Loki director Kate Herron discusses the Variant reveal, how lockdown changed episode 2
Warning: This article contains spoilers about the first two episodes of Loki.
We're only two episodes into Loki's six-episode run, and the timey-wimey Disney+ series has already thrown a lot of the audience - from the introduction of the surprisingly powerful Time Variance Authority to Mobius (Owen Wilson) recruiting Tom Hiddleston's mercurial trickster to help catch another Loki variant, and, as of episode 2, the revelation that Sophia Di Martino is playing that elusive Variant. That revelatory hour had an explosive ending, too: The Variant bombed the sacred timeline, and Loki followed her through a portal as she ran from the TVA. Where do we go from here? That remains to be seen.
"It definitely sets us onto an exciting path to the story, and we find out who is this Variant," says director and executive producer Kate Herron, teasing episode 3.
Below, EW chats with Herron about the seasons' first two episodes.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: When we spoke back in April, you told me your time working in offices inspired the look of the TVA. What details from your own experience did you put into the show?
KATE HERRON: A big factor was the retro-futuristic-style technology. I love that the people at the top of the tree wouldn't necessarily have the most futuristic tech. When I worked in an office, I was definitely using a computer that should've been long gone over a decade ago but wasn't because it wasn't broken so they weren't going to fix it. I thought there was something quite funny in that. You can see that in TVA, like the robot that Loki encounters in that first [episode]. It definitely seems like it needs a bit of a fixer up and it's just sort of left there because it's still working. Then there were details across it like the people carrying cups, those posters telling you to behave or do certain things felt very much like office culture to me. And tiny details like the little plastic finger that the archivists [in the TVA library] use; I used to use those as a medical secretary when I worked in paperwork.
In that same interview, you mentioned that you had to DJ something from your laptop in a spoilery scene in the premiere. You said you and Tom weren't sure if anyone else knew what was going on. What scene was that?
Basically, when I [initially] pitched to Marvel, I only had that first script from [head writer Michael Waldron]. I said that something I felt very strongly about was that it [had to] feel like we were in the room with Loki when he's seeing those memories. I was really inspired by the film Minority Report when he sees the projection of his wife because she's no longer there, but she's life-size and in the room with him, and that's very painful. I thought that would be something interesting to take for the moments in the Time Theatre because then I could frame the room with Mobius and Loki while he's almost watching this play of his life on stage. I didn't want it to feel like he was watching a movie because that kind of broke it for me. To us, the audience, these are movies that we've seen, but to Loki, they're not. They're his memories and his life. I think having these 3D projections on stage allowed me to capture that.
The practical way of doing that I thought would be quite simple, but it's actually quite complicated because actually the way we designed those scenes, there's like a call-and-response: You hear a line on stage, and then you hear a line from Loki in the room or Mobius in the room. It's all kind of building up to this climax of when Loki sees his mom. It's very rhythmic, the way the dialogue flows and the way I wanted to land that punch of when he lands on the floor. The best way to do that, honestly, was that I had on my laptop edited together all these memories and a speaker plugged into my laptop. Essentially, I just DJ'd these scenes for the actors so that they had something to react to. On the day, there's me on my laptop with a speaker plugged in, both our actors reacting to a wall [Laughs], and a lot of people on set haven't seen a script before. So me and Tom were just laughing because they must have just thought, "What is this project? What is this?" It was quite a technically complicated scene, but I'm happy with how it all came together.
What movies and TV shows were at the front of your mind as references for episode 2?
I would say I dug into even more of those sci-fi references that were evident in episode 1, like Brazil, Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Metropolis, Blade Runner, you know, kind of like our grab bag for all of the TVA stuff. When I pitched to Marvel, a big thing about the style and the look of the show was that I was so excited reading [episode 2 writer Elissa Karasik's] script because I was like, "This is great! It reads like a detective story." I always thought of episode 1 as the prologue and episode 2 as our chapter 1 for Loki. So, I think it was exciting to me because the Variant was attacking from shadows and darkness, and that felt to me very film noir. Mobius is like a detective in the way that he works with Loki. So, that really informs the way I wanted to approach filming it. It's not like just episode 2 will have this look. We carry it across the show. I remember Kevin Feige said that was one of the big draws of being like, "Yeah, she's the right director for this," because it wasn't something they thought about in that way before. Obviously, there's a reference to Se7en in episode 2 I'm sure people spotted.
