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Last week, Loki director Kate Herron told THR about her journey to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and now that Loki has premiered on Disney+, she’s finally able to open up about the unconventional story she’s telling in the MCU. Marvel Studios’ third Disney+ series begins with an Avengers: Endgame flashback in order to remind viewers of the Avengers’ botched time-travel heist that allowed the 2012 version of Loki (Tom Hiddelston) to escape SHIELD custody. While the flashback is consistent with the sequence shown in Endgame, Herron wanted to present the events through Loki’s perspective, which meant filming some new shots and incorporating a few alternate takes from Endgame.
“So basically, there are some new shots that we filmed,” Herron tells The Hollywood Reporter. “So with the Endgame moment, we deliberately used footage, takes and angles that hadn’t been in that film, mixed in with the structure of the scene that people recognize. We wanted to put it more into Loki’s POV, so I filmed the shot in the elevator where he waves. I almost think of it a bit like Rashomon; it’s a scene we’ve seen before, but now we’re putting it through a different lens. So we did film some of it, as it’s a mixture of both [new and old footage].”
When Loki was killed by Thanos in 2018’s Avengers: Infinity War, a decade-spanning and somewhat redemptive character arc went with him. So the eponymous character at the center of Loki has the same state of mind as the God of Mischief who attacked New York in 2012’s The Avengers. Fortunately, Herron and head writer Michael Waldron found a way to open their Loki’s eyes by showing him future events that the original Loki experienced after the Battle of New York.
“Something that was really important to us was finding the right moments from his life for him to see,” Herron explains. “Frigga [Rene Russo] is his heart, and I knew that her death would be a very important moment for him to see. And Tom [Hiddleston] was like, ‘Oh, I really think we should have “I love you my sons,”‘ when Odin [Anthony Hopkins] says that. I love Minority Report, and there’s that scene where John Anderton [Tom Cruise] sees that projection of his wife. So when I pitched Marvel, I loved the idea of taking that idea for when Loki watches these moments from his life.”
In a recent conversation with THR, Herron also discusses how Saturday Night Live factored into the look of Owen Wilson’s Time Variance Authority (TVA) analyst, Mobius. She also reveals Jurassic Park‘s influence on a key expositional scene.
Congrats on Loki, Kate.
Thank you so much. I finish next week. I think my last day is the day the second episode airs. It’s so surreal and nice to see it go out into the world.
The series starts off with an Endgame flashback, and it includes some new closeups of Loki. Did you shoot these new shots, or did Kevin Feige pull a few strings and get you Endgame‘s dailies?
So basically, there are some new shots that we filmed. I also got access to all the [Endgame] moments that we put in the first episode. So with the Endgame moment, we deliberately used footage, takes and angles that hadn’t been in that film, mixed in with the structure of the scene that people recognize. We wanted to put it more into Loki’s POV, so I filmed the shot in the elevator where he waves. I almost think of it a bit like Rashomon; it’s a scene we’ve seen before, but now we’re putting it through a different lens. So we did film some of it, as it’s a mixture of both of the things you’re saying.
Loki died in Infinity War in order to service Thor’s arc, and all of his redemptive character development went with him. So your show wisely created a time file to bring Loki 2.0 up to speed a la Matthew McConaughey in Interstellar.
And much like the latter, Tom’s performance really conveyed the profound impact that these projections have on Loki 2.0. So Loki 2.0 is already figuring out what Loki 1.0 spent years learning about his own humanity. Am I on the same page as you?
Yeah, something that was really important to us was finding the right moments from his life for him to see. For example, Frigga [Rene Russo] is his heart, and I knew that her death would be a very important moment for him to see. And Tom was like, “Oh, I really think we should have ‘I love you my sons,'” when Odin says that. So we all wanted to see Loki have some wins and show that he had room for change and growth. Or when he says, “I’m here,” to Thor and they reconcile. The initial idea of him seeing these moments from his life was such a smart storytelling device, and I really enjoyed that aspect of it. Anyone who is less familiar with Loki also gets up to speed at the same time he does. But something that was really important to me was that it didn’t necessarily feel like a clip show. I love Minority Report, and there’s that scene where John Anderton [Tom Cruise] sees that projection of his wife. It’s almost like she’s in the room, but she’s not in the room. So when I pitched Marvel, I loved the idea of taking that idea for when Loki watches these moments from his life. It’s not just that he’s watching a movie; it feels almost like a play of his life. The Gods on stage are like 3D, and it’s painful because he feels like he can reach out and touch them even though they’re not there. It also kept us in the room with Loki and Mobius. The exciting thing is putting Loki in the audience’s perspective; we had very similar reactions to those moments like when he sees his own death. That was really exciting whereas the D.B Cooper moment, for example, felt like a moment we had to go full screen because it’s unseen and new. I thought, “Well, let’s push into the footage there and go into a big cinematic moment.” It’s a fun moment for Loki and something the fans hadn’t seen before.
