Everything We Learned on the Set of 'Thor: Ragnarok': New Looks, Potential Spinoffs and Lots of Laughs
By John Boone
To film the god of thunder's latest intergalactic adventure, Thor: Ragnarok, Marvel only had to go as far as Australia. ET paid a visit to the massive sets -- the largest soundstage in the southern hemisphere, for the record -- which had been transformed into a bold, colorful, Jack Kirby-inspired planet named Sakaar. What follows is everything we learned from the key cast members on set -- Chris Hemsworth, naturally, as well as Tessa Thompson and Jeff Goldblum -- and director Taika Waititi.
"This is the scene in which Thor and everyone dies," Waititi joked to ET, before setting the actual scene: "This is when Thor arrives in Sakaar and meets the Grandmaster, and he's introduced to this whole crazy world that's at the end of the end of a big bunch of wormholes. So, all the lost things in the universe all fall out of the sky into this place, this is where they're collected and turned into other things and sold, traded or bartered. Any living thing that falls out of the sky is put into the Contest of Champions, which is what happens to Thor and that's directly from Planet Hulk. It's really a wild, outlaw kind of world where there are very few rules. It couldn't be further from what Thor's used to in Asgard."
A brand new Thor: Despite appearing in two of his own films (the original Thor and its sequel, The Dark World) as well as both installments of The Avengers, Waititi claims that Thor is "a brand new character" in Ragnarok.
"We've kept all the best parts of the old character, but he's a new guy," the director notes. "He's spent two years on Earth with the Avengers...It's a lot of reboot, but it's [also] a reinvigoration."
For his part, Hemsworth says, "We ended Age of Ultron with Thor basically leaving Earth and going on a quest to figure out what's going on in the larger picture and how his world and his universe is connected and so on." (He's referencing the still somewhat confusing scene in which Thor traveled to a mystic cave and had an apocalyptic vision about the fall of Asgard.) "That's certainly relevant here, but it's also its own story, without sort of getting bogged down with the Infinity Stones and the several other stories interconnecting. It's all there, but this really is his own journey."
EXCLUSIVE: On the Set of 'Thor: Ragnarok' With Chris Hemsworth
A brand new look: While Thor doesn't get a complete makeover, he does sport a shorter haircut for a significant portion of the film. "There's not a huge explanation, really. It was me going, 'I don't want to wear the wig every day. It takes two hours to put on,'" Hemsworth says with a laugh before breaking down the plotting around the cut: "There's a sort of gladiatorial setting and a bit of a processing, a cleansing-- kind of like prison. There's a bit of that feel to it."
A brand new love interest:Ragnarok marks the first Thor movie without Natalie Portman's Jane Foster, but though she may be gone, she is not forgotten. "We mention it, politely," Hemsworth says. "We have a nice little-- I wouldn't say a joke at her expense, by any means, but at the two of them [and] how Thor viewed the separation. He thinks it was mutual. [Laughs.] Y'know, long-distance relationships are tough and this is as long as they get. So, they parted ways."
Enter a new romantic interest, Valkyrie (played by Thompson), albeit one with a very different dynamic. "Valkyrie is certainly an equal, as far as [she is] physically imposing or threatening and her fighting skill set," Hemsworth teases. "And Thor is in awe of the Valkyrie ever since he was a young boy, so he's meeting his idol. He's meeting his hero. He used to want to be one till he found out they were women."
Who is she? "She's a world-class warrior," Thompson, who starred in Creed and Westworld before joining Marvel's Cinematic Universe, tells us. "When we find her in this film, she's a reluctant hero. She's someone that really gets back into the game with Thor and with the Hulk. And she's just a badass...She's really hardcore. I kick a lot of a**. If fact, I kick a lot of a** on this bridge." (The bridge in question is a set piece glimpsed in the trailer, during a pre-battle standoff featuring Valkyrie, Thor, Loki and Hulk.)
The Valkyrie of the comic books is a swordsmith and leader of the fierce, all-female, winged horse-riding Valkyrior. That Valkyrie, known as Brunnhilde, also happens to be a white woman with blonde hair. "We want to make films that reflect the world that we live in," Thompson states matter-of-factly. "And there are plenty of women that look like Valkyrie, but there are plenty of women that look like me. What was more important for Taika -- and for Marvel in general -- was that they found someone that captured the spirit of Valkyrie. In this case, she happens to look like me."
