When Game of Thrones director Alan Taylor signed on to make to make the sequel to Thor back in December 2011, he found himself confronting two equally terrifying scenarios: either Marvel’s ambitious blockbuster initiative The Avengers would come out and be a monster hit, or it would underperform and prove that audiences weren’t, in the end, all that interested in a cinematic universe that allowed Marvel’s biggest superheroes to cross-pollinate each other’s movies.
As it happened, the studio’s ambitious gamble paid off and Taylor found himself shooting Thor: The Dark World in the full knowledge that The Avengers – which featured his film’s protagonist (Chris Hemsworth’s Thor) and its antagonist (Tom Hiddleston’s Loki) – was on its way to becoming the third highest-grossing movie of all time.
“Then Iron Man 3 came out while we were in post-production, so I could feel the bar rising up a bit,” says Taylor. “With those two hugely performing movies, and Marvel on a roll, you don’t want to be the one who brings the train to a screeching halt.”
Taylor will likely have a couple of anxious weeks ahead of him before he can properly relax in this respect, but his position as the film’s director is further evidence of Marvel’s willingness to make left-field choices when it comes to matching filmmakers to their projects. Hired after original director Patty Jenkins (Monster) left the project amid rumours of creative differences (“That was always a little mysterious,” says Taylor, who reckons she would have made a fascinating movie), Taylor is primarily known for being a TV director, having spent most of the years since making his feature debut – the 1995 indie film Palookaville – helming the kind of landmark shows responsible for ushering in the current golden age of American television. The Sopranos, The West Wing, Deadwood, Lost, Rome, Mad Men, Boardwalk Empire – he’s worked on them all, although he knows it was his involvement with Game of Thrones that piqued the interest of Marvel.
“I was like, the third director from Game of Thrones they were talking to, so they were circling that project in general. And that was particularly good news, because in doing that, they really endorsed what I wanted to do with this movie, which was ground it more and dirty it up a little bit. Game of Thrones was really a mandate for what this would be.”
Even so, he’s still finding it bizarre that he’s made superhero movie at all, particularly having begun his career in the midst of the indie film explosion that happened in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
“I came out of film school thinking I would try to follow Spike Lee’s example or dreaming of Scorsese, or trying to be the next Hal Hartley. And as I was thinking that, those economic models were dying and I didn’t know it. Then TV came along, thank God. And right now, I’m doing a superhero movie. It’s another available medium to work in – and very strange. Anybody that knows me from New York can’t believe this is what I’m doing right now.”
It certainly must have been odd to go from the richness of George RR Martin’s Game of Thrones novels to the ripeness of some of the Thor comics, though as he soon discovered, the biggest adjustment he had to make was going from “making good television, which is absolutely writer-driven, to a medium where the script is sort of the last thing on people’s minds. You know, we were pre-vizing action sequences long before we had a script.”
Sounds like a stressful way to work. “‘Stress’ is a good word for it. ‘Terrifying’ is another word for it.
“The funny thing is that when I was in television and serving the writer, it’s wonderful, because you’ve got a clear goal and you can really direct because you know the themes you’re going to be working with.
“On the other hand, sometimes as a director you can get frustrated and restless because you’re serving someone else’s vision, so it can be liberating to be freer in a way, so you can lead the charge a bit more. But you do also start appreciating what it’s like to have a strong writer. I hope to go back to TV at some point.”
That might be a while yet: Taylor’s name is currently linked to another Terminator film. “Oh, let’s see,” he says when I ask if it’s true. “It’s a rumour still, let’s say that. It’s in discussion.” Would it be a reboot or a continuation? “It’s a very interesting straddling of the two … I shouldn’t say a lot more about it.” So he can’t say if Arnold Schwarzenegger will be involved? “Erm… I’m going to let other people go public with that stuff.” • Thor: The Dark World is in cinemas from Wednesday