"Thor: The Dark World" director Alan Taylor knows a thing or two about fantastical medieval times.
A prolific television director with a trio of features under his belt, Taylor is one of HBO's go-to guys, having helmed episodes of "Oz," "Sex and the City," "The Sopranos," "Six Feet Under," "Carnivale," "Deadwood," "Rome," "Big Love," and "Boardwalk Empire." But none of those gigs would leave him particularly suited for "Thor: The Dark World." What would, however, get him prepared for taking on a world of frost giants, dark elves, and weird glowing red goo, was his stint on HBO's dark fantasy series "Game of Thrones."
For "Game of Thrones," Taylor was responsible for "Baelor," the traumatizing episode in which Sean Bean's Ned Stark gets beheaded, as well as a handful of other episodes from Season 2. His work on "Game of Thrones" is what got Marvel's attention, who placed him on the studio's elite roster of filmmakers, which already includes Shane Black and Joss Whedon.
We got to speak to Taylor about the challenges of "Thor: The Dark World," why he was nervous about accepting the job, whether or not he'll return to television, and those rumors that he'll be directing the next "Terminator" movie for Paramount.
Moviefone: I've noticed a disturbing recurring theme in your work, which is cutting off people's limbs.
Alan Tayor: I can't take credit for "Game of Thrones" because I was shooting one guy getting his hand cut off while Ned was getting decapitated, but... I guess we stole it from them because it was in the books already. And I guess we stole it from Luke Skywalker. That was something that came pretty late in the process but we all fell in love with it because it comes at a moment in the moment in the movie when you really need to believe that one of our characters is being a real bastard. So it was good to get that point across.
The scale of this movie is much bigger than the movies you'd previously directed, which were either small or medium-sized...
You can go ahead and say teensy weensy.
Okay, teensy weensy. But "Thor" is somewhat closer to "Game of Thrones." What drew you to that? Were you apprehensive at all?
Yes, of course. But I'm apprehensive about getting up in the morning and getting out of bed. So, every challenge seems potentially daunting. I don't think I could have done the job if I hadn't done "Game of Thrones" because it got me comfortable with epic imagery and stunts and chopping people's hands off and stuff. And I don't think I would have been offered the job without it. But I was going in pretty weary, and it wasn't the scale, because having shot in Iceland with White Walkers and stuff... I guess it was the scale of the enterprise -- working for a huge corporation on a sequel that is part of a much bigger franchise that is already rolling along.
I was concerned and daunted by joining that huge enterprise, not the movie part, but where I would fit into this big machine. But for the most part I was really gratified by the fact that Marvel turns out to be a tiny operation, led by one guy, that feels very much like an independent studio. There was a lot of freedom to design and redesign and we created a different Asgard and a different look for Thor and it all felt like we had the freedom to do so. We weren't hamstrung by the machine at all.
Well, they seem really good at what they're doing.
Yeah, have you noticed that at all? But that was part of the daunting part. They're really good at what they do. When I started this movie, "The Avengers" hadn't come out, but that came out and made a ka-billion dollars, and then as we were finishing this movie, "Iron Man 3" came out and made a ka-billion dollars. So... those are pretty daunting numbers.
If this thing doesn't make a ka-billion dollars, you're in a lot of trouble.
Yes, I am. Luckily, we're at the back of the bus with Captain America. So no one expects us to do "Avengers" business, and no one expects us to do "Iron Man 3" business, but people are eager to do respectable business.
One of the fun things about "Thor" is it's kind of like the "Splash" of the Marvel Universe.
[Laughs] I never thought of it that way! That's true!
Was that appealing at all? To take Natalie into this world?
It seemed like the obvious, necessary thing to do. And she was nervous about it. She kept saying, "This could be awful. This could be a valley girl standing around a Shakespeare repertory company." She was doing what I would do: picture the worst version of it. But we got to bring her to his world and bring all of them into different worlds. There is still a little bit of residual "fish out of water" stuff for Thor, like when he comes into her apartment and hangs his hammer up on the coat rack, which was spontaneously created by Chris on the day. It's part of watching their relationship with the kind of petty, real, relatable stuff play out in this ridiculously fantastical setting -- meeting mom for the first time and how awkward that is.
It's so funny about hearing your trepidations about "Thor" because you're going into another huge sequel with "Terminator."
Well, I would still qualify it as a rumor. I call it that for various reasons, partially because as we celebrate "Thor," it'd probably be better for everybody if we label it a rumor.
Well, if it's not a rumor, could you talk about your relationship with Megan Ellison.
Yeah, I think that's part of the draw for me, and her brother runs Skydance and they do some very smart, big action movies. When I met her, I practically had to get on my knees and thank her. She's the goddess of American independent cinema. For the longest time I would see the Annapurna logo on everything and I would wonder, who are these people? They're everywhere. She is great, and I would love to work with her, anytime, in any hypothetical scenario.
Can you talk about Mr. Whedon's contributions to "The Dark World?"
I would happy to talk about this some more. I got in trouble for talking about it before, so I'd be happy to do it again. He is very busy creating huge portions of the Marvel universe and "S.H.I.E.L.D." and stuff. And he comes out of television, so he's really quick and clever and knows the world so well. I want to be clear that it wasn't like we had a finished script and we were finding fault with it; we had a script that was constantly in flux, all hands on deck, with everybody helping out.
Occasionally, it was scary because you were sometimes about to shoot a scene that you weren't sure was quite right yet. There were a lot of brilliant writers contributing a lot of brilliant ideas but we airlifted in Joss Whedon to solve one particular scene and before I left I begged him to do a pass on another scene. And he did them both really quickly and got back on a plane and returned to Joss Whedon World. It was almost comical. It was like he came in with a SWAT team, did it, and then was gone again. It is great to have superheroes around who can do that kind of thing. I want to stress that it wasn't like there weren't any other writers who weren't up to the task, but it was one of those situations where it was in flux all the time and we managed to grab him and give a solution where we needed him.
Have they talked about you doing "S.H.I.E.L.D."?
No. To tell you the truth, I'm happier in the cable world. But I've had a couple of experiences in the network world that made me happy to be in the cable ghetto.
Is that what happened with "Lost"?
Yes... But I'm thinking of something that's much more procedural. It was mainstream TV and I thought, "Oh boy, I can't do this." And scurried back to my weird little dramas.