Last October Screen Rant had the opportunity to visit and explore the set of Marvel’s Thor: The Dark World and in addition to exploring the sets, costume and art rooms, and chatting with the cast and crew, director Alan Taylor spent time with us sharing his thoughts on the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
At the time of the interview, The Avengers writer and direct Joss Whedon – who’s helping oversee the next set of Marvel movies – hadn’t worked on the Thor 2 script outside of approving it, but we’ve since learned that they did manage to get his help rewriting a few key scenes.
In our interview, Alan Taylor talks about the differences in HBO TV and Marvel film work, what he loved and didn’t love about Kenneth Branagh’s original Thor, the villainous Malekith character, and how he’s not ready to shoot in 3D.
Thor has changed its aesthetic and style since the movie with Kenneth. Was that almost like a pilot for this one, in a way?
Taylor: Yeah. And [CLEARS THROAT] it’s funny you used the word “pilot.” I’ve spent a lot of time in television, and I’m a recovering TV director or whatever, but a lot of the television experience has applied well here because there is an episodic quality to it, because, you know, it’s volume two of something that’s already been established. In television I try and put my stamp on what’s already been established and see what I can do to give it my sensibility a little bit. The Ken movie was very successful. He brought together an amazing cast and focused what could be a huge rambling mythology on varying intimate family relations, and brother versus brother, father and son, that was all brilliant.
The only qualm I had with his movie was the look of it, to me, felt too shiny and too brand new. And I understand all the choices. It’s basically because the Asgardians in that take were very much a futuristic alien race that we mistook for gods. And when I came in, I was in love with the Norse mythology. I was in love with sort of grounding it more into kind of a Viking or medieval look and a sort of a sense of history and weight and stuff like that.
So, Marvel seemed to have some interest in that as well, so coming off “Game of Thrones” where we sort of enjoyed combining fantasy with some sense of three-dimensionality and real life, that’s what I tried to bring in here. It’s a funny balancing act, because you have to be funny, in the way that Marvel’s funny, and you have to be true to some pretty absurd things, like you guys saw elves in spaceships. [LAUGHS] But then to try to make that relatable and real and textured and rich and stuff. So, in Asgard, for example, we’re seeing the back streets of Asgard rather than the shiny, golden palace, and we go into some shiny palace rooms, but we tend to blow them up this time.
And on Earth, it’s London, trying to capture contemporary London. So, ideally, you’ll have all the pleasures of something that feels real, but also all of the joys that go with a Marvel movie. We’ll see whether we’re playing off this combination or not.
You mentioned you were a recovering TV director. Can you compare TV with feature film, in this case?
I could go on and on because it’s partly television versus film, but it’s also in my experience, HBO versus Marvel, and so I’ve been sort of spoiled on the TV end, because HBO is a small – it feels like a small institution making independent movies. There’s respect for director’s contribution in a way that mainstream television doesn’t really reflect, I don’t think. And Marvel, I came expecting the worst. I had a friend who had done a big, studio movie that was also a sequel and he e-mailed me at one point and said, “You have no idea. Nobody here gives a flying F what I think about it.” [LAUGHS]
So, I kind of came in braced for that, but it’s been very, very different. Marvel, in its weird way, also is a small group, a small institution, so it’s like you’re making an independent movie that just happens to cost multi-millions of dollars, but it’s a handful of people in a room making the decisions. So that creative process is not that different. You’re dealing intimately with the people that you’re making the movie with. I haven’t quite adjusted to the fact that they respect the director more in movies.
I’m still used to deferring to…somebody. [LAUGHS] And so it’s been liberating and fun to have more input than I’m used to, but at the same time, this is a huge ocean liner and learning when you can and can’t turn the ocean liner…
Scary is a good word for it. [LAUGHS] Stressful. I have discovered new layers of stress I never knew existed. At the same time, the cast was wonderful. The crew was wonderful. I cannot complain about how I have been handled by Marvel. But, yeah, stress, absolutely. There is a Marvel process where the script is sort of the last thing that you get. Where I come from, a writer-driven medium, the script is the first thing you get, and then you get to do all of your directing after that. In this one, they seemed pretty comfortable with the script being the last thing to fall into place. So that’s been the source of, uh, stress.
[Laughs] This movie is being released in 3D, correct?
Yeah. So we hear. I was walking to set, and the PA was reading something on their iPad. And, “oh, look, Disney says…” [LAUGHS]
Any interest in filming in 3D?
No, when I was getting involved I did not want to get into 3D. I’d seen some 3D things that made me unhappy and, on the one side was the negatives but not being happy with what I’d seen, but the positives were that I had been through a brief course with Sony and got really excited about the language that 3D can speak and realized that I would have to learn a lot to speak that language. So when I came into this movie, it was very much a 2D movie, and I was kind of relieved that I wasn’t going to have to speak a different language I hadn’t learned yet.
Partway through the process, as is I guess, common, it was decided mostly for financial reasons, I think – you know, markets are constantly being read to see what the pay off is – so I think the decision was made that it was a good idea to do 3D. So we are – we heard that partway through, and we are aware of it now. I am not radically changing the way I’m shooting it.
We’ll see. [LAUGHS] I mean, I think we have wonderful imagery. I think that’s one of the great things about the Marvel universe is it gives you a chance to play with big, wonderful imagery, which hopefully will be a pleasure in 3D. But we aren’t throwing spears at the camera any more than we were before. We’ll see what happens.
How much has the project shifted along the way from the beginning in terms of the story you’re telling?
