“I Wish 'Ragnarok' Wasn't So Good': Taiki Waititi on 'Thor: Love and Thunder,' 'Star Wars'

Thor: Love and Thunder co-writer and director Taika Waititi recently sat down with Rolling Stone to riff about Chewbacca’s grandparents and play with some action figures, as well as share some relatively serious thoughts about his Thor sequel, the Star Wars movie he’s writing, and more. To see the full interview, watch the video above; some highlights follow.

How did you face down the challenge of following up a movie as beloved as Thor: Ragnarok?
In some ways, I kind of wish Ragnarok wasn’t so good. Because this is a hard film to follow up that one with. Because you’re promising stuff to be like, “Oh, it’s gonna be crazy. It’s gonna be bigger. It’s gonna be more bombastic.” I mean, I think it is. We’ve got a Viking ship that goes through space with two giant goats towing it. And two Thors and Russell Crowe. So what could be crazier than that this summer?

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What I wanted to do, to push it in a different direction, was to make it romantic. They kind of touched a little bit on the romance stuff in the first two films, but they didn’t really lean into the love aspect. And I was like, well, we’ve seen Thor in that big Kirby-esque world of all the color and pop art in Ragnarok. What would the fans least expect? Thor in love! What do the fans not want? Thor in love!  What would really piss the fans off? And we’re doing that.

You’ve said you were aiming for a sort of 1980s adventure-movie feel in this one. Was that why you leaned so hard on Guns N’ Roses in the soundtrack?
Yeah, for sure. You can see some of the influences in Chris’ [alternate] Thor costume, with the singlet. That’s obviously an homage to Big Trouble in Little China, to [Kurt Russell’s] Jack Burton. I just wanted the whole thing to feel like an electric-guitar lead break. All the art and everything, it feels like an ’80s album cover. Even the title treatment — I wanted it all to feel like something I would draw on my school book in class, when I was perfecting the Metallica [logo].

Did you have to be in any negotiations with Guns N’ Roses?
At one point, the music supervisors were like, you might have to have a chat with Axl. But I was just getting scared. He’s one of the greatest icons for me.

Thor, by Chris Hemsworth’s own admission, was kind of a boring character before Ragnarok. How did you make him fun and continue to do so?
Chris Hemsworth has basically got it all. Good-looking, perfect body. Also annoyingly good at acting and very funny, great at improvising. And also a great surfer. How do you make someone like that more relatable? In Ragnarok, I was trying to make something that feels like After Hours [and] Clueless as well.  He’s a millionaire kid, a billionaire kid. He lives in a golden castle on a floating plate in space. And he’s stuck in Compton and someone’s in his house. And he has to get home and, like, defeat the intruder. I thought, well, that’s the way to make him relatable. We’ve all been lost somewhere. We’ve all tried to get home. He’s very good at carrying that. And in this film, he’s done even better.

You know, he wanted to really play with this whole idea of Thor not knowing his purpose after thousands years of fighting battles, being an Avenger, and all these things. He’s going through a midlife crisis. What’s it all for? 

As in the comics, Natalie Portman’s character is battling a serious illness in this movie. I know you went back and forth about including that plot element. What were the challenges of maintaining your light tone in the face of that?
Dealing with that thing is very hard. That’s why we were backwards and forwards in the writing. It was like, Well, you know, do I really want this in here? It’s a cool part of the comics, but we haven’t stuck completely to what happens in the comics. Part of me wanting to make this film different from Ragnarok was trying to provide a few more human problems and emotional journeys.

What was your initial conversation with Natalie Portman like?
Basically I was like, a lot of fans miss Jane Foster, and people want to see her again. It just seemed like the perfect opportunity, because the character was so great in the Jason Aaron run of Thor. Kevin [Feige] was already like, “I’d love to try and figure out a way to bring Mighty Thor into this film and bring Natalie back.” It didn’t take much convincing. She had never heard of that run of the comic, so I just dropped off some comics for her…. Anytime you ask, how did we cast so-and-so? We offered them millions of dollars and they said yes! [Laughs]… Natalie said to me, what do you do next? And I said “I’m trying to work on a Star Wars thing. Have you ever wanted to be in a Star Wars movie?” She said, “I’ve been in Star Wars movies.” I forgot about those ones. [Laughs]

My sense is that Christian Bale, who plays your villain, is a very, very serious person. How did your personalities intersect on set?
I, too, thought that Christian was going to be like a very … you hear stories about actors who are Method-y and they really take it seriously. And I am just used to working with my friends where we have  very casual way of working together, we give each other a lot of shit and it’s like being with the family. So I would say that I was a little anxious to work with Christian and Russell Crowe. But I’d say out of all of the actors, those were the two biggest sweethearts I’ve ever worked with. No problems, no ego.

