Thor: Ragnarok brought a colorful new planet to the MCU with the introduction of Sakaar. Jeff Goldblum’s Grandmaster keeps the planet under his heel using the Contest of Champions to distract them from the disparity between him and them.
In bringing the Grandmaster and his plans to life, director Taika Waititi enlisted the help of one of his frequent collaborators, Rachel House, in the role of Topaz, one of the Grandmaster’s trusted assistants.
House, who most recently worked with Waititi on Hunt for the Wilderpeople, chatted with Screen Rant about being Waititi’s “good luck charm”, what makes him so unique, making the jump to a major blockbuster film, her character and more.
SR: First of all, you’ve been described as Taika’s good luck charm. How did that all come about? Obviously, you’ve been in all of his movies.
Rachel House: I don’t know. [Laughs] No, I don’t know. I think that’s the label somebody invented. I’m not sure Taika actually thinks it himself. I don’t know. I really don’t.
SR: Everything Taika’s done has been amazing.
Rachel House: Yeah, he’s a good filmmaker.
SR: You’ve had a great year with Thor: Ragnarok this November and last year around this time you had a huge hit with Moana. You literally the heart and soul of the movie as Gramma Tala. How rewarding has that all been for you?
Rachel House: It’s been a wonderful insight into this part of the world and this big giant movie machine over here which I’ve only looked at from afar. I never imagined for a moment that I’d be in a Disney film like Moana or Marvel (Thor: Ragnarok). It’s been a very interesting, that’s such a mundane word, but it’s been a very interesting ride. I can’t describe it. There’s so much positive but I feel a lot of pressure so it’s been, yeah. It’s been a good experience.
SR: Speaking of pressure everyone I talked to says Taika keeps everything really light on set and really kind of ups the energy a little bit. How is he able to do what and what does he do to kind of get everybody to chill out?
Rachel House: I think just being himself makes us comfortable. I know on the first day for me I was working with Jeff Goldblum, which is kind of like a childhood hero. It was quite overwhelming and I was just looking at Taika and he was like… I think he does that with everybody. He’s really calm. He also makes lots of jokes and he’ll stop you halfway through a scene and throw another line and you’ll just have to keep rolling.
Rachel House: Yeah! There’s so much that I kind of wish was there, but I can absolutely see why Taika is serving the story. So a lot had to go, but there was a lot of improvisation on set. Particularly with Jeff and me and also with Tessa. We’d just throw insults for half a day and very little of it made it in. Jeff, in particular, he’s so masterful at improvisation, so yeah, it was a shame to not see it all.
SR: When you set onto the set of a huge Disney movie how is that initial feeling and was there a sense of being overwhelmed or what was your mindset?
Rachel House: Overwhelmed.
Rachel House: Yeah. Totally, and wondering, really, wondering why I was there and wondering how it was going to be. And then it just turned out to be exactly how it is back home. Really. Except there are much more famous people and a much bigger set. You adjust pretty quickly, I think.
SR: That’s what I was thinking. I mean, you have a little bit of an advantage because you’ve worked with Taika many times before.
Rachel House: Oh yeah. It made me feel much more at home rather than having another director from over here.
SR: Right. Now, with the character of Topaz, she’s more of a sorcerous in the comics.
Rachel House: Yes.
SR: How much research did you do on that? Or did you and Taika just let the script dictate where you went?
Rachel House: Yeah, I mean he didn’t tell me to study that particular version. I mean I looked it up and I knew who she was, but he certainly didn’t say that where he wanted to take her and I don’t think she’s a clear representation of that Topaz. I feel like this is his interpretation of who Topaz is.
Rachel House: Well maybe… Were you at that press conference?
Rachel House: Maybe that all female one. I think I’d come in and take on Valkyrie maybe, but I’d know I’d lose. [Laughs] Valkryie’s amazing!
SR: Yeah! She’s like my favorite character in the film. Talking about strong female characters, what is the rivalry between Valkryie and Topaz exactly?
Rachel House: I feel that Topaz really fancies herself as a really fantastic warrior woman and she sees another warrior woman that the Grandmaster is particularly fond of and it make her uncomfortable and annoyed. [Laughs]
SR: Now you’ve played Tala in Moana and Topaz in Thor: Ragnarok. Tala is obviously an animated character. Topaz is obviously a comic book character. Is there any classic Disney characters that you’d like to bring to life?
Rachel House: Not that I can think of.
Rachel House: No.
SR: It’s gonna happen.
Rachel House: [Laughs] You reckon?
SR: I hope so.
Rachel House: That’s sweet. That’s really nice.
Rachel House: Yeah. So are you asking if it’s always like that with Taika? Yeah. Always. Always. I mean, the thing of it is all of the independent films we’ve made together is there’s no time. So it’s a lot shorter. If we do a bit of improvisation it doesn’t go for half a day. For example, which it does with Jeff (Goldblum), you know and Taika loves it and wants more and keeps it going. We usually don’t have the time and we don’t have the budget and we have to do everything in 5 weeks. This has been a wonderful opportunity for him to really relax a bit and do more of what he loves doing.
SR: Your character spends a lot of time with the Grandmaster, Jeff’s character. Is there anything you may have learned working with Jeff in the process? He seems like such a fireball of improving skill.
Rachel House: Yeah! He played these games in between takes and I think it just keeps your mind really open and alive. It’s the movie game, you know where you say an answer then you’ve got to say a movie that an actor was in and the next person has to say another actor that was in the same movie. So it goes on and on and on. It came around to Jeff Goldblum, a lot! Because he does it in between we’re all sort of on our toes and our minds are kind of going as it does when you’re working playing games like that. So that was an interesting thing because usually between takes you’re rehearsing or something. So that was nice to kind of think. It’s a good way to approach things.
SR: So, you obviously talked possibly the Valkyrie movie possible the all-female Marvel movie. So you are definitely open to coming back to the Marvel Cinematic Universe?
Rachel House: Oh my god, yeah! Who wouldn’t be! [Laughs] It’s so cool!