Kenneth Branagh gives the bard a rest, instead turning his attention to another literary great, Thor – of, er, Marvel comics. The director of 2011’s biggest superhero blockbuster tells Moviehole what interested him about the hammer-wielding strongman.
Apparently you gave your cast a lot of stuff to read – is this punishment for something that’s happened to you in the past?
It’s just to make sure you start of saying, “Hey, it’s not going to be the usual thing.” And also look for information anywhere. It doesn’t matter if you read a book this thick. Natalie Portman read a book about a nuclear physicist. The gal who was sort of outted from the whole discovery of DNA, Roselind Franklin, she was the one who didn’t get the Nobel Prize. Brilliant, mid-Century, British physicist. Now, you may see none of that in Jane Foster, but so she read a book this thick and she had a couple of great ideas that might be half a line in the movie, but it just smacks like a peg into the ground of a different kind of reality and it isn’t just about, “Oh, he’s over there. He just did that.” So it’s trying to say you could you that, you could watch a TV show, it can be a picture, you can be in an art gallery, whatever. Let’s make it special, let’s make it our own. You’ll find you put your arms around the part that way.
What’s it like directing a flick that exists in a shared universe, in this case, Marvel?
The fun of it, Kevin [Feige] will tell you, he’s the uber-meister I think of all of that, but the fun thing is when you know, and you go and see Iron Man 2. You get a couple of lines saying Clark has to get down to New Mexico. We have a little bit of a problem down there. You know we’re the problem! We’ve got a couple of little nods heading Joe’s way with our picture. I got thrilled when I went to see the set the other week so what was nice is, at least I didn’t feel, you may have done it so brilliantly I didn’t notice, but I didn’t feel I had to think about it at all. I was Thor-centric.
Ya think Thor is a little bit of a tougher sell than say, Superman or Batman? It’s definitely a trickier one tone wise, right?
Well, I think that’s interesting. I hope that it is that time and I think you’re right to say that it’s a tricky tonal issue. We always talked early on, I’m there for what it’s worth to try and guide the tone and say, “Hey, I think we can make a film…” I was passionate that we should have a contemporary earth sequence to the movie. I believe, they do in the comics, that we can live in both places and people can travel maybe to both places potentially and that we can fin the tone. Gotta stay very honest and very truthful, and I hope we do. Tone was always, always kind of the key issue. Key people early on, props and production designer Bo Welch, Academy Award winning costume designer Alex Byrne was also somebody who was trying to be inspired by the comic book but also she kept being imaginative about it and trying to present textures and elements. When you know that people travel through space, when they live in the world of gods, it isn’t just a question of just metal or just molded kind of human material. So we’d always just try to look at it, see what we saw in the comic and then try and reinvent, re-imagine, go back to some original source. That got everybody very excited so you want to try to be pure and classical in it but bring in new twists.
Tell us more about the production design.
Production design, we wanted a mammoth quality to Asgard, having monumental buildings. If you walk around the city of Rome and you look up on any street corner, there’s just a sort of massivity that would have kept people visiting that place in ancient Rome awed. So we wanted to have Asgard awe its inhabitants by its size, its magnificence, its beauty, it’s goldenness, all of that but that it had a theft and wasn’t kind of airy fairy.
Did you consult with Zack Penn’s ”Avenger’s” script as you moved forward?
I did not. I stayed in the Thor zone.
The movie is set in Asgard and New Mexico – how much time is spent in each?
We’re in the middle of editing and there are ways in which the story is responding that puts a little more here or there, so that’s a slightly evolving thing. It was in the script, it is right now. But there’s a definite interplay which we’re getting genuine dramatic value out of that we’re continuing to explore so I couldn’t answer the question accurately at the moment but you get a full account of both worlds.
Do you think your knowledge of Shakespeare is applicable to a movie like this?
I’m a movie geek. I’m there every weekend, totally an utterly for pleasure. It’s one of the things I do, my wife and I are there, some popcorn and it’s nice. It’s a nice thing to do.
How about acting in a movie like ”Thor”?
I don’t know actually. I haven’t been asked so there you go. We’ll find out if we do a second one.