What do you remember about the day you shot Tom’s emotional time file scene?
We created a very intimate atmosphere on set when he filmed that because it’s quite a thing to ask an actor to dig in and give a performance like that. I had a supercut of all the memories on my computer, and I remember almost DJ-ing them from my laptop for Tom and Owen as they were performing. There were a lot of people on set and since it’s very secretive, they don’t necessarily all have a script. And I remember Tom was like, “I felt like there were moments in these days where only you and I knew what was going on.” (Laughs.) Playing out these moments was deceptively complicated because, rhythmically, so much of their dialogue plays into the dialogue on screen. But in terms of when Tom played Loki seeing his own death, it was really just about creating the right atmosphere for Tom and making him feel safe so that he could go to that place. His performance in that moment is really beautiful, and I even love the little shift of focus as he jumps back. It sounds pretentious, but Loki’s shift on reality has changed. It’s such a wonderful performance, and I’m so glad that he went that deep for us.
Tom and Owen certainly have the odd couple and buddy cop relationship going, but Mobius also has the vibe of Loki’s therapist at times. Did the three of you discuss that particular dynamic at all?
Weirdly, me and Owen spoke a lot about Good Will Hunting. He’s almost like a mentor, but he also pushes Loki in some ways. And yeah, there is a therapy aspect to it. I like the idea that Loki, in the TVA [Time Variance Authority], has a fish-out-of-water feeling. But when you meet Mobius, he seems so unassuming, and you think, “Well, Loki can take him.” And then you quickly realize that he’s met his match when he turns the dial in that room. I love a line of dialogue that Michael wrote which is when Loki talks about how he’s just a villain, and Mobius says, “That’s not how I see it.” So he’s the Loki expert, and it shows Mobius’ empathy towards Loki. It also shows that there’s room for a friendship here. He doesn’t just see the worst of Loki; he can also see the best. So I would definitely say that there’s a therapy aspect to it.
Owen Wilson doesn’t change his look all too often for his roles, but he really went for it on this one. What was that discussion like?
When me and Owen were talking about it, he just said that he wanted to do something really outside of himself. It’s a mystery story so I always thought of Mobius as our detective who’s taking us through it with Loki. So I had all these ideas in my head, and in a weird way, I imagined Mobius initially being a little bit scruffy. But as me and Owen were talking about his take on the character, we were like, “Oh no, that’s not quite right.” He’d done something for Saturday Night Live where he had silver hair, and he was like, “I just think there’s something interesting about doing something like this.” And I was like, “Oh, that’s such a cool idea.” Obviously, we had the mustache, which is an homage to who the character is based on in the comics. There’s something so brilliant and exciting when an actor says something like that. So it was really just creating the atmosphere to support him in that, and just letting him go. Honestly, it was weird seeing Owen on set since he’d pop by at the end just to hang out, and he’d have his blonde hair. I’d be like, “Oh, it’s so weird you have blonde hair,” because I was so used to seeing him as our Mobius. So even though his physical appearance looks so different, it’s a very different performance from Owen, even internally as well. So I think that’s very exciting.
Was the Miss Minutes (Tara Strong) explainer video inspired by Jurassic Park‘s Mr. DNA cartoon?
(Laughs.) 100 percent. It definitely was. It was just a really smart way to get everyone keyed into who the TVA are. And hopefully they’re laughing through it and enjoying it in this public information-style video. With Loki being that fish out of water — and then quickly catching everyone up on the rules — it felt like a really smart way to do that. That video is hand-drawn animation, and it’s completely inspired by that great moment in Jurassic Park.
The Cloud City hallway shot is what I keep calling your hallway shot where Loki looks out at the cityscape. And to me, it looks a lot like a dynamic matte painting. Was that the intention?
