Thank you, Disney, for hosting me during the Thor: Ragnarok press event. Some interview questions and responses have been edited to improve readability.
I didn’t know much about Thor: Ragnarok director Taika Waititi before the Thor: Ragnarok press trip. After seeing attending the Thor: Ragnarok world premiere, I knew he had to be funny, interesting or both! Thor: Ragnarok is amazing and such a fun change from the seriousness of past Thor movies. I’m happy to report that Taika was both quirky and funny during our interview with him. I am sharing parts of our conversation below.
On being asked to pitch a Marvel movie
It was harrowing and exciting. When they offered me the chance to come and pitch on it, my experience was making 4 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 now. But, I ended up,well if they want me to come in and talk with the company, I will.
On the Immigrant song being included in Thor: Ragnarok
I’m a massive fan. I’ve actually got to return all my mum’s records. Ever since I was a kid I listened to Led Zep LPs and all my mom’s records. Yeah, I went to the pitch and I made this sizzle reel where I basically ripped tiny clips from multiple movies to show my idea of what the tone of the film would be. The clips included everything from Sixteen Candles to Big Trouble in Little China, and the entire thing was set to Immigrant Song. Kevin (Feige) said ‘yeah, I went and watched it another couple of times and that was one of the strong points about your pitch.’ Everyone became obsessed with the song and we were pretty determined to use it somehow in the film and I couldn’t be happier that it’s in there. I mean it is like the perfect song for the movie…it’s about Thor!
With the pressure of a major Marvel film, why put yourself in it (as Korg) and add that pressure?
Because I’m a self-saboteur. Any chance I get to, you know, to put my career at risk I’ll just do it. I will wedge myself into 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 an audience and something that’s sort of like…I feel really good at playing Mum (mom) characters so in What We Do in the Shadows, this vampire film, my character in there is the mother of the house and he brings the documentary crew through and looks after them. Korg is very much the mother of the prison and looks after everyone. I think audiences appreciate having someone that’s just down to earth and gentle, ‘cause you need that cause the film is crazy.
On Korg’s dialouge in the film
All of Korg’s dialogue was improvised. 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.
How Taika works on set
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 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.
I ruined multiple takes by either being in front of the camera or laughing off-screen. ‘Cause the way I direct is I’m about this closes to the actors and just staring at them 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 like a puppeteer I can’t believe I’m making Anthony Hopkins say whatever I want. So yeah, really goes to your head, real quick. Yeah, it’s pretty quick so yeah.
On playing Korg in future movies
Korg is such a fun character and I couldn’t help but ask if we would see his character again in any future Marvel movies. Unfortunately, Taikia pleaded the 5th but did note that Georgia is a really hot state. Given that Thor: Ragnarok was filmed mostly in New Zealand but many other Marvel movies are filmed in Atlanta including Avengers: Infinity War, it was a fun hint that he must be in some future movie.
On inspiring moviegoers to smile and ‘escape’ for a bit
I kind of felt there was a trend lately that not only superhero movies but a lot of movies were just depressing and sad, took themselves too seriously. I remember going to the movies as a kid, you know, and watching like Karate Kid and running out of the field thinking, ‘I’m Daniel LaRusso! I’m gonna jump on the playground and try to do the crane kick and fall off and break my arm and, and that’s what I want to inspire kids to do. 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 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.
Were there any performances that surprised you?
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.
Was Loki mischievous in this film on purpose?
That’s the thing about Marvel, the decisions they make, the stories also and directors. It’s like the most unexpected choice was me to direct this film, even for me. So I think if it gets predictable you come into the movies and you’re ‘Loki’s doing the same thing’ and 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. So whether it’s satisfying relationships and story act in Ragnarok is Thor and Loki and seeing finally how two brothers can get over their crap. 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.