Taika Waititi is from Wellington, New Zealand, where he began his career as a member of the So You’re a Man comedy troupe. That in turn led to acting and directing, including a number of short films and the TV series The Strip. His first directing feature was the oddball romantic comedy Eagle vs. Shark, followed quickly by the TV series Flight of the Conchords. 2016’s What We Do in the Shadows – a vampire comedy based on a series of shorts he made – is rapidly becoming a cult classic. But none of them could have prepared him for the biggest film of his career: heling the massive Thor: Ragnarok for Marvel Studios. The film is garnering almost universally positive reviews, in no small part because of the director’s unique sense of humor. He spoke to the press about the project at the recent press junket for the film.
Question: You kind of brought an independent sensibility to this monstrous film, and gave it fun, and a little heart, too. What was the process like for you?
Taika Waititi: When they first asked me to come and to them about making this film, obviously I thought that Marvel had lost their minds. Like they’re just hiring anyone now! But I came in, and I knew my strengths were things like tone, character, and relationships. I had to ignore the scale of this monster, this beast. It’s a huge, huge film. And it can be distracting on set if you look over your shoulder, and you see 300 people standing there. I just had to keep reminding myself that what’s inside the rectangle in more important, and usually, it’s still just two or three people trying to remember their lines. In that sense, the scale of the film is always the same. So I just focused down on what I was used to, which was what’s in front of the camera.
The big thing was actually just keeping your energy up. The shoots on my other films were very short… about 25 days or so. And by day 30 on this, I was like, “Well, no more ideas. I’m done.” And I’ve got 55 more days. I just had to meditate and find ways to keep my creative energy going. The amount of stress, or the exhaustion really does take its toll, and you don’t realize it’s happening until it’s too late, and then you can’t feel your legs.
Q: And then you have post-production.
TW: Yeah, my favorite thing is shooting. I love being on set with people, and laughing, and having a great time, and being creative. Then you’re stuck in a dark room with one person, trying to make sense of this whole thing for almost a year. That’s a whole new journey of exhaustion. And then you can’t feel your arms after that.
Q: How did Kevin Feige and the other mucky-mucks respond when you said you wanted this to look like an 80s heavy metal album cover?
TW: To their credit, they were very supportive right from the beginning. If you look at all the elements in the film, it’s pretty crazy. Same with the characters. It deserves to have all of that color, and all of those crazy, curvy designs. It’s a bombastic concept, which means you can’t hold back from it. It’s either all in, or nothing.
Q: The music too.
TW: The music that I wanted to look at for Sakaar needed to match the visual look. The kind of music that comes from albums full of pyramids, and like seventeen moons on the cover. Good fantasy music with synthesizers, and arpeggiated rhythms. We were extremely lucky to get Mark Mothersbaugh to do the score. He’s amazing at that. And we played a lot of that music during the scenes. there’s a lot of stuff with another artist from Nigeria, William Onyeabor, who’s a great funk, pop artist. We played him. And I don’t know if anyone got sick of it. I never did. But we played it probably 50 times through.