In the Marvel comics, Hela is the Asgardian goddess of death, a super-angry superbeing who has ruled over the realm of the dead and clashed constantly with Thor and his dad, Odin, while also teaming up with other enemies of Asgard such as Loki and Malekith, and generally is a massive pain in the backside to the God of Thunder and his family and allies. She is one of Thor’s most powerful foes and one of the Marvel Universe’s most formidable villains.
In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Hela is finally being brought to live-action life by one of Hollywood’s most formidable actresses, Cate Blanchett, who is playing the goddess of death in the upcoming Thor: Ragnarok. Fandango was one of a small group of outlets that got to sit and chat on the Australian set of the movie with not just Blanchett about the role, but also legendary stuntwoman Zoe Bell, who actually came out of retirement as a stuntperson (she’s been pursuing straight acting jobs) to work with Blanchett on this project. Here’s what we learned from these two amazing women…
Cate was in the dark about Hela when she got the part.
“What I like about playing her is that I really didn’t know anything about her and that’s really exciting,” Blanchett told us. “I mean obviously, the deep, hardcore fan base would know a lot about her but there was kind of a really interesting process of discovery for me and I guess like any of the Marvel characters, they have really interesting and varied back stories so it depends which origin story you read as to why she’s been kept at bay for so long. But yeah, playing the Goddess of Death has been really interesting.”
Hela is pretty ticked off when we meet her.
“She’s been banished for a very long time, and I think if you were under the Asgardian stairs for 5,000 years, you'd be a little bit cross. But I think it's very interesting to bring the concept of Death into a world that's ostensibly immortal. You look at the Western world and in most cultures, Death has been banished from the world in which most Western people live. And as a result, I think it's made life rather screwed up. So I think that there are a lot of unresolved issues that she has with Asgard and each step of the way, she doesn't meet people who are receptive to her, and I think she's quite bewildered as to why people are frightened of her.”
Her powers expand and change throughout the movie.
“Her powers have been great and varied and evolving. Having not made a Marvel movie before, I thought it would all be quite set in stone and you'd just be stepping into the silhouette and the strings would be pulled for you slightly. But the fact is that very early on, I threw a lot of ideas into the ring with Taika (Waititi, director) and the motion capture people and the special effects crew, and they took that and ran with it so it's been evolving...but she's got a lot of power.”
Zoe Bell says working with Cate on the stunts and action has been a real collaborative effort.
"She’s been amazing and wants to be collaborative,” says Bell. “Which is always our hope ‘cause I feel like that’s when you get the best, when all departments are aiming to make the same movie. She’s clearly an expert in her field which has been amazing for me for my own personal reasons. I’ve been just absorbing sponge-like the whole time. But she seems really comfortable with me being considered the expert in my field, and between the two of us we’re going to make the baddest Hela there is."
Cate was equally praiseworthy of Bell, whose previous films as an actor or stuntperson include Kill Bill, Iron Man 3, Death Proof and Oblivion.
"Zoe Bell is not only an extraordinary stuntwoman beyond compare, but she's a fantastic actor, so to work with that and have her as a resource and a partner in creating this whole thing has been great. As a result, under her tutelage, I've been able to do a lot more of that physical stuff than I thought possible."
Zoe revealed that Cate needed a little time to get used to the amount of action in a Marvel film.
"It was early on and it was one of the bigger fight scenes. I won’t speak too much about it, but she had other prior arrangements so we didn’t have a lot of time with her. I think there was a minute where she was just like, 'I don’t think I can do all of this.' So we kind of showed her the bits that we absolutely needed her to do, and then once she felt comfortable with it then she actually was like, 'All right, give me a little bit more. Okay, I can probably do that.' Once you take away the onslaught feeling, then people realize they’re more capable, and she’s far more capable than I think she gives herself credit for."
Cate says there’s no pressure involved in playing Marvel’s first female super-villain.
“I think you only feel pressure if you think this is the only shot that women will have, which is ridiculous. I mean, there's a huge female fan base and having a daughter myself, you know, you want them to be able to identify with the bad-ass end of the spectrum as well as the heroes...so I didn't feel pressure, I was super excited."
On Taika Waititi injecting a substantial dose of humor into the movie:
"That's what I love about the Marvel Universe and how it exists in the film world, is that it knows when to put its tongue in its cheek, and I think that's great,” says Blanchett. “I think that's what makes it fun. It knows when it's doing something grand and, in terms of the comic book universe, important. But it also knows when it needs to send itself up. Taika's got this rare ability to be at once really cool and incredibly daggy (i.e. quirky), you know.”
Like just about every other actor around, Cate channeled Andy Serkis when it came time to do motion capture work as Hela -- her first substantial work in that arena.
"Andy Serkis is the pioneer of this whole kind of way of working and really authoring a performance,” says Blanchett, who was recently directed by Serkis as the voice of Kaa in his upcoming version of The Jungle Book. “I learned a lot watching him and working with him on his very dark, interesting version of The Jungle Book. Taika and Peter Jackson (for whom Blanchett played Galadriel in The Lord of the Rings) both insisted on having a lot of the physical world present. Taika knows how important it is for the actors to, even if they're not gonna have the complete physical world, have a sense of what the atmosphere is that they're walking into. That really helps, so you're not in a complete blue screen universe with no idea what you're looking at or what you're touching."
Portions of Hela’s costume -- including her cape and her famous many-antlered headpiece -- are created almost entirely through CG, which Zoe says she and Cate had to work around in their performances.
"It has been a bit of a consideration for us in terms of our movements and stuff but because it’s been so collaborative between the departments there’s also an element of, 'You guys should just do whatever it is you do and we can work around it.' It’s my job to work around Cate to make Hela look as amazing as I can. And then it’s their job to work around what they have in the physical world to embellish on it and make it look amazing."
Cate is not sure if Hela will have a role to play in the evolution of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
"I don't know. I suppose it depends what they end up with. You never know. I've had an absolute ball but it doesn't mean my work is any good (laughs). I don't know how to answer that question and I'm not being evasive. I don't know. I mean, that's up to the big bosses.”
Thor: Ragnarok is out in theaters November 3, 2017.