Exclusive: The Father of All Things Thor, Kenneth Branagh

SHH: I gotta say the transitions and contrasts really do work. I saw the footage at CinemaCon, this was back in March I guess, and it mainly was the stuff on Earth and not a lot of Asgard, so I was surprised when I saw the full movie and it went back and forth a lot more.
Branagh:
One of the issues there was also just the development of the actual VFX shots that were still. It takes such a long time to cook the detail of those things that was an influence on what we were able to present early on.

SHH: It looked great. Over the years, Marvel has had some issues with releasing VFX too early and people are very, very critical these days of VFX. I assume this is the most CG you've ever done in any movie you've done as a director. How did you approach working with animators on so much VFX?
Branagh:
Well, that intense pitch I was talking about from the beginning, it all started with Day 1, which right, "Ken, go find Thor. That's the biggest challenge you'll have and the movie fails if you don't get the right actor, thank you very much," and then, "We'd love to see your first animatic in a couple weeks' time, so you should find a storyboard guy and you should get on with that. "The process in the case of that very first animatic storyboard and animatic piece was the very first teaser of the movie, the scene on Earth in the desert where they're in the van watching the stars and then Thor arrives. I must say, that was done by the end of month one and that stayed pretty constant all the way through in terms of execution. Everything else was so much trial and error and development, sitting down with Bo Welch, our production designer and Wes Sewell, our visual effects designer, trying to understand a couple of things – first of all, the kind of pipeline of things, how long things took to cook, the disparate nature of where we'd be going. There's a great company in France called BUF who did the rainbow bridge, Whiskytree over here did Asgard, Digital Domain did Jotunheim, all of these vendors, you have to go and have particular relationships with them. It allows you to segment your approach to the movie, but it's incredibly time-consuming and you need to feed them with visual inspiration whether it's Hubble Space telescope illustrations, whether it's Aurora pictures that have been taken in the northern skies that suddenly appear on the internet. You're kind of going to them with a reference, you're asking them to come back at you with kind of rough instances of what a rainbow bridge could look like. "Give me an idea of your snow on Jotunheim. How would an ice weapon form?" The R&D on all of that is intense from Day 1. It's very exciting, but it gets split up into such kind of detail that the biggest challenge there is making sure everybody's on the same page, that you all understand what you're after and that you can kind of manage the volume of the material. It's exciting, but I think at times it can feel a little overwhelming.

SHH: I was impressed by how much of the team you brought over from "Sleuth" because that's such a different movie, and you'd think you'd be getting a big composer like Hans Zimmer or a DP who is used to making these big summer movies.
Branagh:
Well, you want the balance on this. I was in so many new lands as well that I wanted people with whom I had a rapport, who knew the way I worked, and we could spread the message of how I worked. Even though I was ready to change and ready to evolve, for instance, (doing) music with Patrick Doyle, who's done basically all the pictures I have done, I've got a 20-odd year conversation with him and when we knew that the music would be as fine a line to walk as every other kind of area of tone. So for instance, with music, for the time we'd recorded these great tunes, and he had wonderful percussionists and a modern kind of approach to things like the S.H.I.E.L.D. attack but yet wasn't afraid to be big and compassionate for that scene fighting on the bridge in the end. When it came to earlier in the movie, we re-recorded stuff where we dropped it down the octave a little bit, we used less orchestration. We were very careful not to be too florid, not to be too theatrical, not operatic, but keeping it kind of rooted. I also knew that Patrick's own son was just leaving home to go to college while he was writing this, so the father and son theme at the center of this was infused with Patrick getting very misty-eyed about saying cheerio to his younger son. I knew that he would bring a kind of totally personal emotional element to it that would be really hugely important for this sort of relatability of those scenes and situations and that with his totally innate use of melody that you'd get a bloody good tune out of it as well.

SHH: Let's talk about Chris Hemsworth. I've had the opportunity to meet Chris a few times, and Thor is such a complex character, especially in this movie, and he really does embody so many of those important elements. But you also have to make sure he could work within the context of "The Avengers" movie they want to do, so how hard was it finding Chris and what were some of the qualities he had that nailed what you wanted from the character?
Branagh:
It was always going to be difficult. By the time we were getting this screenplay really in order, we worked out that we needed a Thor who was going to change across the course of the picture. He would not be one-note, he would not be simply arrogant Thor, he would not be a Shakespeare-pronouncing Thor. He would be more direct, he would certainly be arrogant, but he would be cast down to Earth. He would have to butt up against comic scenes and provide a real comic skill. He would need eventually to have all of that knocked out of him. He would need to connect with Natalie Portman's character, to have romantic chemistry with her. He needed to be very agile for all the fighting stuff and also, to put it crudely, he needed to look absolutely fantastic when he took his shirt off. We have never needed to physically enhance anything of Chris Hemsworth's body. He met the physical challenge of being a magnificent god, but he was also courageous enough as an actor to go in all those various directions, risk losing the audiences' sympathy, play the passion at a great intensity. It turned out, in fact, to be a great acting role for him. I think what kind of unites all that was that he has this ease in front of the camera – I'm sure you felt it if you've met him. He has a sort of ease with his manliness. He's a guy comfortable in his own skin. That he is, which means on film, when someone says nothing but you're looking at them, you need to command the screen without saying or doing anything, simply by listening. He had all of that and across MANY interviews and many sort of auditions and different tests with him, he kept standing out with that kind of quality. In the end, we knew we had someone who could do what he simply had to do which is carry the movie.

SHH: I'm really interested in the casting of the Gods. I know everyone is asking about Idris Elba, but I was more impressed that you got Ray Stevenson to play Volstagg. I've met Ray and he's virtually unrecognizable, but it does show off the natural humor in his personality that he brings to it. Is that something as an actor that you're able to see what these other actors can bring to the role that maybe others can't see in them?
Branagh:
Well, I just believe that God is in the details in every area of a picture like this, whether it's little nods or references to the comics, whether it's ways you can find some little Easter eggs or maybe a nod to "The Avengers." In the Norse myths themselves, which are brief but very pithy and flavorful, in the comics themselves which are punchy and economic, you get a lot of flavor in each panel, in each character and I knew we had to have that. Ray Stevenson, I worked with many years ago as an actor. He's got an amazing, such a handsome face, but he's got the capability of a leading actor, he's got a character actor's kind of skill as well. He's so fantastic in "Rome." Although we knew that we would not have time to pursue an enormous amount of screen time with the Warriors Three and the Lady Sif that when we see them, they needed to tell. I think that he has a great vulnerability, so you believe he loves Thor, but also you believe in his kind of rambunctiousness as well and also his ability to spin a tale and make himself f the center of it. He does so simply and he's an actor who has really grown into his face and has a command of the screen. That means that even in a brief moment in a fight sequence, and he has just amazing value, and you can't underestimate how much the presence of an actor like that lifts the movie.