EXCLUSIVE Thor: The Dark World Director Interview

Alan Taylor tells SFX about venturing into The Dark World

With Thor: The Dark World arriving in UK cinemas on Wednesday 30 October, director Alan Taylor teases what to expect from our second trip to Asgard.

What enticed you to take on the project?
When I was first approached, I thought they had made a mistake and were calling the wrong guy, because I was very ensconced in television. I was doing Game Of Thrones at the time. Then the more I heard about it, once we got over the confusion, I realised it was me they were trying to talk to. I’ve never been a comic book guy. I didn’t grow up loving comics, so that sets me apart from a bunch of the people I’ve been working with. But I loved the scale of it.

I had come to love epic language; that’s something I got to experiment with in Game Of Thrones and some other things that I’d been doing, so that was enticing. But I could say a million things. The cast that had been assembled on Thor by Kenneth Branagh was a dream cast and I welcomed the chance to work with people like that. I’d come to love having one foot in reality and one foot in fantasy. All of those things were coming together in this. Thor is a unique Super Hero because he carries so much weight of history and he carries a mythology. Those things gave him the kind of stature that I found exciting.

How are you keeping the cosmic, Norse mythology-tinged storyline grounded?
A lot of the work we’ve been doing on the film has been to try and ground it, and even though we are travelling nine realms in the universe, to never depart from it feeling real and emotionally connecting. So, it is partly the performances that we’re getting out of this amazing cast that make you actually relate to what’s going on, even when what’s going on is very strange. But also in the look of the film, we’re making a big effort to ground it in a sense of “history,” despite the fact that it is a made up world.

It was important to me that Asgard feel like it had been there for centuries, millennia even, that it has its own culture and that it really be a place that you could believe in. We had a new approach to the costumes, too, in the same way that carried through the texture of lived life and history.

Where do we find Thor at the beginning of the film?
The Marvel movies, like most of the good superhero movies these days, are not just episodes; they actually are building the arc of a character that carries from one to the next. In Thor we saw him go from an impetuous prince to taking the first steps towards maturing and growing up. In our film that life story continues and he’s maturing, he’s moving closer to actually claiming the power that goes with Odin. He’s becoming not just a man but also a king potentially, and that’s a coming-of-age story but it’s also a kind of darkening, which is one reason why we have the title that we do. Our title is partly about the Dark Elves and the worlds that we go to, but I also thought that adulthood is kind of a dark world, and we see Thor mature and deepen, but he also has to give some things up and he has to suffer.

Would you say that Thor and Jane Foster's relationship is the emotional core of the film?
There are times when you could certainly view the film and see it as being a love story about these people who have been kept apart and trying to contend with that and where their love fits into the universe. But there are other relationships that are incredibly powerful in the film too. It’s also a story about these two brothers, Thor and Loki. I think there’s a balance between which of those relationships is the most defining one of the movie. But the arc of the relationship with Jane carries from the first movie and is moved forward and completed in this one.

How do you think people are going to react to Jane going to Asgard?
In the first story, people got a lot of joy out of the fish-out-of-water story of Thor coming to Earth and the natural thing to do seemed to be reverse it and take a human up to the Nine Realms and into Asgard. It’s sort of comedic, in the fish-out-of-water classic way, but it’s also one of the tones of the film because it’s wondering about the awe of what it would really be like to be able to set foot in a place like Asgard. So, Jane goes there and she actually becomes part of that community; you get to see her wear Asgardian clothing.

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What is Thor’s relationship with humans going to be like this time around?
I’m imagining that forever Thor’s story will be split between Asgard, the Nine Realms, and Earth. He has a real bond with Earth partly discovered through Jane, but in the classical mythology his mother was from Earth. We dispense with that in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but there’s something about Thor where he’s really connected to Midgard [Earth] and will always be. Part of the challenge is to balance Thor’s godliness and the humanity we feel in him. So the story will always revolve tightly around Midgard, I think.

Was there a need to have Loki redeem himself after the events of Avengers Assemble ?
We get to see Loki in a different light. When we started, we knew that Loki was going to be an important part of it because of the brother relationship that was created in the first film and is one of the main engines of the Thor movies. Tom Hiddleston has done such a great performance that we’ve always been aware of his vulnerability and the fact that he is evil. But there is a conflict in him, so now we get to see that other side of him emerge more fully.

