There are two critical elements to making a movie based on a comic book work: an interesting hero and a captivating villain. In the case of the majority of films spawned from the Marvel Comics universe, there is often more than one champion for good and one enveloped in evil.
Thor: Ragnarok features numerous villains, including one who is powerful enough to take on Thor and the Hulk, and the introduction of two new evil minions.
Hela (Cate Blanchett)
Cate Blanchett has played a variety of roles over the last quarter century, ranging from Queen Elizabeth I in Elizabeth to Galadriel in The Lord Of The Rings movies. No role has presented her with as unique a challenge as playing Hela, Thor’s destructive sister. And, she loved every moment of it.
“The chance to finally, in my deep middle age, to get fit, and to wear that much Lycra was really exciting for me,” Blanchett says.
The Oscar-winning Aussie discovered what all actors face when they become part of the Marvel Comics movie universe. There’s not only the task of delivering lines and making them sound earnest in the middle of a world usually being torn apart, but it’s also imperative to be able to handle the physicality of the job.
Add to that, Blanchett was taking on a role that has a deep mythology in the comic books. She knew the fans would be watching to see if she strayed too far away from the way the character has been portrayed in print.
Blanchett decided the key was to make Hela look as good as possible, and that started with an examination of the comic books. Then she worked with the trainer who helped Chris Hemsworth get his Thor body as fit as possible. She also banked heavily on her stunt double, Zoe Bell, to help her fill in where she was having troubles playing the role.
“When I started, I had to manifest weapons and I had to throw them. I could see Taika’s disappointment as I threw it,” Blanchett says. “I had to stop making the noises, because I’d go, ‘Ha.’ And so I had to close my mouth.
“Eventually Zoe suggested that I put some sugar packets in my hand so at least I could throw something and be real. So I moved from the humiliating to the exhilarating in a matter of five days.”
Skurge (Karl Urban)
Karl Urban joins the Marvel universe with his role as Skurge, the top minion for Hela. It marks the latest major film franchise for the New Zealand native. His past work has included roles in The Lord Of The Rings and Star Trek franchises, but he also starred in Dredd.
“I don’t plan this in any way. It’s just the way it’s unfolded,” Urban says of all his high profile roles.
Urban has become so vested in these kinds of roles that he didn’t even have to audition for the role in Ragnarok. He got a call from director Taika Waititi telling him he was sending him a script and some artwork of the character to see if he would like to play the part.
As soon as he saw the artwork, Urban was interested because the look is far different than anything he has played. He was sold on the project once he read in the script how there would be a very engaging and emotional journey for the character. The bonus was he would be working with Blanchett in most of his scenes.
What Urban saw in the script is Skurge can’t be completely defined in black and white terms.
“What I found interesting thematically was a character that’s put into a situation where he has to make a choice. He can either die or join a cause that he finds morally repugnant,” Urban says. “He makes a deal with the devil and that deal comes with a cost.
“I felt the character would be immensely relatable.”
What Urban found in Skurge is what he’s found in all of the big roles he’s played: There must be layers to the role. In the case of Skurge, those layers are the character is not well educated, working class, a bit shifty, a thief and really bad when it comes to flirting with women.
Topaz (Rachel House)
The role in Ragnarok is very different for New Zealand native Rachel House. The majority of her work has been either in small independent productions or voice work in a major movie like Moana. Being cast to play the right-hand person to the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum) gives her more exposure than all of her previous works combined.
Despite the potential huge impact the film can have on her career, House looked at being cast in Ragnarok like any other acting job.
“I was thrilled but not intimidated by it,” House says. “It’s a job like anything but ended up being a wonderful experience.”
The role did present an acting challenge because there was very little in the script regarding Topaz. What she was able to focus on was Topaz has a deep loyalty to the Grandmaster. That is what she used as justification for everything the character does. The rest of what she needed to play the part came from the director.
It was a plus for House that she and Waititi had worked together on smaller projects. She jokes when it comes to the way the director works, the only real difference between a big and small production is how he dresses.
“Usually we’re running around in the mud, and the snow, and the rain. So it was wonderful to come in each day and see Taika in a suit and Italian leather shoes,” House says. – Tribune News Service/Rick Bentley