Kenneth Branagh Talks Thor's Connection to Shakespeare, Casting Controversy, and Hawkeye Cameo
05.01.11 by Ryan
Kenneth Branagh seemed like an unusual choice to direct the comic book adaptation of Thor, though, considering the Shakespearean-esque language used in the comic books, perhaps it made sense for Marvel to hire the director of Shakespeare adaptations like 1996's Hamlet and the 1989 Academy Award-nominated Henry V. In an interview with New York Magazine, Branagh remarked that the characters of Henry V and Thor are actually quite similar.
I think Henry V was an interesting example because, as a young man he was reckless and he kept bad company. People thought he'd make a terrible leader. His father was angry at him but he turned out to be a terrific leader. But he had to earn that privilege, earn that place by losing a lot of friends, losing power, losing family and making sacrifices. They're both stories of how you find yourself. A rite of passage. Both are a good identity story and very relatable.
While it's easy for Branagh to see a connection between Thor and Shakespeare, it was Branagh who decided not to use the "thee's" and thou's" often found in the comic books. Branagh told MTV that he felt that "we wouldn't get too much value" from the language "in a contemporary movie" and instead wanted the characters to remain relatable.
So it was important to me that they sounded different enough — like they came from a royal family and in another life they would've gone to the best schools and picked up those kinds of things — but also that they should be direct and real and natural. In a way, in the Shakespeare I've done, I've always tried to have the delivery of the dialogue feel as human and as normal as possible. Then, when necessary, you can really enjoy the fact that sometimes they're incredibly eloquent and passionate and their words are inspiring and uplifting.
The language wasn't the only influence Branagh brought to Thor. "The decision to be on Earth for a large part of the story was absolutely mine," the director told the BBC.
It was also Branagh's choice to cast Idris Elba, an actor of African descent, in the role of Norse character Heimdall, a decision that drew ire from a conservative group based in St. Louis, Missouri, that consequently organized a boycott of the movie. In March, Elba called the boycott "ridiculous", and Branagh admitted to New York Magazine that he was "surprised" by the reaction.
I mean the world we're working with is imaginative to begin with. It's a fantastical world where people fly, people travel into different solar systems, down to earth, the idea that there needs to be some kind of rule about how these characters are supposed to look was a real surprise to me. I mean to cast someone like Idris in that role is very powerful. He was perfect. Besides the fact that he is a great guy, a handsome guy, a sexy guy, he's a wonderful actor and why would I not cast him? We were lucky to get him.
When asked about the boycott by MTV, Branagh added, "The world of Marvel Comics and the world of the Norse myths is a world of imagination and fantasy, and that being the case, I think that has license to be as wide-ranging in the imaginative choices employed as the original authors of the myths themselves, and certainly as the authors of the Marvel comics have been."
You're also talking to a guy who cast Denzel Washington as Keanu Reeves' half-brother in Much Ado About Nothing, another world of imagination and fantasy, and the world of that space didn't raise an eyebrow. So that's where I come from.
Branagh also spoke about directing Jeremy Renner in Thor, now that his cameo in the movie became public knowledge last month. Branagh said he only worked with Renner "briefly" and could not say too much about the character's involvement in the movie.
I'm not able to divulge anything in great detail, but the time I did spend with him was excellent. He's prepared, smart, very detailed, and what he's going to bring is something extremely interesting. He's an unusually big fan of the comics, and knows the character well. There's likely to be a very, very interesting development from one film to the next with that character.
That "next" movie will be The Avengers, which Branagh won't be directing, but did say that he did collaborate with Avengers director Joss Whedon for a small portion of Thor.
Joss came to see our movie several times during production, and the piece of the movie that might be at the end of Thor — that might be at the end of the credits that I can't speak about — Joss and I worked together a little on that.