Interview with Kenneth Branagh (Director)

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.

Interview with Natalie Portman (Jane Foster)

Q: Hi Natalie. You, of course, starred in the Star Wars movies so are used to being part of big budget, fantastical films. Can you compare working on Thor to the Star War movies?
  A: It was amazing to work on both, but they were very different experiences. On Thor, to be on a set with Ken (director Kenneth Branagh), made it very different because he paid so much attention to character. It felt like he was making a small character piece even though there is all of this elaborate filmmaking going on around you. He never got lost in that which I think is a tendency of most directors of these big films because they are so entwined in the sets and action sequences they forget about character. Ken was constantly on that. It was character, character, character, story, story, story.

  Q: It's no secret comic book and sci-fi fans love you. It started with Star Wars, then V for Vendetta and now Thor. What's it like when you go out in public? Do you get mobbed by nerds? It must be scary.
  A: (Laughs) No. Anyone who approaches me has been respectful and sweet.

  Q: Really?
  A: Yes. I think it's exciting to have people who are passionate about what you do. As an actor, that's the best thing you can hope for and besides, I'm very small and can camouflage very easily. When I'm out in public I'm hard to spot (laughs).
 
  Q: Can you tell us a bit about your character in Thor, Jane Foster.
  A: Thor is exiled to Earth to learn humility and earn his right to be a leader and Jane is part of what grounds him on Earth. That's something Ken kept saying to me. He wanted to make sure my character's feet were always firmly on the ground. That was the bottom of her character.
 
  Q: Jane is a scientist?
  A: Yeah. She is working on a theory of connecting dimensions. It's based on an Einstein theory that you could connect dimensions through the warping of time and space. Thor, obviously, comes from another dimension, so he is sort of this missing piece to her scientific research and everyone thinks she's sort of on the fringe of science and a bit of a kook. This is her chance to prove herself.

  Q: Jane isn't a scientist in the Thor comic books.
  A: That's right. She's a nurse. But, I think it's great in our movie she is an astrophysics doctoral candidate.

  Q: What was it like when you saw Chris Hemsworth for the first time in his Thor costume?
  A: I loved it. It was funny because we filmed for about a month with our characters in regular, earthling clothes. Chris included. Then all of a sudden we started shooting scenes where Chris was in a superhero costume. It was a real shock. We were all really amazed.

  Q: What's Chris like? From all reports he is a really nice, down-to-earth guy.
  A: He is. He's also a fantastic actor. He's confident, but he's not showy in any way. He can walk into a room with Ken Branagh and act his pants off and not be intimidated, and is able to shoulder this responsibility of taking on this huge character with incredible grace. He's universally nice to everyone, genuinely nice, very funny. I have no doubt that he'll be a massive star.

  Q: So he's good-looking, talented and a nice guy? That's not fair!
  A: Yes. (Laughs) He makes it tough for other guys.

  Q: Can you talk a little more about Kenneth Branagh as a director?
  A: He's a master. Like I said earlier, the attention he gives to character on a movie of this size is absolutely remarkable because it's very easy to get lost in other things. Never for one second did he let that go. He must have been exhausted at the end of each day.

  Q: As well as a great director, Kenneth Branagh is an Oscar-nominated actor.
  A: That's why I think he's such a great director. I'd watch him when he was behind the monitor and he sort of acts with the actors as they do their scene. He moves his arms around. I don't think he realizes what he is doing.

  Q: How did he help you create your character?
  A: Because I play a scientist, he gave me some books on female scientists. It was wonderful reading.

  Q: You also share a lot of screen time with Kat Dennings, who plays Darcy Lewis. Can you explain Darcy's relationship with Jane?
  A: Darcy is a hesitant protege of Jane's. There's a nice thing in the story regarding girls who are not quite ready to own their intelligence. Darcy is a little shy about it. But, then she has this big change in the movie where she says to herself 'You know what, I do know what's going on. I was pretending I didn't know what is going on, but I do and I'll solve all of your mysteries and problems for you'.

  Q: Although there's plenty of testosterone and beefcake in Thor, the female characters in the film are very strong and, like what you just said, there's some strong themes for young women.
  A: Sure. There's a lot of female camaraderie and women who are passionate about science. We also have Jaimie Alexander, who plays Sif and she's super tough. We had plenty of good female power on the film.

  Q: We have seen you in a few superhero movies, but never a superhero. Do you have a favorite superhero you would like to play?
  A: Me? Gosh. No. It's not something I'm keen to do.

  Q: Do you read comic books?
  A: Yeah. My cousins were really into comic books so I definitely grew up around that a lot. I also got into graphic novels when I did V for Vendetta so I'm definitely a fan of those now.

