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Thor – Writers Don Payne, Ashley Miller and Zack Stentz on agreeing on the best story to tell

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Thor - Chris Hemsworth
Thor (Chris Hemsworth) © 2011 MVLFFLLC

In 1962, the legendary duo of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby introduced The Mighty Thor, the hammer-wielding Norse god, to readers of Marvel Comics. Almost 50 years later, and 600 plus issues, the Herculean job to bring the iconic hero to the screen fell on the shoulders of Don Payne, Ashley Miller and Zack Stentz (with the story by J Michael Straczynski and Mark Protosevich).

At the press junket for the movie Don Payne, Ashley Miller and Zack Stentz explained how they went about choosing which material to use.

It seems like there are few adaptations more daunting than five decades of material as well as mythology that’s thousands of years old. Where did you begin to pull the story together?

Thor - Chris Hemsworth and Clark Gregg
Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) © 2011 MVLFFLLC

Ashley Miller: Terror (he laughs). No, honestly the first place you start is with Kevin (Feige, producer and President of Marvel Studios) and with Ken (Branagh, the movie’s director) and getting a sense of the story that they want to tell. And if the story that they wanted to tell was about the god king who is cast down to earth and has to learn humility before he can return home.

You figure out what that structure is and more importantly you figure out who the human being is. It helps. It’s the first rule that you apply to any other writing effort, you find the person in the middle of the story, what their story is and you tell it. In this case it was Thor and it was also Loki (Thor’s brother) and Odin (Thor’s father) in between them and the rest comes out of that inherent conflict.

Can you talk about discovering Thor in the comics?

Thor - Clark Gregg
Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg, center) © 2011 MVLFFLLC

Don Payne: I was just a big Marvel fan since I was a kid and I just was drawn to mythology and that was the perfect blend of both. I also loved seeing him in The Avengers, ‘cause it was a strange group of eclectic heroes that doesn’t seem like they belong together and ultimately they do.

Zack Stentz: The issues that were my favorites were putting Thor and Loki together and that goes all the way back to Norse mythology. And there’s just something very primal and awesome about putting a strong man and a clever man together and at odds with each other.

Ashley: And for me I was a gigantic fan of Thor as a lad. I’ve got a complete run of everything that Simonson breathed on with that character. And what really excited me was the possibility of doing the story where a frog finds the hammer and becomes Thor, but Kevin and Ken said no, ’That’s not happening.’ So we kept it a big guy who looks good in 3D.

How would you describe Thor and what makes him different from other superheroes?

Thor - Tadanobu Asano, Joshua Dallas and Ray Stevenson
Hogun (Tadanobu Asano), Fandral (Joshua Dallas), and Volstagg (Ray Stevenson) © 2011 MVLFFLLC

Ashley: Thor’s nearly invulnerable. He’s supernaturally strong, he has the ability to fly and he is gifted with a great hammer that control the storms. As the prince and golden boy, he’s never heard of the work ‘no,’ and he’s been allowed to do practically everything he’s ever wanted to do.

Now, at the point in the other stories where the hero is bitten by a spider or hit by a gamma blast, Thor is stripped of every quality and possession that makes him what he believes he is. And on top of that, he is banished to a strange place. That makes him a displaced prince who is now a pauper – and so, he’s one of us.

Was Loki a tricky character to write?

Don: I think all three of us were trying to find the right balance between how much does he know, how bad is he, at what point what did he really do get to the character we all know and hate and love at the end.

Thor - Natalie Portman and Kat Dennings
Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) and Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings) © 2011 MVLFFLLC

Ashley: I think the great thing about Loki is that he is always smart, he’s always crafting these intricate things that almost always work, but he goes on step too far all the time. He brings Thor down to the lowest he’s ever been and that’s actually the ting that triggers Thor’s redemption at the end. And that seems to reflect the comics quite a bit.

Zack: So what I love about Loki too as a character is that if you asked him, he would say that he is the hero of that movie and it’s interesting putting yourself in the mindset of someone who from his perspective is completely right in what he’s doing. And that’s the god standard of a great villain in some ways.

Marvel is probably thinking of the next eight films they want to make – did you ever butt heads between your desire to make one film and their desire to empire build?

Ashley: Here’s the ting, and we’ve worked for a lot of different people in this town, a lot of studios, and I’ve got to say the thing I love most about working with Marvel and Kevin Feige really personifies this.

Usually when you go into a room and you sit down wit somebody and you’re talking to them about their franchise character or comic book, you have to have a conversation about why that character or franchise is cool Marvel already know that it’s cool, you don’t have to justify Thor to Marvel. You don’t have to explain to them why the characters works and why people are passionate about it, all you have to do is agree on what the best story to tell.