In terms of the sci-fi aspect and time travel, I just wanted to make sure all these [time periods] they were going to generally felt grounded, with [the exception] of Pompeii. That's from Loki's POV so it's heightened and it's got a different feel to it because Pompeii was horrific but we're seeing Loki cracking the case. Whereas it was important to me when they go to Roxxcart to remind the audience these are real apocalypses. You obviously had a lot of fun in terms of leaving details like how much a bottle of water is and the fact that they're charging people for safety blankets in this big capitalist store. But beyond that, global warming had reached Alabama in 2050. I think that moment in the shelter with the people, you really feel for those people, I hope, because it is scary and like, "These apocalypses are actually quite horrible." I never wanted the time travel to feel glossy. Like the Ren-Faire in the '80s is muddy and feels very real to me rather than this shiny, bubblegum version of the '80s.
During the pandemic lockdown, you started editing the footage you captured before everything shut down to see what was and wasn't working, and you guys made some tonal tweaks for when you got up and running again. Did anything change in the first two episodes?
Yeah, definitely. There were bits from the TVA, like the chat about religion. The salad metaphor, that's something that came out of us cutting [things] together and seeing the playfulness in Loki and being like, "Let's push the playfulness here," like when he's trying to explain his theory.
For example, even tonal stuff. I didn't have the composer at this point. One of the songs from my playlist that I pitched with [by] Clara Rockmore ["18 Morceaux, Op. 72: No. 2. Berceuse (Arr. For Theremin And Piano)"] is in episode 2. That's the song that plays when we first go to Renslayer's office. But I didn't have my composer. Basically, [Natalie Holt] pitched on it, and she was just sending me bits of music, and I think that really helped me shape the tone of the show because I love music. I was really enjoying shaping the emotion of the scenes to that because, like Loki, we have several different tones and genres going on here.
Episode 2 revealed that Sophia Di Martino is the Variant that Loki is chasing, and many people are calling her Lady Loki. Is it accurate to refer to her as Lady Loki?
I would say that next week's episode we dig more into that. I don't want to spoil anything for people tuning in next week.
You've worked with Sophia before. What made her the right person for this role based on your past experiences with her?
I worked with her on quite a few of my short films and I thought she was fantastic. But she's also on a show called Flowers, which I strongly recommend people go watch. You can watch it on Netflix. In that show, she's like funny, but she has all this pain, and so much in the DNA of what she's done as an actor to me feels very interesting. When we were looking for people for this character, I was like, "This is an actor we should get to read for it." And we were all very excited about what she did.
Can we expect later episodes to dive into what's going on with Gugu Mbatha-Raw's Ravonna Renslayer?
I think the exciting thing about Gugu, who is an actor I loved and pitched for this role, is that what we're doing with the character is an origin story and it is different from the comics. There's obviously a lot to dig into, but it's definitely a unique story for her. From, I guess, a fan perspective, it would be hard to predict where her story is going.
While watching episode 2, I realized I was curious about how someone even becomes a TVA analyst or starts working for the TVA. Will the season dig into that kind of minutiae? Or do you and Michael at least have an idea of all of those details of its inner workings?
There's definitely a very interesting hierarchy at the TVA, and The Hudsucker Proxy was definitely one of my references for it. It was definitely something I was looking into through building out the world of the TVA. But yeah, I would say the show digs more into the inner workings of the place and how does it work as we spend more time with our characters there.
New episodes of Loki are available Wednesdays on Disney+.
This post has been updated.
Loki (TV Series)