A Talk With THOR: RAGNAROK’s Eric Pearson

A look at going from a little world to a huge one with grace.

Thor: Ragnarok is out now! Get your tickets here!

The final question of this interview contains spoilers for Thor: Ragnarok

After a long wait and several stellar trailers, Thor: Ragnarok has made its way to theaters. There’s an endless amount to love in the film, from the humor, Hulk and Thor throwing down in a gladiator ring, to Marvel’s Baggage Brothers working together to take down the biggest threat to Asgard since the Frost Giants. BMD had a chance to sit down with Thor: Ragnarok’s writer, Eric Pearson. Eric has a host of credits to his name, including Agent Carter, and several Marvel One Shots. He had the chance to pair his unique humor with director Taika Waititi’s, and the result speaks for itself.

BMD: It must have been a bit of a change going from Agent Carter to Thor. What was the biggest challenge you had swapping characters in a (comparatively speaking) mundane universe to the fantastic and galactic?

Eric Pearson: I think the answer’s in the questions. They’re fantastic and galactic and cosmic and it’s still kind of up for interpretation as to whether they’re gods or aliens. Working on that grand a scheme is tricky. Especially because with Agent Carter we were restricted by a time period, so the world to play in was a lot smaller.

When people tell you that you can do anything, it’s almost a bad thing, because it’s like, well, if anything is possible then there’s got to be a perfect version of it. You can break yourself trying to find it instead of taking the set of characters and sending them on a journey.

BMD: Since you’ve moved into this big galactic universe and have these new characters to play with, who was your favorite to get to toy around with?

EP: That’s a hard one. It changes a lot! I would say that during the first draft of the script, when they told me they were going to try to cast Jeff Goldblum as the Grand Master, that was the most fun. I immediately knew what I was going to do with the character and where I wanted him to go.

For introductions, working on Thor’s voice was really great just because Hemsworth is great with the script. He actually pulled me aside one morning to talk to me about the Thor and Loki scenes. He pointed out, correctly so, that what I had was retreading a bit of what had already happened in Thor, Thor: The Dark World and The Avengers. We needed to have their relationship exhibit the amount of awareness that it should have after the audience spent so much time with them on screen. So, the Thor and Loki stuff is also some of my favorite.

Valkyrie as well. Valkyrie was a tricky one that we found out about kind of late, but working with Taika and bringing Tessa’s voice into the mix was fun. If you were going to force me to pick though, I might say Hulk. He’s so limited by speech, but says so much.

BMD: Fun sells, especially in the Marvel Comic Universe. Did you have a hard time balancing how hilarious the film had to be with the high stakes it has going on?

EP: I did, yeah. It was tricky. First of all, it took a couple of interactions with Taika before we got on the same page. He’s such a different guy with a different sense of humor [he says fondly]. After I pitched the scene that happens first in the movie I got a sense of his sense of humor and going forward that was really helpful.

The first draft was really about nailing the structure and the character arcs, and having our skeleton. That was when I started working more closely with Taika to get his little comedic flourishes in there. Plus, on the day during shooting, he’s bound to do anything. Suddenly there will be a weird prop in the scene and you have to be like “Ok, there it is! We’re gonna move right along!” He knew what he was doing from the beginning. He was going to rob the bank and get away with a ton of comedy, so I was just trying to keep the story together for the most part. And keep the characters honest and true to the world and their respective journeys.

BMD: As the villains in the cinematic universe go, Loki is far and away considered the best by fans. Now you’ve got to bring forward his humor a little more with Hela acting as the main antagonist. What was it like reconciling all the history that Thor and Loki have while there’s another big bad threatening their world?

EP: We find Loki in a different headspace at the beginning of the movie. Since Thor: The Dark World he’s been ruling Asgard as Odin as he’s always wanted. He’s on sort of a villainous vacation while in a role that plays to his narcissism. So, he’s mostly off his world conquering villain agenda already at the beginning of the film. Plus, Thor and Loki have had so many interactions, and alliances, and betrayals. They’ve been each others’ nemeses for so long that even they’re a little exhausted by themselves. It’s almost like the fatigue of dealing with each other allows this terminator like force of Hela to just walk in. They’re divided so she conquers.    

BMD: Let’s talk about Hela. There’s been a certain spoiler going around about her lineage, and we’d love to hear how that came about.

EP: The decision to make Hela Odin's banished daughter came really late into writing my first draft.  We had discussed her backstory as someone from Asgard's past, the Goddess of Death being a weapon of war that Odin used to conquer the Nine Realms and build his empire, but as I was writing and getting closer to the end, knowing that a Thor-Hela face-off was imminent, I felt like we needed more. More connection between the two, more depth to their ideological conflict. And it was one of those late nights, probably 11 pm working at Marvel, and I expressed this concern to Brad Winderbaum (producer). I basically told him that I'd been thinking about it, and I thought that making Hela Thor's sister made the most sense for the story and had the most impact to a shared history.  He agreed and told me, "Don't pitch it to anyone because it'll be more likely to get shot down. Just write it into the script and let everyone discover the connection the same way that Thor will."  Ultimately it was the right move because, after I wrote the ending and retconned the earlier scenes to reflect the family relation, everybody who read it was surprised, and pleasantly so. 

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