'Loki' Director Talks Loki Being Bisexual, Sylvie's Comic Origins and That Cliffhanger (Exclusive)
By John Boone
Director Kate Herron calls from her childhood bedroom. She's staying at her parents' home in Southeast London for the summer, having spent the past year apart due to the pandemic and directing her latest series, Marvel's Loki. "It's so surreal seeing the show go out," she says over Zoom, "and being in the room that I was last in as a teenager."
Loki's first three episodes have seen the God of Mischief (Tom Hiddleston) team up with Agent Mobius (Owen Wilson) and the all-powerful Time Variance Authority to track down a fugitive Variant of himself: A female Loki that goes by Sylvie (Sophia Di Martino) who's set on blowing up the Sacred Timeline and, with it, the MCU as we know it.
"My dad, bless him, he was never into Marvel before, but now he's obsessed with it," she says. "When I got the job, he started watching his way through the films, and he's got all these different YouTubers that he now watches for theories, and he tries to get spoilers out of me. He's like, 'What does it mean?!' and I'm like, 'Dad, I can't tell you!' It's very sweet, but very funny."
Now, with three episodes left of the season, she's bracing for their first family viewing experience. "I might not be able to, though. I might be like, 'You have to watch it by yourselves and then we can talk!'" she laughs. "Wait to hear the Loki theme and be like, 'Oh, I can go downstairs now.'"
In the meantime, Herron fielded all of ET's midseason questions about making Loki's bisexuality canon in the MCU, flexing more of his magic than ever before and why Sylvie isn't really Lady Loki or the Enchantress.
We are halfway through the season. Outside your parents, how has the reaction felt so far?
It's been amazing. We had these big ideas in it -- like, about free will and good and evil -- and wanting to [know that] if we're going back in with Loki because he's so beloved, that it's going to be a good story for that character, but some fresh terrain. I think the response has been pretty joyous and it's just so fun seeing what people are liking, what people's theories are. I couldn't be more happy, to be honest.
Being someone who appears pretty online and active on social media, how deep are you going into reading what people say and diving into those theories and all that?
I definitely read a lot of them -- I don't comment on them -- but I used to love Lost and Game of Thrones, and I was on Reddit, commenting, like, "Ooh, maybe it means this or means this," and I think that's the fun thing with our show, right? Our fans are so smart and it's fun seeing what they're getting right and what's not right but is very interesting. The Easter eggs they dig up are always amazing to me. Some of them we put in there, and I'm like, "Well, let's see..." and I'm like, "Oh, they found it!" So, it's really fun tracking it online. It's very weird directing something where you know every frame will be [screen]grabbed by some fans because they're looking for stuff.
I loved your tweet about why it was important for you to confirm that Loki is bisexual in the show. Not really reveal -- because he's bisexual in the comics -- but make that canon. Talk to me about having those conversations with Marvel.
I think it was something very important to everyone. And I felt like, OK, how can we acknowledge this? We have aspects of the story that are there, so how do we build this into the story so it feels earned in the moment? I didn't want it to feel like we were just wedging something in, but we had this beautiful scene where these two characters are being really raw and really honest about who they are, and I was like, "Well, it is a part of who he is and who they are." For me, talking with Michael [Waldron] and Bisha [K. Ali], it just felt like it was the right moment for that line. This episode is really beautiful for me, because it's these two characters getting to know each other, so in that sense, it felt like the right place for that conversation to happen. And I thought it was done really beautifully by the writers.
Obviously, like I've said, it's very personal to me, and I said it was a small step in some ways -- because obviously, he's just talking about it -- but in the bigger scale of things, I'm like, oh no, it's massive actually. If I saw that when I was 10, it would be really big for me. It's been really nice getting comments from people online. Some people were like, "It helped me actually talk about how I feel to my family and helped me come out." And I thought, "Well, if it helped one person do that, then it's worth it."
This is the MCU's first lead character who is openly queer. Did you know that? Were you aware of how big a milestone this would be?
Yeah. Well, in some senses, yes, and in some senses you're never sure, right? Because [Marvel is] so secretive about all their other projects. [Laughs] For me, I was like, I'm telling Loki's story, it's a part of who they are and I just want to acknowledge it. It's canon in the comics and if we can make it canon in the films, that would be amazing. When I came on board, I was like, if there's a way to do this, it would mean a lot to me and, I'm sure, a lot of people. But it was very welcomed, and I think we're all very proud of how we did that.