You play Korg, a living pile of rocks who’s become a much-loved character in his own right. Did you really get his personality from bouncers in New Zealand?
Yeah, they have a very gentle way. [In Korg voice:] They talk like this, you know. It’s sort of the Maori and Polynesian style: “We’re gentle. But we’ll kill you.” So, yeah, that’s sort of where that that came from. There’s no nicer way to be rejected from a nightclub.

In this film, you can expect to find out a little bit more about Korg’s backstory. And think what you find out in the film, it’s going to ignite the world.

You’ve cast yourself as Korg, you’ve cast yourself as a priest at a funeral in Hunt For the Wilderpeople, as a deadbeat dad in Boy, as Hitler in Jojo Rabbit, as a vampire in both versions of What We Do in the Shadows. You’re playing Blackbeard in Our Flag Meets Death. How do you choose roles as an actor, especially when you’re casting yourself?
Literally, it’s just what would have excited me when I was a kid. [What We Do in the Shadows collaborator] Jermaine [Clement] and I, when we first met, we’d make lists of types of characters we wanted to play. Somewhere in New Zealand that list still exists. It’s like “hot doctor, scientist, pirate, man made of rocks” — all these different things. We’re just sort of just picking out way through the list.

For the Star Wars movie you’re working on, you said it wouldn’t be about “Chewbacca’s grandmother,” meaning that you weren’t interested in simply diving into the backstory of the characters we know.
I saw on Twitter, someone’s like: I’d actually really love to see a movie about Chewbacca’s grandmother. And I was like, I shouldn’t have said that because this is awesome! But I just feel like for me, I’m never gonna please the fans. You know, I don’t want to mess with something that’s so treasured. Also, you feel like you’ve got to do a lot of research…and I don’t have any time. [Laughs] I mean, there’s thousands of books that have been written, these volumes of books about Star Wars with all those characters. I just don’t have time to get through them. So I can’t say like, you know, confidently, I’d be able to do something that’s like very close to what everyone knows. I’m not promising that I’m not going to do anything like that. I’m just saying: It’d be easier for me to not do that. Would you like to see a Jar Jar Binks movie?

Honestly, yes. But I saw someone online made an interesting point. If you go too far away from everything we’ve known, why is it even Star Wars? Why not just make a fresh science fiction movie?
You know, what? Whoever said that is actually probably right. Now that I think about it. Like as you were saying that, I was like, Yeah, if you take away all of the Star Wars stuff, it’s not Star Wars. So I retract my thing that I said a couple of weeks ago!

In either case, the fact is the modern history of Star Wars is littered with abandoned projects — Lucasfilm CEO Kathleen Kennedy doesn’t hesitate to jettison movie ideas that don’t seem to be working. How do you deal with that knowledge as you start work on this?
Might happen to me! And I think Taika [of] 10 years ago would be so panicked and nervous at the prospect of that. But if it’s not right, it’s not right. If it’s not ready, it’s not ready. [With] Star Wars, I don’t want to rush. It’s something I wouldn’t want to just leap into and not feel that it’s unique, it’s my film, and it makes sense. Because that would be a disaster. I’m writing at the moment. So I’m gonna do my best to come up with an idea that everyone loves.

When you won an Oscar for your short film early on, [you’ve said] you were taken aback at how seriously everyone in Hollywood takes everything. Have you gotten over that yet?
If you haven’t won an Oscar, you’re like, “Ah, bullshit.” Then if you win an Oscar, you’re like, it’s actually pretty cool. So I changed my attitude. But Hollywood’s weird. It’s kind of exactly what you think…. Things that poke fun at Hollywood and the movie-making scene and celebrities? They’re pretty accurate.  I mean, it’s a town full of assholes who never listen to what you’re saying. They just nod and think about the next sentence: “My turn!” But I do love L.A. For me, it’s like one of the greatest places on Earth, because the people of L.A. are awesome. And then there’s some celebrities there, too. 

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