It's gonna be a long wait until May, kids. See, May 6, 2011 is when lightning strikes theaters everywhere in the form of Marvel Studios' Thor movie. Mania had the chance to sit with not only the mighty god himself, Chris Hemsworth, but his leading lady, their producer and above all the man who assigned them homework, director, Kenneth Branagh.
Question: Is there any kind of pressure playing Thor?
Chris Hemsworth (Thor): There is a lot of pressure on something that has existed for some years before you were involved. You don’t let that affect the way you approach it as a film. It is exciting and daunting as each other.
Question: How important is the relationship between Thor and Jane (Natalie Portman) in the film? Does it set up something for later?
Hemsworth: There is a bit of that but it is a big breaking point in Thor’s journey and also in his humility. He starts off this brash cocky young warrior. She certainly steers him in a different direction. She gives him a different angle to live his life on.
Question: Any problems at home since you won the role of Thor and your brother [Liam Hemsworth] didn’t?
Hemsworth: (laughs) We both auditioned for it, funny enough. I had an audition but didn’t hear anything. The next minute I hear they are flying him over to meet Kenneth [Branagh] and he was down to the last four guys. He went in and did a great job but it didn’t end up happening. I got another phone call and asked him what worked, what didn’t and got some advice and here we are.
Question: How was it working with Kenneth?
Hemsworth: It’s brilliant. The most character development, discussions, scenes and back story that I have ever had. He always had the attitude to talk for hours about books. Read this and look at all these influences. Maybe it means nothing or maybe it gives one moment and it’s worth it. It’s part of the fun for me, that research.
Question: What books did you read?
Hemsworth: I read Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse. It’s about a man trying to find his place in life, going through all the temptations. Thor in effect was (laughs) different to Siddhartha. I was human being trying to find out his purpose and how he was going to go about his life. That was the same thing, Ken said look, you know this is just a great book which I love. It might be something great for the film or it just might be for you personally. It certainly is one of my favorite books.
Question: So who wins in fight: Thor or Captain America and you or Chris Evans?
Hemsworth: (laughs) We’ll sort that out later.
Question: Did you take or get a hammer at the end of filming?
Hemsworth: I talked to a lot of people about getting a hammer. Can I get a hammer? Can I get hammer? Somebody said yes and I (pause) forgot to take one (laughs).
Question: Natalie, you’ve done big movies before like the Star Wars prequels, how does a movie like Thor compare?
Natalie Portman: It actually was a very different experience, because our (her and Kat Dennings) section was on Earth there was very little blue screen work that we did. Also Ken [Branagh] is such an incredible actor and director for actors that it was a very different experience to have someone give such attention to character and performance on a movie of this scale.
Question: In the comics Jane Foster is the bridge between Thor and Earth. Did you see the role as a similar one?
Portman: I think that it is part of role in the movie. It grounds him. He is exiled to Earth to learn humility and her Earthiness is what transforms him. There are definitely changes in the character from the comic book but that is one of the consistencies.
Question: What was it like to work under Branagh’s direction?
Portman: He is an absolute master. The attention he gives to character on a movie of this size is absolutely remarkable. It is very easy to get lost in special effects and cover all of this action. People forget often the characters and never did he for one second let that go. I can’t imagine how exhausting that must have been. He was really great too because he would ask us a question. The answer in it would be what your character was going through. He led you to that answer but you had to come up with it yourself. It really made it part of you. It was an amazing experience.
Question: How did Branagh prepare you for your role?
Portman: We definitely got lots of Thor comics. Then Ken gave me a lot of books on female scientists.
Question: Kenneth it seems as if you are giving your cast lots of homework. Is this something you learned from in the past or is it a way to find their characters?
Kenneth Branagh (Director): It’s just to make sure that this isn’t going to be the usual thing; also to look for information anywhere. Natalie read a book about nuclear physicists, the gal that was ousted from the whole discovery of DNA, Rosalind Franklin. She was the one that didn’t get the Nobel Prize, brilliant mid century British physicist. Now you may see none of that in Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) but she read a book this thick (four inches wide) and 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 a different kind of reality and it isn’t just about he’s over there and he just did that. You can do that [read a book] or watch a TV show or see a picture or be in an art gallery. Let’s make it special and let’s make it our own. You’ll find that you can put your arms around the part that way.
Question: What was it like to work on a film that has a shared universe like Marvel films do? How is that a challenge?
Branagh: Its fun. Kevin [Feige] will tell you that. He is the maestro of all of that. The fun thing is when you see Iron Man 2 and you get a couple of lines that Coulson (Clark Gregg) has to get down to New Mexico and they have a bit of problem down there. Well we are the problem and we get a couple of nods for our picture. I didn’t feel as if I had to think about it at all.
Kevin Feige (Producer): The trick is, and I say this all the time, all the movies have to stand on their own. If you need to watch all of them to understand any of them then we have failed. But it also wouldn’t work if we didn’t have filmmakers like Ken, Favreau, Joe [Johnston] and now Joss [Whedon] who are excited by that notion. They understand that their toes are not being stepped on. They are telling a story and the movie they want to tell. If we get enough of these little pieces the baton can be passed to the next one. They enjoy that idea, that notion of being part of something.
Question: Is Thor a tougher sell than the previous Marvel films since you are dealing with gods and a different tone of superhero movie? Or is it just time to tell the tale of Thor?
Branagh: It’s interesting. I hope it is that time and I think you are right to say it is a tricky tonal issue. I am there for what it’s worth to say hey I think we can make this film. I was passionate about having a contemporary Earth sequence to the movie. I believe as they do in the comics that we can live in both places and people can travel to both places, potentially.
Question: What lead you [Kevin] to believe that Kenneth could handle Thor?
Feige: Knowing his background, knowing the amazing work he has done. What I didn’t know and what it took during the phone calls and meeting we had was what a fan of Thor he was. What a fan he was of this genre, these kinds of movies. It was almost a couple of years ago the new James Bond movie opened. That Monday we were talking about Bond. The next weekend were talking about the next big summer movie and we discussed the similar notions of what these kind of movies can and should deliver. He clearly is going to show it.
Branagh: I’m a movie geek and I’m out there every weekend. It is utterly and totally a pleasure.
Question: Would you ever act in a movie like Thor?
Branagh: I don’t know. I haven’t ever been asked. Maybe if we do a second one.
Thor will be released on May 6th, 2011.
Robert Trate writes two weekly columns for Mania the DVD Shopping Bag and the Toy Maniac. Robert also participates in a pod cast that reviews movies, comics and celebrates all things geek. Check it out at You’ve Got Geek on You.com.