This may be getting into spoiler territory that you aren't able to talk about, but acknowledging one's sexuality is one important part of representation, seeing it play out through relationships is another. Can we expect to see any further exploration of what it means for Loki to be bisexual in this show?
I'm trying to think how to answer your question. [Laughs] I would say in our story, this is how we acknowledge it. But I hope that that paves the way for deeper exploration.
We're halfway through the season. What were your biggest goals in these first three episodes?
I think the biggest one was obviously, the Loki we're with in this story is on a completely different path, so it was tracking his character in the sense that he basically sees this amazing arc that the other Loki had gone on across the MCU movies, he sees that he reconciles with his brother, but that wasn't him in that moment. He's watching a different version of himself. But seeing that moment and seeing that he has room for growth and change is really interesting with our Loki, because he's in a very different headspace. So, it was tracking, what's familiar about this character from the Loki that we've seen over the last 10 years go from villain to antihero? And what is going to be completely different and completely different sides to this character that we get to now dig our teeth into? That was something really important to me and to Tom and the writing team, and it was really fun unpacking that and what his identity means.
The other challenges, honestly, were just setting up the TVA, because it's outside of time and space and giving that a grounding and a reality and making that feel like a whole new exciting corner of the MCU. That was a big responsibility, and I was really excited by that. And then you have the bigger arc of the story, but you also knowing it's going out weekly on TV. So, how are we going to track this week by week. Where are we leaving the characters and what are we leaving for the audience? Something we always thought about was we knew there'd be discussion week to week, so it was like, "Where are we going to give them certain bits of information across the show?" We wanted to provoke conversation and discussion about even just things like free will, you know?
I will say about the TVA, I'm basically a human Miss Minutes stan account. I think she's the baddest bitch in the MCU. I watch every Miss Minutes fancam that pops up on my Twitter feed.
She's incredible! What I love about it is that she's in our first episode and she actually used to come out of the presentation that Loki watches -- she came out on the screen -- but it was too crazy. We were like, "OK, we can't do that in the first episode. We'll do it in the second episode!" But what I love about her is that we're seeing the TVA through Loki's eyes and it's, like, the status quo, right? And if our status quo is a Southern-talking, Roger Rabbit-style clock, the show is going to probably get quite weird. I think that's what I love about her. And obviously, Tara [Strong] is awesome. Yeah, Miss Minutes is a lot of fun.
You talked about exploring who Loki is and could be. He's always had an arsenal of powers, but in this series, you really get to explore and define what his power set is. What were those conversations like?
That was something else, coming in, I was so excited about. We have six hours of him, let's see some more magic. Because across the comics, he's super powerful, and for example, in the last episode, that's what was so exciting to me about that, the oner at the end of episode 3 was that I've seen a lot of oners but I haven't seen one with magic. So, I was like, let's put loads of magic in there! We get Loki using his telekinesis and his magic blasts and then also Sylvie, as well, and her powers.
For me, it was exciting getting to bring those in in a way that pushed the story forwards. Because I get it, when he first lands in the TVA, they can't use magic, so I know if I was watching, I'd be like, "What? No magic?!" But I think that's the fun thing is, we still have three episodes to go and also it was fun to put him on Lamentis and see him using his powers in different ways. It was definitely something important to me and the team, was to get to show a little bit more of him. But across the films, you can only do so much. Now we have six hours, so it felt like, of course we have to delve into that more.
I don't know if you saw this on Twitter, one of my favorite reactions to episode 3 was someone tweeted a screenshot of Sylvie screaming and her hands glowing and wrote, "she did the meme!!"
[Laughs] That's great!
We've now officially met Sylvie, and we're starting to piece together that this may be sort of a hybrid character of Lady Loki and Sylvie Lushton, the Enchantress. Are you able to confirm that you pulled from both to create your Sylvie? Or is that something that's to be further revealed?
I would say there's more to be delved into. One thing I would say is, like, she's different to the comics. Like, she's a unique character, but obviously, there's things that have been pulled from. I think for her character, she's on the run and she's called Sylvie and she's dyed her hair. The blonde that we associate with Sylvie is played in that sense, but it makes sense for her character within our story. But I would say deeper than that, yeah, there's more to be revealed about her character to comes.
The main thing I would say is: Lady Loki in the comics is a very different character to our character, obviously. I love that character and I think she's got a very different journey. But our Sylvie is a female Loki, in that sense -- because in episode 1 and 2, they know it's a Loki they're tracking -- but I think that's part of the discussion. It's almost like Loki -- as in Tom Loki -- he's like, "Wait, how much of my life have you got? Who are you?" And I think that's the real question is, who is she? So, we will discuss that as the show goes on. Why does she not like being called Loki? What's her past? Where did she come from?
