As Loki reaches a conclusion with its season about the Norse trickster god (played by Tom Hiddleston), we talked to the director and writer of the series, Kate Herron and Michael Waldron, respectively, about the show.
Herron came to prominence as the director for all of Idris Elba’s Five by Five episodes and her work with Sex Education. Herron took the reins for Loki, directing all six episodes, during the pandemic.
Waldron cut his teeth working for Dan Harmon (the brain behind Community and Rick and Morty). Best known for writing the Rick and Morty episode, “The Old Man and the Seat” (where Rick retreats to a dimension to take a shit… it is more nuanced than what we described]), Waldron wrote Loki, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness and the upcoming wrestling series, Heels.
ESQUIRE: What’s it like making Loki during the pandemic.
KATE HERRON: Yeah, I mean, like everyone else, that was unexpected. We were halfway through filming when that happened. So, we just tried to make the best of the situation because we were shut down for four months. During the shut-down, I edited what we'd already filmed and using that time to go back into the scripts and hone the story; trying to discover, what is the story we're making. When we return to filming, we had an amazing safety team to oversee the production. I'm grateful to our cast and crew but yeah, it was a different experience to making it but I feel really proud of what we’ve done.
MICHAEL WALDRON: Kate's brilliant. Because of the amount of work she did directing six episodes that amount to a gigantic Marvel movie. Honestly, I believe that’s the most work any director had ever taken on and somehow she did it.
KATE: I don't sleep much and I have a really good team with me. That’s really key: to have my collaborators on my side and all of us are so locked in on what we wanted to do.
ESQ: Loki sounds like something you’ve wanted to do for a long time.
KATE: Honestly, I've wanted to direct a genre [project] at this level for the longest time and I'm so happy that I now have a chance to do it. It’s the awesome team that can make that happen.
MICHAEL: It was absolutely a challenge for production and Kate shepherded us through [a pandemic] in such an incredible [and safe] way. If anything, the pandemic just afforded us a little more time during the shutdown to have a chance to look at the scripts that weren't that deep into production. It was just an opportunity to keep looking at what was ahead of us and figuring out how can we make this even better.
ESQ: Are there any other challenges in making Loki?
MICHAEL: The biggest challenge for us was defining the rules of time travel in this show and within the Time Variance Authority. We had to establish what the rules of time-policing means and how to identifying if somebody is breaking them or not. That was a whole bit of world-building we had to do. And, on top of that, we had to make it very easy for the audience to understand.
Each week, we needed to do a time travel show that can withstand viewer’s scrutiny. I was really keenly aware of that. I was like, guys, we can't [screw up] this time travel stuff because they're gonna kill us on Reddit. So we worked really hard to make sure that our sci-fi and all that stuff are really locked in.
ESQ: Kate, is there a stark difference when you’re shooting Sex Education and a Marvel franchise?
KATE: I'm a sci-fi nerd and I love Marvel. For me, it was a dream because I grew up with the X-Men cartoon and I remember trying to turn my hair to look like Storm by whitening it with bleach. I love the Marvel movies, I love Loki and It’s so exciting to get a chance to tell his story.
I really love villains and when they're done right, they are the most interesting characters. You don't necessarily have to agree with their actions but we have to understand the motivations behind them and Loki is a masterclass in that. Tom [Hiddleston] crafted this beautiful performance over the last decade and even if we don't like what he's doing, somehow you can't help but have empathy and root for him. I was just excited to be part of that next step in his journey.
ESQ: Michael, because the universe of Rick and Morty is self-contained, while any Marvel franchise you work on will also affect other IP in the MCU, what do you have to take into account when you’re working for Marvel?
MICHAEL: I mean, everything you're doing is potentially fodder for another movie or another TV show. You never know what you’re setting or messing up for another creative team down the line. That's kind of the fun, you know.
I'm just a chapter in a broader story of the MCU. The charge is very much: you're working on Loki so make that the best it can possibly be. And organically, it will connect to the other things in the MCU but the focus is on making a great standalone piece.
ESQ: Previous Disney+ original Marvel series drew on story arcs from the comic books. There’s an image of Loki in a suit that was inspired by the comic book series, Vote Loki.
MICHAEL: Certainly that look was an inspiration from the comics. There are great individual runs and we looked at them for story ideas like the costume looks and, obviously, the TVA.
