Loki director Kate Herron’s heart was beating fast. She’d already had some surreal experiences during her short time in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, so a simple phone call shouldn’t make her nervous. But on the other end of the line was Owen Wilson, an actor and writer she admired and hoped would join her on a time-jumping journey through the MCU.
“It was the most detailed pitch I’ve ever done, to an actor, ever. I pretty much spoke through the entire first episode with him,” Herron recalls of wooing Wilson, who wasn’t too familiar with Marvel before being cast as Mobius, an agent for the mysterious Time Variance Authority central to the series.
Wilson instantly put Herron at ease with his laid-back charm as she walked the actor through 10 years of onscreen lore for Loki, the god of mischief played by Tom Hiddleston. She answered his questions about Avengers: Endgame, about time travel, about how this version of Loki was not the one fans knew from films like Thor: Ragnarok, but rather one plucked from an alternate timeline from 2012’s The Avengers.
It was all part of a whirlwind few years for Herron, who not that long ago was temping at a fire extinguisher company and struggling to land directing work even though she’d already helmed a BBC project with Idris Elba. Then Herron finally achieved breakthrough success directing episodes of the Netflix hit Sex Education and soon was hounding her agents for a Marvel meeting.
When Herron finally landed one, the Loki superfan cleared her schedule and spent two weeks putting together a 60-page document, even though her agents tempered her expectations by noting it was just a meet-and-greet.
“I knew I’d be up against some really big directors, and I knew I wouldn’t be the most experienced in the room, so I [said], ‘OK. I’ll just be the most passionate,’” recalls Herron.
Just a few days after officially landing the job, Herron found herself on a five-hour walk through New York with Hiddleston discussing Loki and flying to D23 in Anaheim to be greeted by thousands of screaming fans alongside Loki head writer Michael Waldron.
Herron is now working long days finishing up Loki in Marvel’s production hub in Atlanta, where the British filmmaker has largely lived since getting the job in 2019. Over Zoom from her freezing Atlanta apartment (she still hasn’t figured out the quirks of the air conditioner), Herron dives into Loki ahead of its June 9 debut on Disney+.
What was your process of sitting down with Marvel for this?
I was just so overexcited. [My agents] were like, “Look, it’s just a casual conversation, they just want to get a sense of you,” and basically I was like, “OK, I’m just going to pitch them.” Because I thought, they might not meet me again. So I got as much information as I could, and they sent me a little bit about the show. And I just prepared a massive pitch for it. I canceled everything for two weeks. I made a 60-page document full of references, story ideas, music. I knew I’d be up against some really big directors, and I knew I wouldn’t be the most experienced in the room, so I [said], “OK. I’ll just be the most passionate.”
Was that first meeting in Burbank?
That was in England, in southeast London on Zoom. I had a few stages where I did that. Then after a few interviews with Kevin Wright and Stephen Broussard, two of the Marvel executives who got me ready for the big match, I went in to pitch to Kevin Feige, Victoria [Alonso], Lou [Louis D’Esposito], the whole team there. That was very surreal because they flew me to Burbank and I pitched at Marvel Studios. I didn’t have the job, but I found out they were interested and then I remember Kevin Feige called me, and when he was in London, we had coffee. He was like, “Look, we want you to direct it.” Oh my God. They flew me to D23 and that was crazy because I think I found out I got the job 48 hours before, and then I was onstage. The Lady and the Tramp dogs were in front of me and Michael [Waldron] on the red carpet. “What is going on?” (Laughs.) I met Tom that week as well, so it was a bit of a whirlwind kind of thing.
Herron, Waldron and Feige at D23 in 2019.
Where did you first meet Tom?
I had a two-stop trip. I flew first to New York to meet Tom. He was in Betrayal at the time, on Broadway, so we basically went on this amazing walk around New York. I’d never met him before. We just spoke about Loki and what was really important to us about the character and where we thought it would be fun to take him, as well. It was this intense, five-hour conversation with him basically. I met him and then flew straight from meeting him to D23. So it was a lot. (Laughs.)
When did you finally get the scripts? How did that change your thoughts on what you want to do?