Will they or won't they? Thompson played far coyer when addressing her character's potential romance with Thor. "You'll just have to watch and see... They definitely have a ton in common: They both come from Asgard. They are people that are trying to figure out their moral compass, what their responsibility is to their homeland. They're fighters. They're tough," she ponders. "So, I think there's a spark. And Thor is actually a big fan of Valkyrie. He's, like, a fanboy. If there were Valkyrie posters, Thor would have had them in his [bedroom growing up.] Like, probably right over his bed, he would have had me and dreamt about me. So, there definitely is something between them, but whether it's romantic, who knows?"
As for the possibility of Thompson as an actress playing out an onscreen romance with Hemsworth, she jokes, "It was the biggest reason why I didn't think I wanted to take the part, initially. I was like, 'I don't know if I can act that well. Like, finding him attractive would be--I'd have to dig really deep in my soul to find the honesty in that.' So, I just superimpose other people's faces on him and other people's bodies."
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The Black Panther connection: One of Thompson's friends and former Creed co-stars, Michael B. Jordan, also recently joined the MCU -- as Erik Killmonger in 2018's Black Panther -- and she says they are hoping to cross superhero paths someday.
"What's so fun about the next phase of the Marvel Universe is that the worlds are colliding more and more," she points out. "I'm also friends with Chadwick Boseman, so I think we're constantly going to just pitch to Marvel how to get all of the characters in one movie and see what happens."
That said, Thompson has a different Valkyrie spinoff in mind. "I'm really into Valkyrie when she's a part of The Fearless Defenders," the actress explains, referencing a run in which Valkyrie teamed up with, for one, Misty Knight. (Currently on Netflix's The Defenders.) "I think it would be fantastic to have an all-star female team which includes Brie Larson. Let's get Tilda Swinton. Lupita [Nyong'o] is in there. Just a really badass group of women that fights, maybe, all men. Like a boys versus girls. But it could be a musical, so Jeff Goldblum would be in it as well."
Meet The Grandmaster
Who is he? Goldblum was one of the first actors Waititi thought of to play The Grandmaster, a rather complicated character that Goldblum claims is not strictly a bad guy. Perhaps The Grandmaster is just misunderstood? "I don't know who understands what about me," the actor admits. "I haven't read the comic books through the decades, because it's been over decades that they've woven his story. He and his brother, Benicio Del Toro [who played The Collector in Guardians of the Galaxy], were around since shortly after the Big Bang. We're sort of immortal. We're the so-called Elders."
When ET spoke with Goldblum, it was only his second day on set, but he said the role was a departure from anything he had done before. The Grandmaster is a sort of dictator of Sakaar and arranges fights for the aforementioned Contest of Champions. "My character is a game player and a game maker and spectacle maker," Goldblum teases, revealing his real-life musical abilities are manifested in his Sakaar alter ego. "If you came a little later, maybe today or tomorrow, I have an instrument for me to play in the scene."
What's he wearing? On the page, The Grandmaster has a very distinct look, partially because his skin is blue. For Goldblum's incarnation, that look was toned down...but only slightly. Goldblum's Grandmaster wears golden robes over blue-and-red tunics, his hair styled into a slight faux hawk, with accents of blue eyeliner and a strip of metallic, blue paint running down his lip. Goldblum played no part in dreaming up the costume, but credits "Mayes C. Rubeo, the spectacularly talented costumiere, if I'm using that word correctly, and, Taika has his brilliant mitts on every detail."
One of those details is a pair of golden gladiator sandals, with Goldblum's toenails polished. "It's usually my feeling that adult men shouldn't present their feet in public," Goldblum disclaimed. "But if you got a nice lookin' foot, it's always better."
Will we see him again? Considering The Grandmaster's personal connection to The Collector -- and thus, to another Marvel franchise -- might we see Goldblum pop up in any other movies, such as Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3? "I don't know. I have no insight," he predictably replies. "But there's a chance, I would say! There is a chance of anything in this mysterious world, don't you think so?"
Meet Director Taika Waititi
Who is he? Waititi is a New Zealand-born writer-director who has helmed wonderful films like What We Do in the Shadows and Hunt for the Wilderpeople. (Both of which should be required viewing, pre-Ragnarok.) You've already seen some of his work, surely, as Waititi made the short, "Team Thor," which explained where Thor was during the events of Captain America: Civil War. (He was living with an office worker named Darryl.)
Waititi acts as well and cast himself in the role of Korg the Kronan in Ragnarok. (When ET caught up with him earlier this year in the edit bays at Marvel Studios, he referred to Korg as an 8-foot tall rock creature in "a 2017 metal bikini.") One character you won't see is Darryl. "OK, so far that's a rumor. I think maybe I started that rumor inadvertently, when I said there was more footage from the thing that we made and that we were planning to put out more footage...I just can't see where he'd go in this..."
