I received an all expense paid trip from Disney to attend the #ThorRagnarokEvent. The opinions expressed here are my own. Some interview questions and responses have been edited to improve readability.
While at the #ThorRagnarokEvent press junket, we had the privilege of interviewing director Taika Waititi. Waititi is a New Zealand film director, writer, actor, painter and comedian. He was nominated for an Academy Award for his 2004 short film Two Cars, One Night. I said it in my Thor Ragnarok movie review and I’ll say it again, Marvel couldn’t have picked a better director. I had never heard of Waititi before this film, but he has gained a new fan and I’m working my way though watching all of his films. He brought humor and color to the Thor franchise that’s reminiscent of the Guardians of the Galaxy films that I love so much. Warning: There are a couple small spoilers related to Loki, Korg and a special cameo in the interview below. Nothing big is given away, but you’ve been warned.
Q: What was it like jumping into a Marvel movie?
A: It was harrowing and exciting. When they offered me the chance to come and pitch on it, I, remember my experience before was making very independent films, you know, low budget, 25 day shoots and my first reaction really was I guess this Marvel company’s lost their mind or they’re just asking anyone to do anything. But, I ended up, uh, well if they want me to come in and talk with the company, I will. So yeah I was a little unsure if I really wanted to get out of my comfort zone but then I started feeling about Marvel films that I was already getting too comfortable and I wanted to start learning stuff and, you know, so I didn’t start making films ’till I was about 28, 29 and it was my big dream as a kid. I wasn’t like, you know, JJ and all these guys running around with super 8 cameras when they’re four years old. I caught it very late and kind of it like an arranged marriage. I forced myself to love it and so yeah after eight years of making films I started really thinking oh, I’d like to, uh, what was that Chris with his previous visions of Thor so I started feeling I was kind of treading water a little bit and I wanted to just keep upping the game and learning and then I went and did the pitch with Marvel and they’re really amazing people and the thing with pitch is that a lot of people think it’s been about pitching stories. I just think it’s just about assessing each other out, figuring out if you wanna hang out for two years. So we went and hung out in Marvel offices and they were really great in those trailers and yeah, and I haven’t had any regrets.
Q: You’re in charge of major characters, Thor and Hulk, and you have this pressure. Why put yourself in the film as Korg and add to that pressure?
A: Because I’m a self-saboteur. Any chance I get to, you know, to put my career at risk I’ll just do it, you know. I will wage myself up in any film I do. But with that planet Sakaar with so many eclectic characters and crazy elements in this film you often need something grounding for the audience and something that’s sort of like [a mothering role]. Korg is very much the mother of the prison and looks after everyone. I think audiences, I think they appreciate having someone that’s just down to earth and gentle ‘cause you need that.
Q: How much of Korg’s dialogue was freestyle?
A: All of Korg’s dialogue was improvised.
Q: So in the script, it just said, “Korg Arrives” and then you just freestyled it?
A: We would know certain pieces of information that we wanted to get across and so it was okay, ‘well he has to tell them’–actually, does Korg give any useful information at all? No.–Basically, that was role I didn’t decide on playing until right the last minute and, ‘cause I didn’t really know what this character was going to be and what the point of this character was–still pointless–but the thing with Chris and I, we get on very well and a lot of the scenes in this film were ad libbed and there’s a lot of stuff in the film that’s ad libbed.
In all of my films, we use the script as a kind of template, as a sort of suggestion for where we can go. We’ll do a version of it and then we’ll play around, spend another, you know, another hour or so just making stuff up, see if we can make it better. Because when you write dialogue six months before you shoot, you think it’s amazing at the time but, you don’t even know what will change or, maybe next week think, ‘this will be a bore.’ So yeah, it changes on the day.
Q: So you’re constantly laughing?
A: I ruined multiple takes by even being in front of the camera or laughing off screen. ‘Cause the way I do it is I’m the farthest closest to the actors and just stand there and say, ‘say this, say this,’ poke them in the shoulder. And, yeah, it’s a real god complex problem. You know you can just like manipulate people, you know.’ I can’t believe I’m making Anthony Hopkins do whatever I want.’