They sent me the outline, so I knew the overall story. I also was pitching stuff. “Oh, we could do this with this character.” The pilot was really well written by Michael and I really liked what they were doing with the character and the story. Then it was building upon that and throwing in ideas for where he could go later in the show. It reminded me a bit of improv where you’re always building, always trying to push the story to the best place. So we were always adapting and shifting the story. Our lockdown, during COVID, was a chance for us to go back in. I was cutting what we’d done, so I was like, “OK, this is tonally what is really working for the story.” Then we went back into what we hadn’t filmed and started adapting that stuff to fit more where we were heading.
The Marvel movies have a writer on set to help tweak things. Was that the case with Loki?
Michael [Waldron] was with us at the start, and then he went on to Doctor Strange [in the Multiverse of Madness]. We had a really wonderful writer called Eric Martin from our writers room, and he was our production writer on set. It was between me, him and my creative producer Kevin Wright. We would kind of brainstorm and adapt. I’ve always loved talking to the cast. We had such a smart cast. Owen is a writer as well. If you have that amazing resource, why not talk to them? We were always adapting. Obviously paying respect to the story we wanted to tell from the start, but always trying to make it better.
Herron on the set of ‘Loki’ with Hiddleston and Wilson.
Kevin Feige has said Owen Wilson, like his character, is nonplussed by the MCU. Since Owen isn’t necessarily dazzled by Marvel, does that make him all the more perfect for this role?
He is playing a Loki expert, so at the beginning of production, Tom and I were talking. He devised this thing called Loki School. He did a big lecture to the cast and crew. I love the character. This is a decade of fans loving this character and where that character has been. It was talking everyone through that, but through Tom and his own experiences. Stunts that Tom liked or costumes. He ended up doing that same Loki school for Owen. Owen absolutely loved it. Owen has such a writer’s brain. I remember I had to pitch him down the phone. My heart rate [was up].
Was this the pitch to get him to get Owen on board?
Yeah. I love his work. “Oh my God, I’m going to talk to Owen Wilson.” He’s so laid back and nice, it immediately puts you at ease. It was the most detailed pitch I’ve ever done, to an actor, ever. I think I pretty much spoke through the entire first episode with him. You can tell he’s a writer, just by the way he attacks story. His questions about the world and the structure and the arc of the character. It was really fun to work with him.
Was it the most detailed pitch you’ve ever done because you really wanted Owen, or because you knew you needed to woo him a bit to get him to sign on?
It was the questions he asked, and the way he attacked story, in that sense. And also probably because he was newer to the Marvel world, he was like, “OK, how does this work?” I also pitched him Loki’s arc over the past 10 years, where that character has gone, but also explaining our Loki and what happened in Endgame and time travel. There’s a lot to unpack in that conversation.
Sometimes Marvel will give writers or directors a supercut of all the scenes of a specific character. Did you get one of those?
They didn’t actually give me a supercut, but I’m a big Loki nerd. I think his is one of the best [arcs] in the MCU. I really wanted to make sure we were paying respect to that. At the same time, something Tom spoke about a lot was you have to go back for a reason. Let’s be united on what that reason is and feel that it’s worth it.
The reason can’t be, “Well that’s what happened in Endgame,” so the question becomes, “What is the point of revisiting him at this era of his life?”
Yeah. He’s only had — I don’t want to get this wrong — I think 112 minutes of screen time in total if you cut all his scenes together. And he steals the show. We have six hours to really delve into this character and talk about him and go on this completely new story with him. For me, it was making sure that [we’re] paying respect to what has come before — I know as a fan if there is a character I really loved and I found out they are making a show about him, I obviously would be so excited and so happy. I felt lucky to have the responsibility, and I took it very seriously.
Those who have worked with Kevin Feige say he’s someone who can stress test an idea and push things in new directions. What have you found working with him?
Something I always found was we would sometimes pitch something, and it would be at a good place, but he’d always be like, “OK, that’s great, but push it further.” Sometimes I’d pitch stuff and be like, “This is too weird,” and he’d say, “No, go weirder.” He wants to tell the best story and I found it really helpful having his eye across everything and the fact that he does challenge everything. Tom as well, on set. He brings this amazing energy and this great A-game that causes everyone to rise to the occasion.
How do you know when you’ve got the perfect Hiddleston take? Is he asking you for one more, are you pushing him to do one more take?
