Get Set for Thor, the Sex God Superhero

Daily Mail, 25 March 2011
By Baz Bamigboye

The stars of Kenneth Branagh’s 3D movie 'Thor' have a phwoar factor that could make them titanic stars, on the scale of Kate Winslet, according to their director.

Branagh declared that the two young male leads in his much-anticipated blockbuster — Chris Hemsworth as the Norse god Thor, and Tom Hiddleston as his villainous brother Loki — had the acting ability and star quality to become mega-marquee names.

Branagh should know. He directed Kate Winslet as Ophelia in his 1995 film version of 'Hamlet', before she was cast in 'Titanic', and he told me: ‘I feel with those guys like I did with Kate years ago. When you’re seeing somebody who is going to make an impression in a film that means that their life is going to change. That’s exciting!’

Hemsworth and Hiddleston were cast nearly a year in advance of filming the story, based on the Marvel comic book, so they had time to get into shape and do character research.

‘We were sending them books on Scandinavia, or family dynamics, or sibling rivalry,’ Branagh said from an editing suite in Los Angeles, where he’s overseeing post-production and the installation of visual effects into 'Thor', which opens here on April 27.

I haven’t seen a cut of the film yet, just a couple of extended trailers when I was in the U.S., but even then I was struck by the audience reaction and by how keen it made me to see the finished product.

Intelligent comic-book popcorn epics are rare and this one, starring Anthony Hopkins, Natalie Portman, Idris Elba and Ray Stevenson, along with Hemsworth and Hiddleston, seems to be a cut above the usual fare.

‘I’ve been in the audience when the phwoars kick off,’ Branagh laughed. ‘He (Hemsworth) is able to bring to this god all the physical beauty and magnificence he can muster. He’s got romance, he’s got humour — and he’s got a twinkle in his eye.

‘He also has what the part needs; he can be quite primal. There’s a compelling mixture of things and he absolutely answers the brief of what a god/superhero should be.’

With Hopkins playing Odin and Hemsworth and Hiddleston as his sons, there was a heady atmosphere on the set, Branagh said.

He explained that the characters ‘love each other... they’re a close-knit, passionate family but they all have very strong ideas and it was interesting, this dynamic on set; this immense respect from Chris and Tom for Tony, who is sort of a god to them anyway’. But there was also rivalry.

‘Everybody’s in this terrific opportunity of a film and they’re all hungry actors, and they were all going at it,’ Branagh said. ‘Think of tennis. They were playing tennis with partners who were lifting their game.’ Branagh added that Portman was an important piece of casting because she brings the story down to earth. Thor meets Portman’s Jane Foster after he is banished from the home of the gods to live among mortals.

Portman was approached while filming the soon-to-be-released comedy 'Your Highness', in Belfast. ‘We delivered the script to her while she was taking a ballet class. She was eight months into preparation for 'Black Swan' and prepared for 'Black Swan' during rehearsals for us. I never rehearsed with Natalie without her leg being up over her head.

‘Any time I gave her a note, she was leaning against a wall with her toe over the top of her head.

‘It was fantastically impressive,’ he added. When Branagh was approached three years ago to direct 'Thor', taking over from Matthew Vaughan, who was involved in the early development, he was adamant that an element of the story be set on contemporary earth.

‘I didn’t want to be bound in either the world of the gods or in some Viking-era earth. My starting point was that this should be a coming-of-age story about a hot-headed young man, entitled and empowered, dangerous and making mistakes, who is banished by his father.’

Branagh told me he first read the 'Thor' script when he was filming the 'Wallander' detective show in Sweden. (Three more of the popular dramas have been commissioned by the BBC and Left Bank Pictures.)

‘I was in the middle of my Scandinavian period,’ he joked. ‘I’ve done my gloomy Dane, I’ve done my melancholy Swede and now I’m doing my naughty Norseman!’

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