How is he making Thor his own? Thor is funny now, for one. "Sometimes I wonder how many takes I've ruined with just my voice and my laughter,” Waititi says. The glut of Waititi's past work is comedic, with a heavy emphasis on improvisation, and Thompson praises her director’s ability to bring that to Marvel, crafting a lighter tone that wasn't present for the Shakespearian Thor or brooding Thor: The Dark World.
"The exciting thing is, Marvel took [Waititi] on and instead of trying to have him fit into a mold, it really expanded the mold to include his kind of filmmaking," she praises, with a promise that fans of the first two Thor films will still be satisfied. "It is at once funny and touching."
"That's definitely my background," Waititi agrees. "I felt I should embrace that side and breathe a little bit more life into this franchise. in that sense, in the way that you don't need to shy away from how fun these kind of adventures and these stories and these characters can be, while also retaining that epic, very dark sense that comes through from a lot of the comic stories as well. Especially with a character like Thor, it is an opportunity to see, y'know, a god, a cosmic being on a cosmic adventure, with Bruce Banner aka the Incredible Hulk. It has to be fun!"
Thor vs. Hulk
A brand new Hulk: If you’ve read everything up till here, you should hardly be surprised that Waititi is putting his own spin on the green guy and his puny, scientist counterpart. "Bruce Banner in this film is way more exciting and fun and interesting than I think we've ever seen him in any of the other films,” Waititi promises. And if Hulk wasn’t the first Avenger you’d think of to pair with Thor, that’s the point.
"It's a pretty odd pairing. I don't even think we've spoken onscreen before,” Hemsworth acknowledges. “We had an opportunity to kind of do whatever we wanted, and it brought out something very different in both of our characters. Both our characters are in a bit of a wacky state when they meet, because they've sort of both lost everything and they're at the end of their rope, so there's a wackiness to it.”
Civil War 2.0(ish): "It's been something that everybody's been waiting for a long time, to see those two face off,” Waititi says of the centerpiece battle between Thor and Hulk in The Grandmaster’s arena. “In the comic books, they've been doing it for years. There's this eternal question, Who would win in a fight, Thor or Hulk? And if you go on the blog sites, people still argue that to this day.”
Seeing as both characters sat out the Avengers vs. Avengers airport battle in last year’s Captain America movie, this may feel a bit like their own version of Civil War -- with less players involved, sure, but which Hemsworth argues is just as epic. He explains, “Any time we go through the choreography or talk about how this is going to happen, it was like, More! More! What else can we throw in? How different can it look? What can we do that we haven't done before and visually up the stakes?"
Marvel fans have been clamoring to see Planet Hulk on the big screen for years and, asked to describe the battle in three words, Waititi counts off on his fingers: “Long. Time. Coming.” The director appears confident that his take will deliver, too. "We really test both of the characters in this fight. They get put through their paces,” he says. “There are certain shots that we're planning to do in this fight, which I think are going to become very memorable in cinematic history."
Who is she? A kickass warrior, an eccentric game maker, a cosmic road trip for Thor and Hulk and a haircut do not a Marvel movie make. Enter the big bad of the film and the MCU’s first female villain: Hela, the goddess of death, played by Cate Blanchett.
EXCLUSIVE: Cate Blanchett Gushes Over 'Thor: Ragnarok' Co-Star Chris Hemsworth: 'He's a Saint'
“She is someone people have been wanting to see for a long time,” Waititi wagers of the classic comic book character. “And there's no one better than Cate, in my opinion...Obviously, she's a great actor, but she's also really funny. She brings something to this character that, I think, makes this probably the most interesting of all the Marvel villains that I've seen so far...The character is evil, then also there's layers to that. It's not just someone who wants to take over the world. There's a lot more going on for her.”
Blanchett had already wrapped by the time ET arrived on set, which Waititi also lamented, saying, "You just love watching her. I was really sad when she left, because I just wanted to figure out how we could write more scenes for her.”
What about Loki? Tom Hiddleston’s beloved baddie, who has attempted to wreak havoc in each of the Thor films and more beyond that, was last seen in The Dark World masquerading as King Odin (Anthony Hopkins) and assuming his father’s throne on Asgard. (“What we don’t know is what has happened to Odin,” Waititi notes. “Which is what we find out in this film.”)
Loki’s loyalties are far from truly loyal, though -- in various stills from the film, he is pictured fraternizing with Thor, The Grandmaster and Hela -- so how exactly he factors into Ragnarok remains to be seen. Waititi wants to keep it that way. “Loki has been in Asgard, ruling in his own way,” he says coyly. “There's a really fun scene where we find him in the film and start unmasking Loki and his whole journey."