The Making of Thor

In our POP of the Month feature this May, we go behind the scenes as Paramount Pictures and Marvel Entertainment present the highly anticipated motion picture adaptation of “Thor,” the latest from the Marvel pantheon of legendary super heroes who have inspired generations of readers.

The epic adventure “Thor” spans the Marvel Universe from present day Earth to the mystical realm of Asgard. At the center of the story is The Mighty Thor, a powerful but arrogant warrior whose reckless actions reignite an ancient war.  As a result, Thor is banished to Earth, where he is forced to live among humans.  When the most dangerous villain of his world sends its darkest forces to invade Earth, Thor learns what it takes to be a true hero.

THE MAKING OF THOR

“Thor” is the tale of one man’s mythic journey:  from a prince born to inherit the throne, to a humble super hero who earns the right to lead.

“Thor” motion picture producer and Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige remembers, “Stan Lee tells the story that after he and Jack Kirby created these other heroes, they thought, ‘Let’s do a god and let’s bring a god down!’  And in a brilliant move, he looked at Norse mythology. 

When you read those stories, it’s like the best of the Marvel Comics, because it’s people who are very human, despite their powers despite their calling down the storm, the thunder and the lightning. They have family issues, in the two brothers fighting, Thor and Loki. It’s a family drama, and they’re just as flawed as any of us, or any of the Marvel heroes. That’s what makes the Marvel characters so relatable.

THE DIRECTOR

Kenneth Branagh is one of the world’s most consistently acclaimed filmmakers.  As an actor and director, his work is trademarked by quality, truth and passion.

It was the larger-than-life Thor that also captivated director Kenneth Branagh as a boy growing up in 1960s Belfast. “It rained a lot in Northern Ireland and could sometimes seem grayish,” Branagh recalls. “The color of the Marvel Comics covers would pop out from the book shelves, and The Mighty Thor was the one I was always drawn to.

“I liked its primal qualities—the connection to something ancient, the weaponry, the Stonehenge feel of the lettering, and the character’s sheer physical heft.   He’s the first in line to fulfill that cliché of never asking anybody else to do what he wouldn’t do himself.  In fact, half the time you’ve got to try and stop him from doing something you might never consider.”

Coincidentally, it is that very determined and headstrong nature that stands between Thor and succeeding his father as the King of Asgard. 

A celebrated physique and success in battle are not enough to prepare the prince for leading his people, flashes of anger, shortsighted decisions, rash actions, these are things that will prove the ultimate downfall to a king. They are also the traits that can and do make for the self-destruction of a human, even without the weight of a crown hanging in the balance.

BETWEEN THE REALMS 

To bridge the reality gap between Midgard, Asgard and Jotunheim, Branagh needed to create “a marriage between the spectacular requirements of the physical world of the gods and contemporary Earth.  We had to find a style that unites them, but allows the characters to go from one place to the other, so you get the excitement, the fish-out-of-water feeling, and the fun, which is so important in ‘Thor.’”    

Screenwriter Don Payne puts it in another way:  “When you’re going from Asgard to Jotunheim to Earth to Asgard, it’s a pretty wild journey.  You want to give audience members, who aren’t fan boys like me, a chance to sit back, take it all in and feel it.  They need to be distinctly different environments, but all within the same reality.”

Branagh chose four-time Oscar nominated production designer Bo Welch to bring these worlds to life.  “What I wanted from Bo and what he provided in spades was varied and multifarious acts of imagination,” supplies Branagh.  “He was unafraid of the challenge of presenting contemporary Earth, cosmic Asgard, and terribly scary snow planet Jotunheim.  Nor did he fear the creative design challenges of traveling across these dimensions, and joining them all up.

A SUIT FIT FOR A GOD

Creating realms inhabited by gods is one thing; dressing those gods is another.  That job fell to costume designer Alexandra Byrne, an Academy Award winner in 2008 for her contributions to Shekhar Kapur’s “Elizabeth: The Golden Age.”

Branagh knew “Thor” would be a huge challenge for any costume designer.  “There’s a plethora of choices from great artists inside the nearly 50 years of Thor comic books,” he explains.  “We needed someone of great taste to find ways that let us tip our hats to certain inspiring iconic versions of the characters, but still let the film live in 2011.”

Branagh and Byrne first collaborated 25 years ago in the theatre, and Branagh knew she wouldn’t flinch from bold choices:  “Alexandra is unafraid of the so-called theatricality of some of the costumes.  She’s unafraid of working with bright colors, vivid cuts and strong silhouettes.  She embraces that, and is very interested in what physically goes on with muscle suits and body sculpting.”

Thor’s cape was one of Byrne’s biggest challenges.  She knew better than to think she could move seamlessly from sketch to completed cape. “Every time we said ‘cape,’ someone would say, ‘That’ll be done in post.  You won’t be able to make it work,’” Byrne recalls.  “But our cape does work, because we made it before we drew it.

