Thor: The Dark World – tragedy, comedy and sibling rivalry

Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston and Christopher Eccleston on bringing The Dark World to life for the Marvel superhero sequel

London plays host to the premiere of Thor: The Dark World tonight ahead of its release on 30 October and our capital city also forms the backdrop of this sequel where the titular Norse god must hammer down evil in the shape of Malakith, an Elvish Christopher Eccleston.

As you’d expect from Marvel Studios, there’s a lot of post-modern wink-wink nudge-nudge, but when the cast sat down with, the ancient mythology seemed to hold just as much fascination.

“It’s intriguing to me that in the 20th Century, we’re still drawing on those old myths. That is interesting,” says Eccleston. “There are scenes we shot that aren’t in the final film that addressed a lot more of that Norse mythology and the relationship between Malakith and Odin [Anthony Hopkins].”

However, for the erstwhile Doctor Who it’s a bone of contention that some of that background work didn’t make the final cut. “There’s actually a very specific scene which, hopefully, will be on the Blu-Ray or the DVD that was significant in the motivation of my character. It’s not there now, but hopefully, my performance is still infused with some complexity.”

As the other villain of the piece, Tom Hiddleston, read the Prose Edda, an old Icelandic text, to get a more rounded view of Loki. “The very first line of Loki’s existence in the popular consciousness is, ‘Loki was the first deceiver, the cheater, the shape-shifter and the worst of all gods.’ And that’s a hell of a place to start.”

Reflecting on her initial decision to board the franchise, Natalie Portman noted, “It was such a weird combination of Norse mythology and a superhero and Ken Branagh. I thought ‘I have to do this’. It’s great because you have these classical themes underneath it all which is why it’s so compelling; the family structure with the father and the two sons, and one of them is biological, the other is adopted, and the tension between them. That really begins with classical tragedy.”

As the eponymous hammer-wielder, Chris Hemsworth was excited to delve into the classical theme of sibling rivalry and especially in this instalment, because those emotional undercurrents come to the surface when Thor must approach Loki for help. “With the big scene we have in the film, when they’re head-to-head and these big questions come out, we kept saying as we were altering that scene and work-shopping: What does Loki want?”

Hiddleston recalls the debate. “There is a huge question. As a trickster, an agent of chaos, does Loki want to win the game, or is it the game itself that he enjoys more? I think a lot of tricksters in all mythology have occupied that position. They exist to provoke, they exist to unsettle and, actually, they love chaos more than order – and that’s the interesting thing about where this film goes. Does he get what he wants?”
“There’s something else that didn’t end up in the film,” says Hemsworth. “When we were discussing it – what do you want – you said, ‘To be his equal,’ which is kind of heart-breaking; the idea that Loki just wanted to be accepted the way his brother was… As an actor playing with this, you want to ask the question, but you don’t necessarily want an answer. It’s far more interesting to watch someone searching for something onscreen.”

Hiddleston echoes the sentiment and Hemsworth’s feeling as to why Loki has proved such a popular – even beloved – character. “That’s why villains are so fascinating. You’re not sure what they want. But if I could lock Loki down into 30 sessions of therapy, the theme would be forgiveness. It’s ancient father stuff.”

As Jane, Portman gets a front-row seat to the brotherly spat, but she also notes the importance of the war between two worlds in informing that dynamic. “I think the sense of that danger and epic threat makes all of the relationships more immediate – that’s what makes you care about what happens with the brothers. Are they going to save each other? Or are they going to betray each other?”

A wry smile creeps across Portman’s face when she recalls having to express her own rage with Thor for having not called since the last film – Hemsworth had to endure her smacking him repeatedly. “There were like six or seven takes of each one. The stunt guy kept going, ‘They don’t look real.’ So then I just had to keep going harder and harder, and Chris had to play tough, like it wasn’t hurting, but you could tell it did.”

Inevitably, Hemsworth laughs it off. Indeed, part of the formula is balancing all that epic rage and square-jawed determination with down-to-earth humour. But did he feel nervous about the jokes that were being made at his expense – at being portrayed as the hero who takes himself too seriously?

“Yeah, actually that is intimidating. I think the first time [under Branagh’s direction] I spent a lot of energy…not disliking it, but I asked myself this time, ‘What did I learn? What could I do differently?’ The first time I spent a lot of energy trying to show that I was this powerful thing. Years ago, I had this director telling me, ‘You don’t need to play tough, you’re six-foot-three. We get it. You don’t need to sell it…’

“I remembered that. This time I did all the physical work, training in the gym – and that costume does a lot of work for you – and then I just tried to simplify it. You just drop the wall a bit – the pretext – and there is a quieter confidence he had in this film, which I had a little bit as well, having done it three times now. I have a sense of ownership this time, more so than with the other ones [including Avengers Assemble].”

Hiddleston is quick to credit Hemsworth with delivering “a real performance” and makes the point that the comedy is “always something that’s been part of Marvel films”. But he recalls with more fondness working with Joss Whedon on the Avengers film. “His first note to me was enjoy yourself. Loki’s having a great time.”

Of course darkness is inevitable – it’s in the title – but unlike the classical storytellers, Marvel like to mix up the comedy with the tragedy and so far, they’ve done it very successfully. “It’s the first thing we talked about,” says Hemsworth, “how important it was for the humour to be there, because we’re attacking some pretty dark themes and yeah, there’s epic tragedy in amongst this. But it’s got to be fun. We can’t lose that humour and that’s been the biggest response so far; how funny it is.”


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