Playing the ancient Norse ruler of the underworld was probably not on Cate Blanchett’s to do list, but to hear her tell it, she had one Hel of a time taking on the role of Hela in Thor: Ragnarok. As part of EW’s coverage of the upcoming movie, they spoke with Blanchett about a variety of topics concerning the role, which seems like a game changer for the way fans view villains in the MCU.
By putting together rumors and official bits from Marvel and EW, we’ve been able to glean that Hela has been imprisoned for quite some time and, while Loki is sitting on the throne of Asgard, she finds her way to freedom. “She’s been locked away for millennia, getting more and more cross, and then, with a mistake, she get unleashed and she ain’t getting back in that box,” said Blanchett. So how does she describe her character’s grand entrance? Given that this version of Hela is called the Goddess of Death, she thinks that’s all the description necessary, saying “I think that’s where you put the period in the sentence, right? She arrives with a lot of baggage. She’s a little bit cross.“
Playing a character rooted in Norse mythology who was adapted and retconned several times over in the comics, Blanchett had plenty of research to do to prepare for the role. When asked if she spent some time digging into some old comics, Blanchett replied, “Oh yes. I mean, you gotta know the history of the character. And there are so many iterations of the origin story. For any of these characters, there’s never one origin story. But yes, it was really interesting to go back. Most of the time she was masked. So that’s what I really talked to the Marvel team and Taika about was when we would chose to have her masked and when she wouldn’t be masked.“
That trademark mask will be more than just a decoration as well. It seems the iconic headpiece (and the rest of her body?) can be used to whip us some weapons. “Yeah. She’s able to manifest weapons. Her headdress can be weapons. She can manifest weapons out of different parts of her body. I won’t tell you which — I’ll leave that hanging.” As the concept art suggests, she’ll be using those weapons to take control of Asgard away from the God of Mischief.
“Well, Asgard is so good. I mean one only need to have a mildly unpleasant thought and you’re considered evil. Everyone is too perfect. Why not mess it all up? It’s easy to play bad but, like when I was in Cinderella, like what makes the stepmother evil is interesting. So, it was trying to in the screen time I had to tease that stuff and to give her a journey really. So hopefully we’re given her a journey, like how you understand why Loki is as screwed up as he is. Hopefully, there’s that satisfaction in watching Hela.“
It sounds as though Blanchett’s Hela will be one of Marvel Studios most complex villains to date AND she’s going to kick some ass as well. Blanchett trained in martial arts and worked with a Hollywood legend to prepare for the physical aspects of her role. “There’s a bit of wire work. I worked with the legend Zoe Bell (Grindhouse). I did as much as was humanly possible for a middle-aged mother of four [laughs]. I learned so much. All sorts of capoeira stuff. All the stunts and the fights were really interestingly choreographed. But I did train, ostensibly, so I wouldn’t injure myself.“
Blanchett’s Hela is going to present some serious problems for Thor. A scene description from yesterday’s Disney shareholder’s meeting confirmed rumors that somehow Hela is able to relieve the Odinson of Mjolnir, making her potentially the most powerful MCU baddie this side of Thanos. Wielding that sort of power and becoming the first female antagonist are things about which Blanchett is very passionate. She described how she and director Taika Waititi came together to get her in the role and break ground in the MCU.
The MCU has been criticized, and rightly so, for its lack of major female roles. However, beginning with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and continuing with Thor: Ragnarok, Ant-Man and the Wasp and Captain Marvel, that issue is definitely being addressed. Blanchett had a very interesting take on women assuming the role of primary antagonist:
“Can you believe it? Can you believe we’re having this conversation and it’s 2017 and we’re talking about the first female villain? It’s ridiculous. There’s so much untapped potential villainy in women. It’s really exciting. I think finally it’s beginning to be acknowledged that women and men want to see a diverse array of characters, and that’s race, gender across the sexual spectrum.“
Blanchett goes on to explain that she’s part of the shift happening at Marvel and alludes to how that might open the films up to a larger audience:
“Well let’s face it: as a woman, these opportunities have not in the past come up very frequently and I think there’s a revolution happening from within Marvel. I’ve seen so many of the Marvel franchises, particularly being the mother of four. They tend to be the only type of film particularly having young boys. But for me as an actor, this is separate is my desire to work with [director] Taika Waititi.“
Blanchett expanded on that desire to work with Waititi, saying:
“Well I had seen his vampire movie [What We Do in the Shadows] and Hunt for the Wilderpeople. I was trying to get my head around the collision of his sensibility as a director and what had previously existed in the Thor franchise and I thought that’s going to be interesting to say the least and I thought it could produce an interesting combustible connection because tonally his work is so different from what previously existed. Obviously they wanted to do something fresh and different, which is always exciting.“
As for what Waititi brings to the table that makes working for him so great, Blanchett had a pretty interesting take:
“He’s sort of part sumo wrestler, part showgirl, part father you always wanted to have. He’s so nimble. I keep saying the word irreverent. He takes the work seriously but he doesn’t take himself seriously. So there’s music on set the whole time. There was hilarity but he knew every single time when to focus.“
We have talked ad nauseam about both the lack of major female roles and strong, interesting villains in the MCU. I would say it’s safe to assume that with an actress the caliber of Blanchett in the role of Hela, we may see Marvel resolve both of those problem in one genuinely great casting choice. And Hela may not be another one and done villain as MANY theories suggest she will be filling the role of Thanos’ love and the spark for his actions in Avengers: Infinity War. Here’s to the Goddess of Death kicking ass and taking names!
Thor: Ragnarok brings its entirely insane looking self to theaters November 3, 2017.