Tom and Sophia have such great chemistry, but how challenging was it for you and Michael and Sophia and the writers to create a character that essentially has to match up with our Loki, who's had however many films to become the fan-favorite character that he is?
It starts in the writing. Because she's a unique creation, and that was exciting and I was intrigued where they were pulling from with the comics. I was like, OK, that's cool. Beyond that, I think it's casting it. Sophia is an incredible actor. I've worked with her before. She has this fire in her and she brings this amazing vulnerability to all her characters, but she's also, like, so funny. It's just, so many of these things she always brings, I was like, they're so Loki. So, I was like, "We've got to get her to read!" And we were just all blown away by her read of it.
She definitely can hold her own. That's the other thing, as well. I know her, and I was like, she will hold her own. I know she will. Because she's going against Tom's Loki and that's such the fun thing about them. Even just on the train, where it's the end of the world and Loki's solution is, "I'm going to have a party and I'm going to have a drink. I'm going to have a lovely time." And her solution is, "I'm not going to have a glass of champagne, thanks. I'm going to focus on the mission of getting off the moon." Those little differences is what's quite fun about them to me. How are they different, and how are they the same?
Was there something you got to do as a director in these first three episodes that you had never done before that you were especially excited or nervous or both to tackle?
I suppose so much of the show, right? Because I've done a lot of drama and a lot of comedy, but they were like, "Here you go! Here's the reins to this massive, genre-driven piece where you have to set up a new corner of the MCU and you're going to have this beloved character." There was a lot to carry. But I'd say in terms of something I was excited about, only because Kevin Feige was teasing me, when we filmed the big oner at the end of episode 3, I was really inspired in the writing, because it sounded like you were really with the characters. I love doing long takes anyway and I remember thinking, "Oh man, this sequence feels like the one that we should do as this oner," because I want the audience to feel like they're with Sylvie and Loki in this moment, and it's also a moment where you finally start to see an apocalypse and it feels more real, because you're seeing the horror and the terror that's going along with that.
For me, that was exciting, but the really cheesy bit that made me so excited is they had these foam rocks that fell on people, but it felt like real movie magic to me. I was so obsessed with the rocks. I was like, "Oh my god. This is like real, big Hollywood filmmaking." And I remember Kevin Feige was like, "You can take a rock home, if you want," and I was like, "Oh my god!" So I have this rock. It's in bubble wrap now, and I'm going to unpack it when I move into my place. But that's probably honestly the most excited I've ever been. [Laughs] I was just so excited by the rocks. Oh, and also, I remember when we were at Roxxcart and Tom gets thrown into those robo dogs, I was obsessed with the robo dogs. He was like, "I think this is the happiest I've ever seen you." So, those are my favorite moments on set. The foam rocks and the robo dogs.
Somebody's going to come into your flat in the future and there's going to be a shelf with just a rock and a robotic dog on it.
Mhmm! And I'll be like, "Yeah, guys, I did something." [Laughs] They'll be like, "What is this...?" But the foam rocks are genuinely amazing, because they look like real, heavy rocks, but they're so light. I was so fascinated with them. I was so excited. I made a lot of low budget stuff before this, so it was a big deal to me.
My favorite part of the first three episodes is the Kate Berlant cameo. How did that come to be?
Basically, I love comedy and my producer, Kevin Wright, does as well, and we were trying to think of people that could be fun. We've got Josh [Fadem] in episode 1, and that was a miracle. I just spoke to her about the part and was like, "This is a very small role, but if you're interested, you're very talented and you're so funny." And she was like, "You know what? That sounds really fun. Renaissance faire? Yeah, I'll come do it." So, it was very kind of her to come down and do that for us. She's so funny, man. She's so funny.
Do you let her riff at all?
We did. We have a lot of alts and a lot of very extended bits of her talking to the Minutemen. I think there's one where she talks about a bird show at the faire. She's so funny. I was very flattered and grateful that she did that for us.
I'm going to start the #ReleaseTheKateBerlantCut campaign. I want a whole episode of her alts. Or she can be the new Stan Lee and cameo in every MCU project. Before I let you go, if you had to choose one word to tease these upcoming three episodes, what is that word?
Hmm. I thought of one word, but then I'm like, it's spoiler-y, so I can't say that. [Laughs] Oh, one word. Exciting? I have to say "exciting," because I can't say the other one I wanted to say!
New episodes of Loki stream on Wednesdays on Disney+.