The story has shifted a lot, and that’s part of the roller coaster of having a script that was very much in flux. When I came, they had a first draft by an author and we brought in a new writer and took it in a very different direction. I won’t go into details what we thought of that draft. [LAUGHS] But it’s a wild and woolly path. Some things were agreed upon very early on – what the arc of Jane’s relationship was gonna be. Things like that were pretty much understood from the beginning. But there were characters in it now that were not in it, and I was sort of pushing to bring some people back that weren’t originally coming back. And I still consider the script a work in progress.
With Joss Whedon being involved in this, did he get a look at the script?
No. He read a draft, and there was still some hope that he would come in and do some stuff on it for us, sort of under the table, kind of, you know, now that he is the table. [LAUGHS] So we were all hoping for that, but nothing – he sort of gave his seal of approval on some things, but we haven’t gotten a draft, as such.
Everyone here associated you with Game of Thrones. What drew you to want to go from that into this world?
I think it was exactly the things that I’ve found myself enjoying on Game of Thrones. Game of Thrones was the first fantasy thing I’ve done, and like a lot of people who enjoy the show, watching it, I didn’t expect to respond to that world. But when I started doing it, I really started to love it. Started to realize that some of the things I’m naturally drawn to, like, a kind of an epic-scale imagery. It’s also grounded in these new relationships. And that’s sort of what you can find in Thor as well. And there’s this funny thing. I realize I’ve been drawn in, again and again, when I did Deadwood and when I did Rome, I love things that have one foot in history. I was gonna be a history professor before I sold out and went into TV. [LAUGHS]
So things that speak, that evoke that, it’s really exciting to me. And Thor, even though he’s a Marvel character, is also obviously deeply-rooted in Norse mythology. And you can see the look of our sets is deeply embedded or drawn from Norse sources and Celtic sources, and I just love drawing on past cultures. That’s a thrill to me. I saw Avengers around the time – a rough cut – around the time that I was getting involved, and loved the balance of tones that Marvel does.
That they can make you really care, and they can make you laugh at what’s just happened, and then they can – just when you think this is ridiculous, they let you know it’s ridiculous. And that’s a wonderful dance that they do. I saw some other films recently that only had one of those tones, and once you get used to the Marvel thing, you miss the other tones. I remember seeing Avengers with my very young kids, the first laugh that came along they were like, liberated. “Oh, we’re allowed to laugh! I didn’t know.” [LAUGHS]
Going through the production rooms, there are so many different sets and locations. How do you decide on what gets done and when?
I think stress was mostly in prep, because then you’re worrying about every possibly thing, but once you start shooting, you don’t have any choice. You have to worry about tomorrow morning. That’s mostly what you focus on. But, Game of Thrones, again, we were shooting in Croatia and Belfast and Iceland, more or less simultaneously, and so I got used to sort of having attention spread around. But also, we’d have fantastic designers and a fantastic DP, and a lot of that stuff, you start to trust at a certain point.
You talked about the villains being one of the elements agreed upon from the get-go. Can you tell us about introducing a new villain like Malekith and what his goals are in this film?
Yeah, let’s see. It was clear early on that we were going to be dealing with the Dark Elves and that Malekith was going to be our guy. And let’s see. I’m trying to remember the process by which it evolved. He’s very much on a mission of vengeance and reclaiming what is rightfully his. That’s not an unfamiliar device. [LAUGHS]
You know, early on, I started thinking, like he’s got something in common with Roy Batty (Blade Runner) who had a righteous mission that you sort of sympathized with. Had a kind of humanity, even though he was an evil bastard. And obviously, his name’s escaping me, but the bad guy in J.J. Abrams’ wonderful Star Trek.
Very similar thing. Out to avenge something. So that sort of came along with him. It started getting more personal. I, being an American, I found myself bringing some Osama Bin Laden in it [LAUGHS], but we always knew he was on a task to… I think two things happened. His mission became grander and grander, and we sort of invented a time scale for where he’s been. And what his backstory is, that make it big enough for Thor. I think other superheroes can fight bad guys in Gotham City or can fight bad guys in Metropolis or whatever, but Thor is part of this epic thing he’s also got going on. Our villains haven’t been around for 5,000 years. They’ve been pissed off since the Big Bang so there’s a kind of scale. Odin’s father had to fight them.
Again, it’s a history lesson. It’s a scale to what his mission is, but also, on the other hand, trying to make it intimate. It’s important that you have a – you saw him with Adewale, who’s playing Algrim, who later becomes Kurse. It’s important for me to give an intimate relationship, so you felt kind of brotherly – you know, you’ve got Thor and Loki, and you’ve got Algrim and Malekith so you have some chance for a kind of an intimate connection. So it’s not just mustachioed villains blowing things up. [LAUGHS]
Alan Taylor directs Thor 2 off of Christopher Yost, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely’s screenplay. The film stars Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Stellan Skarsgård, Idris Elba, Christopher Eccleston, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Kat Dennings, Ray Stevenson, Zachary Levi, Tadanobu Asano, Jaimie Alexander, Rene Russo and Anthony Hopkins.
Thor: The Dark World on November 8, 2013, Captain America: The Winter Soldier on April 4, 2014, Guardians of the Galaxy on August 1, 2014, The Avengers: Age of Ultron on May 1, 2015, Ant-Man on July 31, 2015, and unannounced films for May 6 2016, July 8 2016 and May 5 2017.
Follow Rob on Twitter @rob_keyes for your Marvel movie news!