Q: One of the scenes I loved was the Matt Damon scene. It was so funny. How did you come up with the casting of that scene?
A: Originally there wasn’t supposed to be, like, cameos. For those of you who don’t know, the actor is Lucas–Chris’ brother. We didn’t want the audience to have rely on seeing the other movies but if you had then it pays off. We shot for shot copied the Loki’s death scene and the angle and the scene. If you’ve seen that scene, we’re gonna give it back to you in a way. We weren’t sure exactly who we wanted for a while, but Chris and Matt are good mates and that was Chris’s suggestion.
Q: Are we gonna see Korg in another movie?
A: Georgia’s a really hot state.
Q: The Immigrant Song is perfect for the movie. Did you have that in mind? How did that come up? Are you a Led Zeppelin fan?
A: Oh–massive fan. I’ve actually got to return all my mum’s records. Yeah, ever since I was a kid I listened to all the LPs and all my mom’s records. I went to the pitch and I made this sizzle reel which is like I basically ripped tiny clips from multiple movies to show a tone that to them is my idea for what the tone of the film would be – from Sixteen Candles to Big Trouble in Little China, and the entire thing was to Immigrant Song. I talked to Kevin about it. He’s like ‘yeah, I went and watched it, you know, a couple of times and that was one of the kind of strong points about your pitch.’ Actually, at the end of it, it was either him or one of the execs went ‘wow, that’s cool song, who’s that?’ But anyway but because of that it kept the song and we were pretty much able to use it somehow in the film and I couldn’t be happier that it’s in. I mean is it not the perfect song for the movie…about Thor!
Q: How, if any, did the importance of the Chinese market or color/animation influence this film?
A: Yeah, well that was just because when I was a kid I played with comics but I was obsessed with the really weird comics, like really colorful splash pages and stupid crazy characters. I kind of felt there was a trend lately that — where, not only superhero movies but a lot of movies were just too serious. I remember going to the movies as a kid, you know, and watching old movies like Karate Kid and running out of the field saying, ‘I’m Daniel LaRusso! I’m gonna jump on the playground and try to do the kick and fall off and break my arm and, you know, so that’s probably what inspired me. I want people to come out of the cinema smiling ‘cause you can go to any cinema in town and no one comes out of smiling anymore. Also, because you pay ten dollars for parking and pay 80 bucks to your babysitter. The world is crazy right now. It’s nice to go away, smile, laugh, you know, get a little bit of an escape ‘cause, you know, there’s nothing wrong with that.
Q: Was there any performances that particularly surprised you? Obviously you knew who you were casting and why you casted them, but were their anybody who you were like, “I didn’t know that they were that good?”
A: Well I knew Jeff would be that good. but I really — well my favorite performance is Chris’s performance because just knowing how fun he is…and how funny and he’s charming and he often is the kind of person who makes you feel like ‘oh, man if you actually were Thor than I would totally come and be with you.’ But that I just love having the opportunity to give him free range to just be himself and to be charming and to like be the favorite character. In particular him and Mark I think together when they’re bouncing off each other, I love that.
Q: There was less mischief from Loki this time around? Did you want to see more mischief come through? Did you cut a lot of that out? Was it just, “we’re gonna make him a better person”?
A: I think if you come to expect it too much, it’s too predictable. That’s the thing about Marvel, the decisions they make, the stories also and directors, you know. It’s like the most unexpected choice was me to direct this film. So I think if it gets predictable you come into the movies and ‘Loki’s doing the same thing’, I don’t think it’s as satisfying as seeing that character come through the other end of a true story, you know, of the three movies. [We get to finally see] how two brothers can get over their crap.
Q: That was the highlight of the film.
A: Yeah, yeah and I loved that. You know, that was something that I thought yeah ‘cause that’s actually what life is about. It sometimes does take 15 years to, you know, to decide if you like someone or not.
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