training?
Chris Hemsworth: I probably did more fight scenes and stunts here than earlier. There was a lot more going on, more action and different weapons, which was great because you’re fairly limited by how the hammer can move. We had swords and all sorts of laser guns and different bits and pieces. That was great.The actual physical training was similar to the previous times. You have to eat a lot of the right food and train a lot. You put in the work. It’s a few hours a day in the gym and prepping meals and having the right meals and all the discipline that comes with it.
Describe a day on set with the director, Taika Waititi.
CH: There’s lots of music and usually some dancing, lots of jokes, lots of craziness, lots of insanity and lots of fun. Lots of exploration, trying things and then seeing where we can push it, and so on.
I’ve got to say, it’s definitely the most lighthearted fun set I’ve been on. The tone of the film is responsible for the environment that Taika created. It makes you feel okay about trying something you might not have tried before, or taken outside the box. You feel in safe hands.
TH: A day on the set with Taika Waititi will without question feature David Bowie at some point in the day. It may feature some Fleetwood Mac. It may feature some Michael Jackson. The reason I mention the music is because it gives you a sense of how playful he is. Taika is an extraordinary engine of energy. He’s constantly playing with a moment, and he keeps it so light. The best creative work is enabled by an atmosphere of “anything is possible” and freedom. Some people think that creativity comes from constraint. And I think Taika understands, and I agree with him, that the best creative impulse is explored through an idea of complete freedom. Of course, you’re working within time or daylight constraints. But essentially, when you come on set, you should come and try to have as much fun as possible. So he plays music all the time. He dances. He’s immaculately turned out. But, I hasten to add, he’s serious about the work. He’s always trying to find the best version of the scene.
Why do people keep coming back to Marvel films?
TH: I don’t think anyone who works at Marvel ever feels like they’ve cracked it. They’re not complacent. They’re constantly striving to push the boundaries, to reinvent the wheel in new colours, in new shapes. And they have the gift of their own inheritance, which is a stable of 7,000 characters.
But they are able to find new ways of those characters interacting, fighting, teaming up, splitting up, having a laugh and having a terrible disagreement. And somehow every film is different. They have a unique brand of humour and playfulness. I think that’s why people come. They know Marvel delivers spectacle, action, great characters, wit, drama, comedy, and a great a time.
And what makes this team so successful?
CH: Kevin Feige and his team have a great passion for Super Hero stories, they truly love comic books and these characters. They are the smartest people in the business. They know more about comic book superheroes than any of us playing them do, and there’s no better resource than that.
Thor: Ragnarok releases in theatres on November 3.