“Physicality and movement are huge components of these costumes,” she continues.  “We did not want to end up with a drawing that could not be realized, so we set up a workroom where we made practical examples along with the drawings as the design process evolved.” Much more than a sartorial flourish, the cape defines Thor, along with his winged helmet and hammer.

“The cape needed to look both completely believable and sublimely magical,” says Byrne. After repeated dyeing experiments, they achieved a shade of red that pleased every eye.  “We had a graveyard of capes that didn’t work,” she jokes.  “But we kept moving on, trying new fabrics, and different ways of cutting, bonding and weighting.  We finally got it to a stage where we pronounced, ‘The cape is working. Don’t touch it. Just leave it alone.’”

THE CAST

Mythic though they may be, the characters in “Thor” had to be cast using mere human beings.  But it would take a handful of talented performers (who met a well-established set of criteria for everything from stature to physicality) to breathe life into the inhabitants of the three worlds that comprise Marvel’s tale of the god of thunder and his family, fellow warriors and mortal enemies.   

“Chris Hemsworth looks like a super hero,” says executive producer and Marvel originator Stan Lee. “Out of make-up and wardrobe, he’s a really strong, soulful, emotional guy. Dressed as Thor, he looks like he has the maturity and wisdom to carry the weight of the world on his shoulders.”

CHRIS HEMSWORTH AS THOR

Australian actor Chris Hemsworth is quickly becoming one of the most sought-after actors in Hollywood.  He made his U.S. film debut in J.J. Abrams’ “Star Trek,” playing the pivotal role of George Kirk alongside Chris Pine, Eric Bana, Zachary Quinto, Zoë Saldana and Karl Urban.

In addition to landing the lead in Kenneth Branagh’s highly anticipated film version of the Marvel comic book, will also star in Dan Bradley’s remake of “Red Dawn” in the role originated by Patrick Swayze in 1984, and in the Joss Whedon & Drew Goddard scripted “Cabin in the Woods” (opposite Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford), both for MGM. Hemsworth will begin production on “Marvel Studios’ The Avengers” this year, once again starring as Thor.

NATALIE PORTMAN AS DR JANE FOSTER

Natalie Portman most recently received her second Academy Award nomination and first Best Actress win for her performance in Darren Aronofsky’s critically acclaimed film, “Black Swan.”  For her role, Portman also received a Golden Globe, BAFTA Award, Screen Actors Guild Award and Critics Choice Award.

Upcoming, Portman will be seen in David Gordon Green’s “Your Highness,” co-starring with Danny McBride, James Franco and Zooey Deschanel.  The story focuses on an arrogant, lazy prince who must complete a quest to save his father’s kingdom, with Portman as his love interest.  Following “Thor,” she will be seen in Spencer Susser’s “Hesher,” starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Rainn Wilson.  The film, which Portman also produced, is slated for release on May 13, 2011.

TOM HIDDLESTON AS LOKI

Tom Hiddleston was born in London and grew up in Oxford, where he was educated at The Dragon School, and later at Eton College where, under the guidance of a group of incredibly inspirational teachers, his interest and involvement in theatre and film began to flourish.  He remembers being taken, aged 14, to see Ibsen’s “John Gabriel Borkman” at the National Theatre in 1996 directed by Richard Eyre, with Paul Scofield, Vanessa Redgrave and Eileen Atkins – and being inspired and profoundly moved by both the writing and the performances.  It was a turning point.  Seven years later he would be playing Vanessa Redgrave’s son in the HBO/BBC Churchill biopic, “The Gathering Storm.”

As well as shooting the second series of “Wallander” in 2009, Tom also starred in the second series of the highly acclaimed BAFTA and Emmy Award-winning “Return to Cranford,” starring opposite Judi Dench and Jonathan Pryce.

He is currently working on David Fincher’s “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” the upcoming “Marvel Studios’ The Avengers” (helmed by Joss Whedon) and just wrapped Lars von Trier’s “Melancholia.”

COLM FEORE AS LAUFEY

Colm Feore is a veteran talent with a distinguished catalogue of work.  Feore’s talent crosses many borders:  an international success story, he acts in both English and French and has conquered many media, with starring roles in film, television and on stage.

Feore will next be seen on Showtime’s new historic drama series, “The Borgias.”  He will star opposite Jeremy Irons in the story of powerful Italian families in 1492.  Feore plays Cardinal Giuliano Della Rovere, nemesis to Rodrigo Borgia (Irons).  He was the guest star on “Law & Order SVU”’s recent episode “Flight.”  Feore is Principal Berkhoff to Jay Baruchel’s Leon Bronstein in the recently released “The Trotsky.”

IDRIS ELBA AS HEIMDALL 

Having first entered the public eye as Stringer Bell, the calculating de facto leader of a Baltimore drug empire in HBO’s critically acclaimed original series “The Wire,” Idris Elba has gone on to make his mark as an actor to watch in Hollywood with a string of well-received performances in high-profile films.

Idris started his career in his native London, where he had become a mainstay on British television by his mid-twenties.  He starred in some of the UK’s top rated shows, such as “Dangerfield,” “Bramwell” and “Ultraviolet.” 