Yeah, it’s that interesting with the TVA where it’s outside of space and outside of time. So there is a level of unreality to it in some ways, but also, it’s just trying to show what this infinite office space would look like. It isn’t on a planet and there isn’t a sun; it’s almost a Vegas kind of style in the sense that we never go outside of the TVA because you can’t go outside of it. So the cityscape idea was inspired by things like Metropolis, but also the comic books and the imagery of those infinite spaces stretching out into the horizon. So I’d say those were a heavy influence on that particular moment.
The Tesseract is powerless in the TVA, while other Infinity Stones function as paper weights and desk drawer clutter. Is this a subtle way of saying that Infinity Stones won’t be a factor in this new phase of the MCU?
I think it was about showing the TVA as the real power in the universe. That was in the first script I read, and I was like, “What!?” Like everyone, I followed along with those films, and I thought they were the greatest power. So it was a real key moment because we feel so much like Loki then; we’re like, “Wait, what? These are paper weights?” So that really shows that the TVA is not only a force to be reckoned with, but it’s also completely new terrain for the MCU. This is a new space with new rules and new power. So it was very important for us, from the off, to show that.
Whether it’s Se7en or Zodiac, you and [head writer] Michael Waldron have both talked about David Fincher’s influence on the show, and your elegant, low-key lighting, as well as the library/archives scenes, are examples of that. While it’s certainly not exclusive to Fincher, I also think of suit-wearing men lounging in a police station or newspaper bullpen. Thus, when a tie-sporting Loki has his feet up on his desk to start episode two, was that another Fincher nod?
Oh! Maybe not intentionally. I thought that was Loki being quite cheeky, but there are two moments in episode two. When he’s reading through the files, me and Autumn [Durald Arkapaw], my DP, were referencing Se7en with how we filmed that. I have that needle drop as well, and anyone who knows Se7en will be like, “Oh! She’s referencing Se7en there.” [J.S. Bach “Suite No. 3 in D major, BWV 1068”]
On the TVA’s DMV-like set, there are tons of ceiling lights. Do they function as the key (primary) light in those scenes?
Oh, I would say yes, but I would dig into that with Autumn.
[Writer’s Note: I grabbed a shovel and dug in with the show’s DP.]
Autumn Durald Arkapaw: Yes, that was the key light on that set. Those are frosted incandescent “silver tip” bulbs. Kate and I instantly bonded over our appreciation for thrillers and moodier lighting, so Zodiac and the original Blade Runner were big inspirations. She really admired lighting that took risks and also told a story. Lighting is very important in my process, and it’s often another character. We had a magical team of filmmakers on Loki, and it shows in the overall storytelling.
The theme song absolutely rules, as does the rest of the score. As soon as you heard that option from composer Natalie Holt, did you know it was the one?
Yeah, when I pitched on the show initially, I just always felt like the theremin should be in it somehow because I wanted the show to be a big love letter to sci-fi. And there’s a song by Clara Rockmore called “The Swan,” which is actually in episode two. So I was just obsessed with this. And when Natalie Holt, our composer, pitched, we hadn’t spoken about it, but she had also gone to the theremin. So I was like, “Oh, this is great. We’re on the same wavelength.” And the thing that I love about Natalie’s music is that she was really inspired by Loki’s character. It’s operatic and bold, but at the same time, it’s really different. I think our theme was actually loosely inspired by A Clockwork Orange, and from the off, I just felt like she was doing something really cool and different. So she’s done something really special with all the music across the show.
Was there a lot of debate over how big to make the “everything you’ve ever said” stack of papers?
There actually was. (Laughs.) That stack of papers is everything Loki has ever said in the MCU, and then we added extra, obviously, because it’s Loki’s whole life. So, yes, there was a lot of thorough debate about the size of that paper. I think our props department was very thorough about it, and I’d say that they were mathematical in the sense that we wanted to present it in the most realistic way we could. But obviously, Loki has been around for a long time and he loves to talk. So it’s really just an estimation, but I’m sure there will be much-heated debate on Reddit about the size of that paper. (Laughs.)
Will there be any other D.B. Cooper-type moments involving alternate history?
I would just say that people will have to keep watching. (Laughs.)
Lastly, is Steve Rogers a variant since he created numerous Nexus events en route to his dance with Peggy (Hayley Atwell)? Or does the “supposed to happen” statement from Rovanna Renslayer (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) count towards his personal life, too?
Ooh! (Laughs.) I don’t think I’d be able to answer that question. You’ll probably have to ask the TVA. (Laughs.)
Loki is now streaming every Wednesday on Disney+.
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