Taika Waititi interview: I retained my voice in Thor: Ragnarok by not being an 'egomaniac' (exclusive)

Tom Butler
Senior Editor
Taika Waititi attends the “Marvel” panel on day 3 of Comic-Con International on Saturday, July 22, 2017, in San Diego. (Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP)

This week sees the release of ‘Thor: Ragnarok’ the third solo adventure for Chris Hemsworth’s mighty Marvel hero. It sees Thor banished to the gladiatorial planet of Sakaar as his home world of Asgard comes under threat from Hela, the self-styled “goddess of death”.

Forget what’s come before though, as ‘Ragnarok’ is nothing like 2011’s formulaic ‘Thor’, or its sombre, forgettable 2013 sequel ‘Thor: The Dark World’. In fact, ‘Thor: Ragnarok’ is unlike ANY of the Marvel Cinematic Universe films so far. It’s primarily a comedy for one thing, played for laughs rather than drama, which may rankle with the hardcore Marvel purists who prefer their heroes stoic and earnest. It’s also ludicrously bright, with a bright neon colour palette that may require sunglasses.

‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’ this aint.

It’s easy to pinpoint Taika Waititi – the New Zealand director best known for homegrown hits ‘What We Do In The Shadows’ and ‘Hunt For The Wilderpeople’ – as the reason for this change in tone for Thor because it’s been a huge part of the “narrative” around the making of the film.

“We were looking for a filmmaker to really help us redefine the tone for what a ‘Thor’ film could be,” Marvel Studios’ Kevin Feige explains in the press notes, later adding: “With a third ‘Thor’ adventure, we wanted to do something very, very different from ‘Thor: The Dark World’.”

With that quote ringing in our ears, we sat down with Taika Waititi as he poured himself a well-earned espresso martini after a long day of interviews to talk about Thor’s brave new direction, which he says he’s only partially responsible for.

Yahoo Movies: All the press notes suggest there’s some dissatisfaction with ‘Thor: The Dark World’ at Marvel Studios, did you get that sense from them when they first approached you?

Taika Waititi: No, it was not the sense at all actually. It was more, I feel, they could see themselves be in danger of repeating themselves, because ‘Thor’ 1 and ‘The Dark World’ kind of feel like they fit together. They have a similar tone, they even look kind of similar.

Spot the difference… The posters for ‘Thor’, ‘Thor: The Dark World’, and ‘Thor: Ragnarok’ speak volumes (Disney/Marvel Studios)

It was more that it was Chris [Hemsworth’s] fifth time doing Thor, and a lot of these characters are doing the same thing again, and again, and he just really wanted to do something different, and make it feel fresh. I felt the same thing about seeing those other films, thinking “I don’t really get the feeling in ‘Dark World’ or ‘Thor’ 1 that Thor is the most interesting and exciting character in this film.”

At the core of this film, you should make sure that is the case, that he is the one you want to follow. And I looked at Chris’ strengths – he’s a very funny person, and naturally funny as well as having a great wit, and he’s charming. He is the kind of person you want to follow and hang out with – I do hang out with him – and I just thought “Shouldn’t we just make Thor that person? The person that the audience wants to go on an adventure with and wants to hang out with for two and a half hours in outer space?”

So we basically just got Christ to reinvent it in his own image, really. And he’s just being as close to himself as he ever has, and I think it’s the most successful version because he’s just funny and charming, and by far the best version of Thor, I think.

Yahoo Movies: Tracing back this change of direction for ‘Thor’, you think it comes more from Chris Hemsworth than anyone else within the creative process?

This image released by Marvel Studios shows the Hulk, from left, Chris Hemsworth as Thor, Tessa Thompson as Valkyrie and Tom Hiddleston as Loki in a scene from, “Thor: Ragnarok.” (Marvel Studios via AP)

Taika Waititi: He wanted to do something different. I know that Marvel always wants to do something different, to change tack. What was great about the idea of Ragnarok is that the concept of it relates to what we were doing perfectly in a way, which was the destruction of the old world and the recreation of this new version. And so in a way we kind of destroyed what had gone before, even though it had laid the foundations for us, and then rebuilt whatever we wanted to on top of that, including the colour and the Jack Kirby art, and all that stuff, and this idea of this new Thor.

It was really like a reboot without having to recast.

Yahoo Movies: You’ve made a really bold decision with destroying Thor’s hammer Mjolnir there as well. Was it a big decision to make, or was that something was decided early on?

(Disney/Marvel Studios)

Taika Waititi: It was always on the cards, actually. That was something they wanted to do because when you look at Thor, he’s a good-looking, rich kid from outer space who lives in a golden castle. It’s very hard for an audience to get on his side because he’s got everything. So you have to strip him down and take away his powers and make him more like us, and put him on the back foot the entire time. You’ve got to take away everything in order to try and rebuild him up as a better version, and as a better king really.

So that was there right from the beginning, take away everything, take away his powers by ending him to Sakaar and putting the Obedience Disk on him so he can’t really escape. He is a prisoner, and in those moments, especially with Hulk and the situations where he is being real and vulnerable, and being self-conscious, those moments are amazing because the audience relates to that.

This image released by Marvel Studios shows Chris Hemsworth, left, and the Hulk in a scene from, “Thor: Ragnarok.” (Marvel Studios via AP)

I always talk about the scene that really resonates for me, which is one we just made up on the spot, on the day, which was Hulk and Thor sitting on the bed after arguing, and just talking about emotions and feelings, and making up. And that’s something I’ve never seen superheroes do before, and it’s something that audiences have all experienced, this idea of making up, whether it be with a loved one, or, my experience, talking to a 5-year old. Which is like Thor talking to the Hulk, talking to a 5-year old and telling him “You can’t just go throwing stuff at people, man, that’s dangerous” and the kind going like “Oh, yeah bu-but!”.

When you get those characters like that and you fall in love with them, it’s like “Yeah, you guys are just like us.”

Yahoo Movies: The film does very much feel like a lot of your previous films in terms of the voice and tone. You’ve managed to get that through where other filmmakers have quit Marvel films because they thought they couldn’t. So has something changed at Marvel, or is it something that you’ve done?

Taika Waititi: I feel like I have a few things that I mainly focused on, and I was willing going in to let other things go that weren’t as important to me.

I didn’t give a s*** whether or not the spaceship design was to my specifications or the colour of some clothes were not exactly what I imagined. My thing I focused on was I wanted the characters to be cool, and I want people to be able to relate to them, I want those emotional relationships to be there. And, obviously I want jokes, I want it to be funny and wanted people to be able to laugh as well as go on a cool journey, and those things are all just to do with the actors.

And so in a way, if you go in expecting to have nothing but trying to take something, it’s a stronger position to take because you know if you go in and try to control everything, and try and be this auteur who’s like “Oh you know I designed every bolt on the spaceship and every single detail” just because you’re an egomaniac and you think that’s important, to be that level of auteur, then I think you’re going to have a rough time because it’s just too much of a fight to put up for things that don’t matter.

The things that do matter for me are the characters, the jokes, the tone and the dialogue.

Yahoo Movies: Does this mean you’ll only ever make funny films?

Taika Waititi: Maybe? I don’t know.

I do have a desire to make things that probably have more – no, actually you know what? To be honest, I don’t. That’s a lie. I don’t have any desire to make dramas. I just f***ing straight up lied to you. But my conscience got the better of me!

I f***ing hate the idea of making a drama to be honest. That seems like the most sad way to spend my day at work, pretending to be sad all day. Why would you do that?

‘Thor: Ragnarok’ blasts into cinemas on Tuesday, 24 October. Watch a trailer below.

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