Monday, November 06, 2017 1:00 am
Director works women into Marvel universe
Michael Cavna | Washington Post
Right from the get-go, director Taika Waititi sought to diversify his comic-book cast. Central to that belief was bringing to the forefront two powerful women characters in his new film “Thor: Ragnarok,” existing as it does in a Marvel universe dominated for a decade by men.
So when it came to casting “Ragnarok,” Waititi knew he needed actresses as strong as Cate Blanchett and Tessa Thompson to rise to the occasion.
Waititi had long followed the career of Blanchett, who plays the vamping, black-antlered villain Hela, sister to Thor and Loki who answers to the Goddess of Death. It's an outsized role that calls for a commanding actor who can enchant the audience while nibbling scenery. Blanchett is more than up to the challenge.
“What I love about her is that she's basically very similar to the character of Hela,” Waititi says of Blanchett. “Hela has won all these battles and she's got this cool, calm confidence about her – this nonchalance where she can just come in and take over Asgard, sort of like it's just another day at the office.
“Cate has won all these awards and has this cool, calm and collected attitude, but she (knows how to) play around on screen and have fun.”
For her part, Blanchett has said that she expected much of a Marvel movie to be carved in stone, and so she especially relished how much creative freedom she had to play with the role physically, from stunts to the movement of her costume. “Very early on, I threw a lot of ideas into the ring with Taika and with the motion-capture people and the special effects crew,” Blanchett told the website /Film, “and they took that and ran with it.”
Waititi has high praise, too, for Thompson, who needed to project the swagger of a heavy-drinking scrap hauler: the out-for-herself former warrior named Valkyrie. Waititi auditioned at length to fill the role that he calls “the female Han Solo” of the film. Thompson stood distinctly apart from the rest.
“We wanted to make a character that went against what the expectations are,” Waititi says. “It's more than what I've seen before of the strong woman character who acts cool and is a great fighter. I wanted to see a (woman) character who was drunk and who falls and is a gambler.”
“Tessa did that perfectly. And now, knowing her in real life, (I see) she's a rascal of the highest order.”
In casting Thompson – who is on a professional roll after “Westworld,” “Dear White People” and “Creed” – the “Ragnarok” filmmakers also added an uncommon prominent female character of color to Marvel's cinematic universe, as well as a character who, according to a cut scene, is bisexual. (Thompson has said in interviews that she persuaded Waititi to shoot moments that reference Valkyrie having a same-sex lover.)
Waititi, who is part Jewish and part Maori, came up through the New Zealand film industry believing that diversity outreach efforts needed to be ramped up.
More than ever, the director says, a “real diversity conversation should actually be around women in the workplace – what a raw deal they get.”
On a personal level, movie by movie, he aims to continue to stoke that conversation.