Idris played the leading role in two successful action pictures in 2010.  First came the comic book adaptation “The Losers,” in which he shared the screen with Zoë Saldana, Chris Evans and Jeffrey Dean Morgan.  Then, in August, he led the line in the number one US box office hit, “Takers,” alongside Matt Dillon, T.I. and Hayden Christensen.

KAT DENNINGS AS DARCY 

Kat Dennings is one of Hollywood’s hottest rising young stars. With her highly acclaimed performance in “Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist” and her role as Catherine Keener’s daughter in the smash hit “The 40 Year Old Virgin,” Dennings has quickly become a household name.

In addition to her starring role in “Thor,” Dennings recently wrapped “Daydream Nation” in Vancouver.  She stars opposite Reece Thompson, Josh Lucas and Andie MacDowell in the provocative yet humorous romance about a high school senior who finds herself deposited along with her widowed father in a desolate Canadian hamlet.   Her boredom leads her into an affair with a teacher and also into a more promising romance with a drug-addicted teen. The film premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 10, 2010. 

RENE RUSSO AS FRIDDA 

Crafting performances rich with passion, caring and emotional truth, Rene Russo continues to show her range and versatility as an actress with each of her roles.  Prior to her performance opposite Anthony Hopkins as Queen Frigga in “Thor,” Rene had starred in the hit comedy “Yours, Mine & Ours” opposite Dennis Quaid. 

Russo was last seen opposite Robert DeNiro and Eddie Murphy in Warner Bros.’ action comedy “Showtime,” as a driven reality-television producer who creates a hit show for an unlikely pair of cops (DeNiro and Murphy).

Since her film debut in 1989 in “Major League,” Russo’s additional film credits include “Mr. Destiny,” “One Good Cop” with Anthony LaPaglia, and “Freejack” with Emilio Estevez.

ANTHONY HOPKINS AS ODIN 

Anthony Hopkins, one of the industry’s most venerated actors, has been honored for his work in a wide range of roles.  He won an Academy Award for Best Actor for his chilling performance as Hannibal Lecter in Jonathan Demme’s Oscar-winning Best Picture, “The Silence of the Lambs,” for which Hopkins also won a BAFTA Award and several critics groups’ awards in the same category.  He has since earned three more Oscar nominations, including two for Best Actor, for his work in James Ivory’s “The Remains of the Day” and Oliver Stone’s biopic “Nixon,” and another, for Best Supporting Actor, for his role in Steven Spielberg’s “Amistad.”

In addition to his busy filming schedule, Anthony Hopkins is also an accomplished composer, whose work has been performed by the Dallas Symphony Orchestra.  In 2009, he participated as a composer in the “Festival Del Sole” in Cortona Italy.  In 2004 Hopkins started painting, quickly gaining recognition as a prolific contemporary artist.  His work is currently being exhibited in fine art galleries, and has been acquired by prominent art collectors around the world.

In 1993, Hopkins was knighted by Queen Elizabeth in 1993.  He became a US citizen in 2000. Anthony Hopkins was most recently seen in “The Rite,” directed by Mikael Håfström.

CLARK GREGG AS AGENT COULSON 

Clark Gregg began his acting career as a founding member and former artistic director of the Atlantic Theater Company in New York.  He has acted in numerous productions with the company, including “Boys’ Life” at Lincoln Center, “Mojo,” “The Night Heron,” “Sexual Perversity in Chicago” and many others.   His other New Yorl stage credits include Aaron Sorkin’s “A Few Good Men” on Broadway, “Unidentified Human Remains” and A. R. Gurney’s “The Old Boy.”

His film acting work includes “Thor,” “Mr. Popper’s Penguins,” “Iron Man 2,” “500 Days of Summer,” “Choke,”  ”Iron Man,” “In the Land of Women,” “In Good Company,” “Spartan,” “State and Main,” “Lovely and Amazing,“ “The Human Stain,” “11:14,””Hoot,””We Were Soldiers,” “One Hour Photo” and “Magnolia.”  He played the role of Hank/Henrietta in Tod Williams’ debut feature “The Adventures of Sebastian Cole,” for which he received an Independent Spirit Award nomination.

JAIMIE ALEXANDER AS SIF

Actress Jaimie Alexander's natural beauty is enough to make anyone do a double-take, but after the release of her upcoming high-profile film projects, people will acknowledge her talent as well as her beauty. This past Thanksgiving, she appeared with Jake Gyllenhaal in Ed Zwick’s drama “Love and Other Drugs.”

In addition to “Thor,” She also recently wrapped production on the indie dramedy “Loosies,” with Peter Facinelli and Joe Pantoliano, and will next film the historical drama “Savannah,” with Jim Caviezel, Chiwetel Ejiofer and Hal Holbrook.

Born in Greenville, South Carolina, and raised in Grapevine, Texas, Alexander moved west to Los Angeles upon graduating high school.  She hasn’t looked back since.

THOR opens in cinemas 28 April

All photos and notes courtesy of United International Pictures Singapore

POPCulture Online May 2011 All Rights Reserved

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