Interview: Star and director out to smash expectations with Thor: Ragnarok
Thor: Ragnarok is a very different Marvel movie and a different take on the Asgardian Avenger
Asked what his lead actor is really like behind the scenes, Thor: Ragnarok director Taika Waititi exclaims: "He's an egomaniac!"
The 42-year-old New Zealander has just zigzagged into the interview room at the Park Hyatt Sydney like a cross between an inquisitive lizard and a startled gazelle.
Sporting a Breton top under his white denim jacket, he's also wondering how his star, who was in front of him, has suddenly disappeared.
Of course, the egomaniac comment was just for laughs.
After ordering a double espresso - because "cool people drink espresso", Waititi says in a mock-suave tone - he starts without his wingman with the winged helmet.
He's in the middle of celebrating the women of the cast when he suddenly raises his voice and says: "... and I will probably never work with him again... Oh hey, Chris!"
Enter Chris Hemsworth. The reason for his delay? Requests for selfies, one of the hazards of walking through a busy hotel.
Cutting a dashing bearded figure in a royal blue suit and open neck white shirt, the 34-year-old Australian glided into his seat next to Waititi just in time to hear him sing the praises of the "lovely, lovely" Cate Blanchett, the Oscar-winning actress who plays the film's main villain Hela.
Opening here tomorrow, Thor: Ragnarok's plot does not sound too out of the ordinary - Hela enslaves Asgard and Thor is banished to a junk planet where he must fight for his freedom to restore order - but this is a very different Marvel movie and a different take on Thor.
I thought they had lost their minds. I thought I had won a competition.
Thor: Ragnarok director Taika Waititi on being surprised he was chosen
Thor (2011) and Thor: The Dark World (2013) rank low in the Marvel Cinematic Universe's standings - both with box office and critics. For many, including the studio it seemed, Thor just meant The Lord Of The Rings in space.
In the interim, Hemsworth proved his comedic chops in Vacation (2015) and Ghostbusters (2016). Then along came Waititi.
An unlikely choice, given that his New Zealand-set films, including 2014's vampire mockumentary What We Do In The Shadows and last year's adventure-comedy Hunt For The Wilderpeople were in no way effects-heavy space operas.
From the outset, it was clear things had changed.
Thor: Ragnarok's title font came from the arcade games of the 80s and crucially, Thor's long hair was gone, as was his trusty hammer Mjolnir.
There were also laughs.
Waititi, with a mischievous grin, explains the approach for the third Thor: "What does everybody expect us to do? Let us do the opposite."
Hemsworth was also champing at the bit for the follow-up to be different.
"Yep. Do away with anything we knew and just start again. Cut the hair, break the hammer... break the costume," he says with a chuckle:
"The short hair was cool. It was an hour less of make-up. I pitched it to Kevin (Feige, president of Marvel Studios) years ago."
Aside from physical attributes, characterwise, the god of thunder also needed to stumble, says Hemsworth.
"Stripping away his powers and making him more vulnerable..."
"...Makes him more relatable," Waititi jumps in.
Hemsworth adds: "I was happy to make any drastic change. From the hair to the hammer to hiring this maniac."
Even Waititi was surprised when he got the call.
"I thought they had lost their minds. I thought I had won a competition."
The call came at the right time.
Waititi says: "It was a great opportunity to do something way out of my comfort zone.
"I found my last film a bit too easy. That worried me. If I find it too easy it might not be good. So I wanted to do something that made me very uncomfortable."
The biggest change?
"The scale. Just how big it was... And the food."
The other surprise was how much free rein he was given for the project.
There have been stories about clashes between Marvel Studios and director before when it comes to vision. Understable to an extent given that these are multi million dolloar projects.
The lack of nitpicking made
"I had spent 10 years doing a lot of commercials where there are 20 or 30 executives around a monitor discussing shoe colour, or they ask if we can have a square table instead of a round one. Here, I would look over my shoulder and there would be nobody."
He adds that Feige only visited in the final week of filming, half-joking "...and it was too late to change anything then."
Hemsworth suggests that filming in Australia helped distance the production from the executives.
Such creative freedom looks like it is going to pay off, as early reviews have been glowing. The movie is projected to open with US$100 million (S$136 million) at the North American box office.
Thor: Ragnarok also stars US actor Mark Ruffalo as Dr Bruce Banner and his alter ego Hulk.
Hemsworth and Ruffalo came to a surprising realisation.
The former says: "I was telling him that I don't think we have ever spoken to each other on screen before.
"We have stood together in the 'Avengers circle' and spouted exposition, but this was the most time we had spent together."
Hemsworth says his favourite scenes were with Ruffalo as Banner, when they got to improvise more.
This also meant they could explore and discover unexpected sides to their characters.
"We got to invent a whole relationship and asked if our characters even like each other. We quickly became like an old married couple."
When it comes to the difference between this Thor film and previous ones, Waititi looked to the title - Ragnarok is the Norse myth on the end of all things.
He said: "But it can also be the rebirth. So this is also about the end of those two films and this is a rebirth. As the third director, I wanted it to feel unique and like a standalone film that could exist by itself."
He also took the opportunity to give it everything possible.
"Here is every colour, here is the weirdest music, the weirdest characters. There is a giant wolf, a zombie army," he said, miming throwing items onto the table.
"A friend said it was like a bunch of six-year-olds who were all asked what they want in a movie and they all got their ideas in it."
Thor: Ragnarok also features a number of cast members from Waititi's past films, particularly New Zealand actress Rachel House as Grandmaster's (Jeff Goldblum) henchwoman Topaz.
Is he building a repertory company?
"Yeah. I want to use them again and again. If I have a good experience working with people, I want to keep working with them. Same for Chris and Mark."