By the end, it was almost telepathic. We would kind of know. We would look at each other. “We could go again,” or, “We’ve got it.” It’s different with every actor. There are some actors who will come in firing and they just want to go for it. But they don’t want to do a million takes. There are other actors I work with who are very meticulous and they want quite a few to warm up and get into it. It’s actor-dependent. The way me and Tom are similar is we are both very perfectionist. We are both very studious. (Laughs.) We definitely connected in that sense. He’s a very generous actor. I remember one day, we had quite a few of our actors coming in as day players. It was really important for him to be there for them, to read lines offscreen. He would have to be 50 places at once, because he is the lead actor. The most amazing thing about him was his generosity. Not just to the other actors, but also to the crew, to be filming in a time like COVID.
When you make an Avengers movie, you get a big board with every character that’s available, and whether the actor’s deals will allow them to appear or if that would need to be renegotiated. Loki is smaller, but was there any equivalent for you? Was everything on the table? Was only some stuff on the table? I imagine if Chris Hemsworth has his own new Thor movie coming up, he’s not going to be on the table, necessarily.
I felt like everything was on the table if it meant it was good for story, and Marvel would be like, “We’ll work it out.” Me and the writers, we never felt restrained in that sense. Honestly, it always comes back to story.
What is your relationship with your editor as you finish this up?
We have three editors, Paul Zucker, Emma McCleave and Calum Ross. My relationship with all three of them is very different. Emma and me are very close because she was also in Atlanta away from home. I got to know her very well. I love working with the editors because it’s a fresh pair of eyes. You get so deep into something when you are filming, it’s almost like writing it again when you are in the edit. Stuff does change. Even some episodes, we’ve reordered the structure. Or we moved scenes from one episode to another episode. I’ve always loved the editing process. The best thing is someone honest who can be like, “Hey, this doesn’t quite make sense to me,” or, “This isn’t working.”
What are you going to do on premiere day? Will you be on the internet at all to see the reaction?
I’m actually working. I’m still finishing the show. My last day is the day the second episode airs. I’m going to be working that day. Sadly, I’ll probably check in on the internet a little bit, but I’ll probably go to bed when I finish because I think I’ll do a 12- or 13-hour day or something. I can’t remember. I’m really excited for people to see it and just to bring it out in the world, really.
Everyone wants to know about spoilers, but what’s something you wish you were asked about more when it comes to Loki?
Kevin Feige said, “We make movies. We want to run it like a movie.” So unlike a lot of television shows that are showrunner-led, this was run like a six-hour film. As a director, you don’t often get to do that in a television-structure show. I really enjoyed it, having a hand in story and just how collaborative it was. Also, just beyond that, directing the equivalent of a six-hour Marvel movie was incredible for me. That’s something I found interesting about it. Making something the Marvel way.
In terms of the themes, I love gray areas. The show is really about what makes someone truly good or what makes someone truly bad, and are we either of those things? Loki is in that gray area. It’s exciting to be able to tell a story like that. As a director and a writer, you don’t necessarily understand why you are making these stories. Something I keep getting drawn back into is identity. Sex Education, we spoke a lot about identity and feeling like an outsider but actually finding your people. I feel the same with Loki. It’s a show about identity and self-acceptance and for me, that’s also what drew me in.
Gray is a good way to describe Loki. Your version of Loki just tried to take over the Earth not long ago.
Exactly. This isn’t the Loki we’ve seen. How do we take a character that people love, but from a lot earlier, and send him on a different path? That for me was interesting, getting to unpack that. Alongside that, getting to set up a whole new corner of the MCU with TVA. That to me was so exciting.
What about the Teletubbies? You referenced that recently and it made quite a splash. Are you going to leave people in suspense on that?
I referenced the Teletubbies once and people were like, “What, Teletubbies? What does this mean?” Maybe I should leave people in the air with it. One thing I would say is the show for me, stylistically — I wanted it to be a love letter to sci-fi because I love sci-fi. Brazil, Metropolis, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Alien. If people love sci-fi, they will definitely see the little nods we’ve got across the show. People will know what it was a reference for when they see the show. It was a visual reference to something in the show.
Interview has been edited for length and clarity. Loki debuts on Disney+ on June 9.