Kenneth Branagh Talks ‘Thor’ Casting Controversy, Donald Blake, Shakespearean Dialogue, And More!

Summer Movie Preview Week turns its attention to Marvel’s god of thunder today, as “Thor” gets ready to hit theaters and bring us one step closer to next year’s superhero team-up blockbuster, “The Avengers.”

MTV News spoke to “Thor” director Kenneth Branagh to get the scoop on some of the changes made to Thor and his supporting cast as they made the jump from page to screen, and where the hammer-wielding hero fits in the greater Marvel movie universe.

Oh, and we also got a little more info about that post-credits scene everyone’s buzzing about, and how “Avengers” director Joss Whedon factors into it.

MTV NEWS: When your involvement was first announced, many people reasoned that your Shakespearean background was a great fit for the character because of Thor’s use of that type of dialogue and story devices. Now that we’ve seen more of the film, it looks like you’ve toned down the “thee” and “thou” aspect of Thor’s speech. What prompted that decision?

KENNETH BRANAGH: Well, here’s the thing: I spoke to Stan Lee numerous times over the course of this — and I think he’s absolutely marvelous — but he first said way back that he thought the characters should speak like a combination of Shakespeare and the King James bible. And in the comics, there’s plenty of “thee” and “thou,” but a lot of the humor in some of these comics is based around that gag. I felt that we wouldn’t get too much value from that for too long in a contemporary movie.

Also, when it came to the type of power struggle within Asgard between Thor and his brother and Thor and his father, Odin, we wanted that to feel very relateable, and very passionate. We wanted it to feel like these were young men whose passion and rivalry was something we could absolutely relate to in our own lives. So it was important to me that they sounded different enough — like they came from a royal family and in another life they would’ve gone to the best schools and picked up those kinds of things — but also that they should be direct and real and natural. In a way, in the Shakespeare I’ve done, I’ve always tried to have the delivery of the dialogue feel as human and as normal as possible. Then, when necessary, you can really enjoy the fact that sometimes they’re incredibly eloquent and passionate and their words are inspiring and uplifting.

MTV: Another change from comics to film seems to be the role of Donald Blake, Thor’s human alter ego in the comics. I’ve heard rumblings that Donald Blake will find his way into the film in some form, but what motivated the decision to remove the secret, human element of Thor’s character?

BRANAGH: I love the Donald Blake alter ego, and of course, it’s not his only alter ego in the comics, but Doctor Donald Blake is often a significant part of the comics. What I would say is, if the audiences decide they want to see more of Thor, then there’s a very rich strain of the story that could be mined there. What we do in this movie does not exclude that possibility.

In terms of Donald Blake not being in this movie, when we lined up all the things that we needed to introduce the audience to, the idea of yet one more element of Thor’s characters in addition to the world of the gods, the world of space, the world of Jotunheim, the world of all the characters in Odin’s family and all of the Earth, to then reduce our amount of screen time with the first introduction of Thor himself felt as though we wouldn’t be doing ourselves a favor. Instead, the priority would be to get as much of Thor inside that already complicated world as we could. So it was a decision based on letting an audience get a real sense of Thor the Asgardian, the man of myth. Maybe it would be something down the line, were that to even be a possibility.

MTV: So how involved are you with “Avengers” these days? I know that the Marvel movie team tends to keep the communication lines open when it comes to these films…

BRANAGH: I spoke to Joss [Whedon] before he came on board, and I’ve spoken to him since. Of course, I’m not allowed to say too much, otherwise they’d kill me, I’d have to kill you, we’d all be dead, and so on. But what I have read of the “Avengers” material is special. He’s really a tremendous talent, Joss. Now having worked so closely with Chris [Hemsworth]and having worked with Jeremy Renner briefly, the idea of the two of them plus Robert [Downey Jr.] is an exciting combination.

Joss came to see our movie several times during production, and the piece of the movie that might be at the end of “Thor” — that might be at the end of the credits that I can’t speak about — Joss and I worked together a little on that. There’s a weird kind of collegiate atmosphere amongst those of us who are directors on this thing. When I went in to do my little 3-D sessions, I’d always see [’Captain America’ director Joe Johnston] coming out of his, and we’d always share a few war stories about what was going on. Jon Favreau was kind to me when he was in post-production for “Iron Man 2,” and [“Incredible Hulk” director] Louis Leterrier was one of the people who suggested me for the job in the first place. So it does feel like those of us who pass through the Marvel academy are inevitably bonded.

MTV: You mentioned Jeremy Renner, and now that the cat’s out of the bag with Hawkeye’s debut in “Thor,” what else can you tell us about the role his character will play in the film?

BRANAGH: I’m not able to divulge anything in great detail, but the time I did spend with him was excellent. He’s prepared, smart, very detailed, and what he’s going to bring is something extremely interesting. He’s an unusually big fan of the comics, and knows the character well. There’s likely to be a very, very interesting development from one film to the next with that character.

MTV: Finally, there’s been a lot of debate regarding the casting of a black actor, Idris Elba, as the Norse god Heimdall. What’s your take on the issue?

BRANAGH: The world of Marvel Comics and the world of the Norse myths is a world of imagination and fantasy, and that being the case, I think that has license to be as wide-ranging in the imaginative choices employed as the original authors of the myths themselves, and certainly as the authors of the Marvel comics have been. I think the stories of the characters lend themselves to great unusual choices, and sometimes — I would put Idris Elba in this category — usual choices. If you want somebody who is the first and last voice you hear on entering and leaving Asgard, and is the first and last person you see on entering and leaving Asgard, then that figure needs to be somebody memorable, magnificent-looking, magnificent-sounding, and you start to narrow the choices down considerably. And if you have the chance of getting as fine an actor as Idris Elba, that’s the beginning and end of the conversation inside that imaginative and fantastical universe.

You’re also talking to a guy who cast Denzel Washington as Keanu Reeves’ half-brother in “Much Ado About Nothing,” another world of imagination and fantasy, and the world of that space didn’t raise an eyebrow. So that’s where I come from.

“Thor” hits theaters Friday, May 6. For more of my interview with Branagh, head over to MTV Movies for the scoop on why he took the job, a potential sequel, and the task of integrating Thor into the greater Marvel movie-verse.

Let us know what you think of this “Thor” interview in the comment section or on Twitter! You can also follow me, Splash Page editor Rick Marshall, on Twitter!