  Q: Had you read a Thor comic before you were approached to do the movie?
  A: To be honest, I knew nothing, but quickly got up to speed.
 
  Q: Who is your favorite Star Wars character?
  A: I'd have to say Chewie. I'm a big Chewbacca fan.

Interview with Tom Hiddleston (Loki)

Q: Hi Tom. You play Loki who, to put it mildly, is a mischief maker. He is Thor's jealous brother and has an axe to grind.
  A: Yes (laughs). Loki is the villain you love to hate, but through the course of the film I think you can understand his emotions. Loki isn't just an anarchist or someone out to burn the house down. His villainy comes from a deep sense of betrayal. He believes he has been betrayed by his father - or fathers - and betrayed by his family and is caught in between two worlds. He is entirely alone. For someone who has an inclination towards mischief anyway, someone who likes to pull practical jokes, that inclination is fed into the rejection and he becomes a destructible force.

  Q: What was the key to making this crazy character somewhat sympathetic to the audience?
  A: Ken (director Kenneth Branagh) encouraged me to show his vulnerability. He's Thor's younger brother and he craves his father's love as much as any other person. That's what roots the film and makes it very accessible. It's about two sons searching for their father's approval. Thor seems to get it without question and Loki seems to be out in the cold. I think that's something that people can relate to. He wants to be accepted.

  Q: Loki is a great liar.
  A: (Laughs) Yes he is. I like to say he is such a great liar you never know when he is telling the truth. I didn't want to do any mustache twirling or winking at the audience to show when Loki was lying. I don't like to give too much away about the film, but you do find out Loki is responsible for a lot more than you first might have imagined. That is something that is important in the comics. You'll follow Thor through an adventure and think there is one bad guy, but then Loki will appear from behind the curtain and you realize it was Loki all along. He is a shape shifter. He can't be trusted.

  Q: Serious comic book fans know that it was actually Loki who is responsible for bringing all of the superheroes together in The Avengers comics. Will Loki be part of next year's Avengers movie? It would make sense to have him in the film?
  A: I don't know how much I can tell you (laughs). I'm not sure if I'm allowed to.

 Q: It sounds like Loki will be part of The Avengers.
 A: (Smiles) The news is good.

Q: That's great to hear. What do you think about the concept of bringing Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Loki and other superheroes and villains together in the one film?
A: It is astonishing. It is a truly epic ambition to bring this fleet of what are like ocean liners together. It is truly amazing. I was doing a TV job in Sweden three years ago and had a day off so went into town, saw Iron Man was playing so bought a ticket. In that moment I had no idea I'd be in the next Marvel movie, Thor, that would lead to the union of these superheroes. It is epic.

 Q: Were you familiar with the comic books before you signed on to Thor?
 A: Yes. As a child I used to play with the Marvel Top Trumps. It's like a deck of cards. I had the Marvel superheroes and the Marvel super villains, so I had Thor and Loki. That was my context for them. I also watched Spider-Man on TV.

Q: Chris Hemsworth bulked up to be Thor. He said he packed on 20 pounds of muscle. Did you work out much to play Loki?
A: As you can see my arms do not compare in size to Chris', but yes I did a lot of training (laughs). I needed to be very lean, but very strong at the same time. I developed a fighting style similar to a specific Brazilian style of martial arts. If Thor was a big rock, Loki was like the wind. He'd dance around this big block of granite. I developed this fighting style that was like lethal dancing.

Q: What training went into that?
A: I did a lot of skipping. Ken told me he didn't want me to build a lot of muscle. I could have done, but he wanted me to be lean and flexible. Thor would swing the hammer and I had to be able to bend around it.

Q: What was it like working with Sir Anthony Hopkins?
A: He's an absolute 1,000 per cent legend. He is a gentleman. He's a deeply, deeply humble man who enjoys working as if it was the first day he ever set foot on a film set. He was so generous, warm and professional. He took me under his wing. He knew I was a Brit who had done some stage work and it was my first time in Hollywood. He said 'Oh, you'll have a great time. I'll show you the way'.

Q: Wow, that's fantastic.
A: He invited me out to his home in Malibu for breakfast and asked me how everything was going. He also took the piss out of me on set. He was tremendous. Truly. In the film there's a scene where Odin (Hopkins) banishes Thor to Earth and there was one particular take just before lunch and Ken told him 'We have the scene, but I just want to try something. Allow your heart to break. Let's see your heart break'. At the end of that take the entire crew was in floods of tears. It was brilliant. It was a master class. Chris and I then went and had lunch in Chris' dressing room. I was like 'Dude, how are we supposed to compete with that?' and Chris laughed and said 'Mate, we can't. We may as well go home'.

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