Where is Thor’s relationship with his father, Odin, in The Dark World?
Odin is called the All Father but is one of the worst parents I have ever met! The two boys, Loki and Thor, are interesting because their father so completely screwed up their childhood. You don’t tell two boys that they’re both meant to be king but only one will actually be king. But in this film we see Odin’s character progressing as well. He’s lived for millennia but he’s getting on in years even in Asgardian terms. He’s starting to falter as a king and make some mistakes and he’s starting to react to things emotionally. In a way it’s an interesting inversion from the first movie where he was the rock solid man of principle and certainty and his son Thor was impetuous; in this one we start to see that Thor may be emerging as the stronger ruler in a way.

Are you focusing on any particular runs from the comics? Will we see more Norse mythology?
When I first came into Marvel and was introduced to everybody, they delivered three tomes of the Thor universe on my desk, and I started thinking, “Oh, God, that’s a lot of homework.” I started reading through them and by the time I got to the point where Loki was a woman and Thor was a frog, I realised that you can find almost anything in this comic mythology and it was okay to sort of push it aside and decide what movie we were making.

The later Thor imagery was the most compelling for me. Towards the end it really started developing a real richness and it felt like a saga; it felt like it had one foot firmly in Norse mythology. Trying to balance that with the wacky earlier stuff is one of the balancing challenges of any Thor movie. But for me, it’s pretty obvious that I responded mostly to the material that invoked the mythology.

What were the challenges in creating the movie's different realms and species?
The challenging part, but also the great fun, is creating these creatures and the worlds they come from. David Lynch is one of my favourite filmmakers and he had a quote once where he said that for him the future of filmmaking would not be so much about telling stories but more about creating worlds, and he’s always been a wonderful world creator, and that’s the part of it that appeals to me the most. So, having a chance to create not just Asgard but Vanaheim and Svartalfheim as well was great.

The names are hard to say but the worlds are wonderful to try and envision. We had to create a race of marauders, which are sort of all-purpose bad guys, and that was very collaborative. Our costume person was working on it; our concept artists were working on it. Marvel had very evolved ideas about what was appropriate. But the biggest challenge for the film was the Dark Elves and that’s the part that I feel happiest with and most proud of.

Partly you’re drawing on the comics but there’s a limit to what you pull from them. Malekith, in the comics, looks like a court jester at Carnival or a rock star or something. It was great in its world in its period but for us we had to find something darker and more threatening. So, finding Malekith’s look and finding the basic imagery of the Dark Elves was a really fun collaboration.

Can you tell us a bit about Christopher Eccleston as Malekith?
Thor is not just a superhero; he has the weight of history behind him. We needed a villain that had scale and was epic as well, so Malekith’s backstory goes back at least 5,000 years. He and his people have been gone for 5,000 years and they’re coming back, in their minds, to right a terrible wrong. They’re driven by vengeance. But Malekith is a noble creature and he’s committed to his purpose above all.

He’s sacrificed absolutely everything to achieve his end. Basically, all he wants is the universe. He is sort of an absolutist. We were inspired by various fanatics who plague our world right now; who believe there is no grey area. There is either absolute defeat or absolute victory and Malekith is bent on absolute victory.

How do the Warriors Three and the Lady Sif fit in this time?
Sometimes I think of them as the Warriors Four because Sif is sort of an honorary member.

We thought it was important this time to make sure they weren’t grouped together as a kind of chorus, so that we got to know them each in specific ways. Maybe the strongest version of that was that we decided to go to Hogun’s home world and see the culture he comes from. That was part of making the characters feel alive and deep.

We also wanted to give them some time as actual serious warriors. There are some comic moments that come with them too, which are important, but we wanted to see just how lethal they can be and get into their characters a little more. Seeing Volstagg’s family and pursuing the relationship a little bit with Sif and Thor was important to us too. Basically, each of the Warriors Four gets time on screen where it is just about them.

Thor: The Dark World is released by Walt Disney Studios on Wednesday 30 October. Why not read SFX's four-star review of the movie?