Q: Hi Kenneth. After a long search, you cast Chris Hemsworth as Thor. Chris is well known in his native Australia, but was pretty much unknown in Hollywood. Why go with Chris ahead of someone better known?
A: The answer is simple. Chris filled everything I think Thor needed to have. Chris has incredible strength, physical dexterity, he is almost dancer like doing moves with the hammer. Also, if I can put it crudely, he is a guy's guy, but also can be sensitive, and what I mean by that is he is aware of other people.
Q: Is it true you saw Chris early on in the casting process, but passed on him?
A: He was always on our mind, but when we first saw Chris we were still developing the script and character. Earlier on we were looking more for braun, but as the character of Thor developed we realized we couldn't just rely on that. We needed a physically imposing actor, but also someone with brains, who could show emotion and the other tributes I said before. He needed to be sensitive, almost like a dancer in his moves with the hammer. When we came to that conclusion we thought 'We should bring back that handsome Australian guy we saw a few months ago'. Chris came in for a reading and some workshops and he nailed it.
Q: What was it like directing Sir Anthony Hopkins?
A: Wonderful. He is one of the greats. It was also wonderful to be around him when the cameras weren't rolling. Tony would tell us stories about his early days as an actor, like his experience in 'Lion in Winter' with Katharine Hepburn and Peter O'Toole
Q: You have made so many wonderful films over the years, but nothing on the scale of Thor. What was the experience like?
A: I enjoyed it immensely. It certainly was big in scale, but the simple fact is the decision making process pretty much remains the same whether it is a big or small film. The big decisions made on a project like Thor come down to myself and a couple of producers sitting around a table. The flip-side is after we make the decision, the logistics are extreme. We come up with the great idea, but then we have to decide 'How much is it going to cost?' 'How are we going to do it?' 'How are we going to build it?' 'When can we do it?' That feels colossally difficult, but then you get into the fun of how you achieve it. People say 'There must be so much pressure to this?' and I say 'I can't see it that way'. Sure, you have days that are challenging, but compared to many, many other situations, directing a film on this scale is an utter delight from beginning to end.
Q: The character Thor, of course, will be part of next year's all-star superhero film, The Avengers. Did you work with the guys from Marvel to make sure your movie was integrated with The Avengers storyline?
A: (Marvel President) Kevin Feige is the guy who orchestrates that. He keeps me in the loop. I talk to the boys, you know, Jon Favreau (Iron Man director), Joe Johnston (Captain America director) and Joss Whedon (The Avengers director). We have a great relationship. I love being able to get on the phone and say to them 'Geez, what did you do when you had a set that size?' or if you had a visual effects question. I've enjoyed that collegial relationship with the other guys.
Q: Thor is a fish out of water story, with Thor landing on Earth after being banished from Asgard by his father. Can you relate to that? Have you ever felt like a fish out of water?
A: Definitely. I think if you're an actor you inevitably have some interest in taking an outsider position. I was born to a working class family in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and then we moved to England when I was nine so I was a fish out of water then because we spoke different. And then I became an actor which nobody in my family had ever done, nor anyone in our social group, so that was another remove. I was a man who did not speak with his natural accent in a profession that he was alone in. My parents were rather thrown by it all.
Q: How about working in Hollywood? Do you feel like an outsider or is it somewhere you're comfortable?
A: I feel comfortable. I certainly enjoy my time in LA. I'm happy to go where my work takes me. I'm definitely led by the work and it's fun to be a fish out of water sometimes.
Q: Thor was a huge success at the box office. What's it like being one of the hottest directors in the industry?
A: It's a roller-coaster, but you can't let success mess with your head. Dead Again (1991 drama starring Emma Thompson and Andy Garcia), for instance, was a huge success for me. It was the number one film at the box office in the US for three or four weeks. For that time, and I'm not boasting, it's just what happens, I got offered huge films. For 10 days, I was on top. I swear to God, for the 10 days while you're hot, you can do no wrong. I wasn't being grand about it, but I didn't take any projects offered during that time. I went back to Belfast and did a production of Chekhov's Uncle Vanya. I enjoy following my own nose though and not being swayed easily. I don't have any regrets.
Q: A lot of directors would take the big pay check movie, but you chose to go home and do a play?
A: Yeah. I follow my gut. You don't think 'Oh I've got this big opportunity, now I must be ready for whatever'. I wait for the creative spark to hit me and when it does, I follow it.
Q: As well as being an Oscar-nominated director, you're a three-time Oscar nominated actor. Do you also follow your nose when it comes to deciding if you will direct a project or act in it?
A: Yes. I follow my instincts. I want to to be passionate about the project. That goes with acting or directing. It's never a case of 'OK, I just directed a film, now it's time to act'. When I'm directing I learn from my actors. Everyone has a different style. When I'm acting I'm also like a sponge with my director and cast. I'm always listening and watching.
Q: Do you remember your first acting role?
A: Sure (laughs). I was at school and I played an English public school boy in a play called Another Country. I'd been at a comprehensive school, which is a state school. This fictional school in the play was a bit like Eton, the poshest school in the land. I remember I went to the audition and I wore a striped blazer because I had seen the Henley regatta and people wearing those striped blazers if they went to Harvard, Yale or Oxford. The author of the play laughed in my face when he first saw me, saying 'Oh, good to see you've come as a public school boy'.
Q: Is there a single theme with your movies?
A: Ultimately, underneath all of that, you might say all of my films are about 'What does it take to be happy?' and the one constant question is, 'Is that somehow tied up in love?' There's not an original thought in there at all (laughs).
Q: One of the themes of Thor is the relationship between Thor and his father? What was your relationship like with your father?
A: I had a great relationship with my father. I loved him, absolutely worshipped him and I miss him a great deal. To some extent, I relish in the pride that can occur between father and son and the dynamics of wanting to please a father and wanting a son to be proud of you. I think those are things that matter to me and I feel emotional about. There are a couple of moments in Thor which always remind me of my dad. They choke me up every time.
Q: What are they?
A: There's a piece of music in the film played by the London Symphony Orchestra that goes with a line Anthony Hopkins says to his son. It gets me every time. I can't say the line now (tears well in his eyes). Let's just say it's a very simple line of a parent being proud of what you've done.
Q: What's the best lesson your parents taught you?
A: My parents taught me how to be a decent person.
Q: When you're not working, what do you like to do for fun?
A: I enjoy football very much. Tottenham Hotspur are my team in the UK. I was back home at Christmas and I was able to see a football match and I loved it. I enjoy playing football too. It seems laughable, but I play in LA every Sunday morning with people of my own age (laughs) otherwise you can't do it. It's amazing how many 50-year-olds are out there kicking a ball about on a Sunday morning. It's good fun. When you can still do it, it's nice to do.
Q: You are a regular visitor to Australia. What is it about Australia that draws you there?
A: I've been to Australia many times and I have a lot of Australian friends. I absolutely love it. Australians have that wonderful expression 'No worries' and they have a wonderful way of dealing with things. I like the fact they go with the flow.