ESQ: The TVA is an obscure organisation to pick from.
MICHAEL: There's not nearly as much on them in the comics but, all in all, I wanted to tell a wholly original story here. So for Loki, it doesn’t have any real precedent in being inspired by [a story arc] n the comics, which to me was an exciting thing.
ESQ: Kate, what was it like to direct Tom Hiddleston? Or more importantly, what was it like to direct Richard E Grant?
KATE: Tom is awesome and a dream. He has this amazing encyclopaedic knowledge of Loki and before filming, I actually asked him to do a low-key lecture about Loki for the cast and crew. It’s basically a TED talk and he showed clips from the movies and spoke about his experience across the MCU. That was important to me because the character is so beloved, we needed to know who this character and where we are taking them. Because this isn't the Loki we've seen in past movies; we're taking him off to very different places. I am grateful to Tom. He has this endless energy and positivity, that radiates across the whole crew and everyone kind of rises up to that.
And Richard E Grant, as you obviously know, is a dream to direct. I can't wait for people to see what he does on in the show.
ESQ: Aside from learning what SZN is, what other things have you learn from Michael Waldron?
KATE: He's got an amazing imagination and sense of humour. He's super weird and I'm funny but in the most brilliant excellent way I think when we talk about the story and we'd be like, oh maybe we should push it in this way and he’ll be, yeah, okay cool. I think I've got an idea. Then he returns with something that’s so left-of-centre but it would be excellent. I’ve nothing but endless respect for the way he looks at the story from a completely different perspective.
ESQ: Michael, is there any difference between writing for Dan Harmon and Kevin Feige (dude behind the success of the MCU)?
MICHAEL: They're both geniuses so, in that sense, they are similar. They're both great collaborators with great taste in everything. Their approach is the best idea wins sort of thing. I think you know that on Rick and Morty, Dan has the final creative say.
Whereas on Loki, Kevin empowered me to execute my vision on what the show was going to be. But I think I was prepared to work for Kevin Feige and succeed working for him because I worked under Dan Harmon for so long.
ESQ: Obviously, you are dealing with the multiverse. How much impact would this have on the MCU as you're also Strange and the Multiverse of Madness.
MICHAEL: It was always the goal for all these Disney+ shows to be as vital to the experience of the MCU, as with the film. You want the consequences to be far-reaching. We knew that the story would have ramifications down the line in the MCU. That challenge was exciting. Maybe scary… I mean, you don't want to screw it up. But that's what got me out of bed every morning and it made me work a little bit harder because you don't want to be the guy responsible for ruining the MCU.
Everything is connected in its own way and if you're telling a great story, be it in the Loki series or in the Doctor Strange sequel, that will elevate the MCU as a whole and continue building this amazing mythology.
ESQ: Kate, could you talk us through how you prepare your actors for a scene?
KATE: Before we filmed, I sat with the actors and we just talk about the scenes, the story arc. They will get an idea of what the world is, what the character’s place in it is. I was excited to hear these amazing actors' takes on the characters and how it feeds into the story. I've always just been a director of "best idea wins" and that's something that's a very collaborative process.
ESQ: Will you want to do something in the vein of a feature-length film?
KATE: I would love to do a feature film. I mean, what was so exciting about Loki was that Marvel wanted it to run like a six-hour feature. So, we haven't run this series like an ordinary TV show and it's been a very unique experience in that sense. I enjoyed TV production but yes, obviously, I'd love to do a feature in the future.
ESQ: Michael, you have written mostly for TV and soon, you’ll make your foray with the upcoming film, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. Is there a difference between writing for film and TV?
MICHAEL: Just fewer pages, baby! You know you write more pages for TV because there’s more story to tell so you’ve more hours to fill in. Sometimes that makes your job a little easier because you got more runway to explore relationships and everything else. You can afford to digress and take your time to let things build; you can end an episode on a cliff-hanger. Whereas in a Marvel feature, you’ve two hours to fit in so much story and tell a complete arc… so in some ways, features are more challenging, even though they are half of the length of the total hours of a TV series.
Two more episodes of Loki remains. Will the multiverse be allowed to flourish? (Well, duh.) Will Loki be redeemed? Will Mobius get his jet ski? Tune in to Loki, only at Disney+.