SPOILER ALERT: This story discusses major plot developments in Marvel Studios’ “Thor: Love and Thunder,” currently playing in theaters.
When Jennifer Kaytin Robinson first got a call from Marvel Studios, it wasn’t about writing the script for “Thor: Love and Thunder” with director Taika Waititi.
“I actually pitched to write ‘Captain Marvel 2,’” Robinson tells Variety. “And off of that pitch, they were like, ‘So we’re not giving you this job. We’re going to pair you with Taika and you’re going to help him on ‘Thor.””
At the time, Waititi was in the throes of awards season for 2019’s “Jojo Rabbit,” which won the filmmaker the Oscar for best adapted screenplay, and needed a partner to work through the film’s delicate tightrope walk of a story: Thor (Chris Hemsworth) battles the existential threat of Gorr the God Butcher (Christian Bale) with his ex-girlfriend Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), who’s become the superhero the Mighty Thor through the mystical hammer Mjolnir — which also erases the effects of the stage 4 cancer ravaging her body.
Robinson talked with Variety about the “responsibility” of navigating Jane’s storyline, what it’s like working on a set with Waititi, her trust in Marvel Studios chief Kevin Feige, and why she suspected Hercules was the big reveal in the movie’s post-credits scene — even if she didn’t know who would play him. (One thing Robinson wouldn’t discuss: Who Lena Headey played in her deleted scenes in the movie: “You’ll never know. Unless Taika or Kevin tell you.”)
When you started working with Taika Waititi on the script, did you have a specific area you were focusing on, or was it more all over?
I would say all over. It was really like: There was a really amazing blueprint. Then it was just about digging into the blueprint. It was pulling back the layers and really getting into the character stuff. Jane’s story was something that I had a big hand in. That was kind of where I was the most useful, I think, to the process.
How did the storyline with Jane’s cancer evolve from your perspective?
It was always there. Obviously, it’s in the comics, and it was in Taika’s first draft. And then it was just about, you know, what does this mean? We had a lot of conversations, especially with Natalie, about, you know, we have a responsibility here. What an amazing thing to be able to show a superhero with cancer and really not shy away from the ugliness of it and the things that are hard about it, but also really being able for this character to shine. A lot of the conversations were like, “How do we do this justice and how do we put something on screen that’s going to mean something and resonate with cancer survivors?”
Before the film opened, everyone, including Natalie, avoided confirming that Jane had cancer, but her first scene in the film is during her chemotherapy treatment. Was that always the case?
Yeah. I don’t know if I’m allowed to say this, but I think it’s fine: In the original draft, it was actually before the Marvel [Studios logo]. It was even earlier in Taika’s original draft. That always was a moving piece — ultimately, it did become [the origins for] Gorr and I think it’s awesome. But [Jane’s cancer] was never going to be a gotcha moment. It was always, like, this is the story of this woman. This is her arc. And this is where it starts.
How did you navigate including this real and painful storyline within a giant, fantastical superhero movie?
I think we just always tried to look for the truth and the emotion behind it, and really come from a human place. And not a general human place — it’s a Jane human place. It’s thinking how would Jane handle this, how does Jane move through her diagnosis? Specificity, I think, is what makes the best story and something feel universal. And this was specifically Jane’s story. Because yeah, most cancer survivors don’t have a magic hammer that they can access that’s gonna make them a superhero and give them huge arms. There’s definitely a lot of really fantastical things, and then you have a scene where she just tells her boyfriend she has cancer, and she’s very nervous to do that. That’s a very human, real scene — on a boat in space. (Laughs)
It felt at times like there was more to Valkyrie’s story than we ended up seeing on screen. Was there a version where we saw more of her life on New Asgard?
No. The New Asgard part of Valkyrie’s story is maybe a little bit condensed, but it really was what was in the earlier drafts. You know, the script was very long and the movie is not as long as the script. But those choices were really more on the Kevin/Taika side than on the me side.
When I interviewed Natalie Portman for Variety‘s cover story, she talked about how Taika shoots very unconventionally — that he’ll essentially throw out the script on the day.
You also worked on those pages, of course — what was it like when you’d be on set and that would happen?
We worked on them together. He threw out his own work! We really sat in rooms and Zooms together for months and months and months, and then we would get there, and we would rehearse it, and — “throw it out” is the wrong word. I mean, he does throw it out, but the core is still there. I would say he pluses — he can’t help but always try to plus. I can’t imagine Taika is ever going to write something and be like, “It’s done and we’ll shoot it.”
So how would he approach that part of the process?
There were different versions. We would read what we were shooting the next day around a table, and it would be like, idea, idea, idea. I would sit with my laptop and listen and just close my Heimdall eyes and write something and then turn my computer around to him and say, “This?” So that was one version of it. Another version is in the first blocking rehearsal, things would start to change, and I would just have my computer and be typing with one hand, following Taika around as he moved things and changed things. There’s a bit that is not in the film, but it was Hemsworth and Pratt walking through this trench, and I just remember it was such an out-of-body experience, as I’m like walking behind Taika, Chris and Chris with a laptop in this literal trench that they built that looks like you’re in a planet. And I’m just like, “What the fuck? How did I get here?” It was very bizarre.
And then I would say, the third version of the way that Taika directs is he literally stands behind the monitor, and I would stand next to him, and it would just be shouting things. I was never shouting. I would always pitch to Taika and then Taika would choose what he liked. But I had a lot of time where I had a mini monitor next to Taika, and we were just writing the movie almost in real time as they were shooting it. So there were all different kinds of versions of putting together this film. Taika’s brain just moves at a pace that should not be allowed. It’s like, the way that he kind of thinks or looks at things and like his capacity to kind of play, but also have total control is really astounding.
Was there ever a time where you felt like you had accidentally rewritten yourselves into a corner based on other stuff that you’d shot before?
No, I think that Taika and I were a good team, in that I was kind of a person who was there to remind him, “Oh, get this line. Oh, get that.” He was able to lean on me in that and be able to go off in all these different places, knowing that he had a person there who was able to bring it back if it needed to be. When you get into the edit, you know, the whole thing kind of blows up anyway. So I always tried to kind of be there to make sure that the thing that was needed was said. Usually, in a Marvel movie, those are very small things.
Were you involved at all with the post-credit scene, where we learn Brett Goldstein is playing Hercules?
I saw that at the premiere with everybody else. In the same way that I guess Taika didn’t know Thor was coming back, I did not know that Roy Kent was Hercules. I’m a huge Marvel fan, so I was delighted to have one moment in the movie where I was truly surprised.
You didn’t know about any of it?
I knew there was talk about Hercules. The name Hercules was not not said in conversations that I definitely, probably wasn’t supposed to overhear, but did. So the minute I saw the beginning of the scene, I knew he was gonna be talking to Hercules. I didn’t know who they cast. But I was like, is this gonna be Hercules? I just knew that it was a thing that they were like, “We’re gonna want leeway with this, so stay away from it.”
Working with Marvel Studios can be an experience unto itself. Were there any big surprises for you working on this film?
Not really. The job was to write with and for Taika. The job was to write for Marvel. I understood the job. And so I wasn’t going into it with any preconceived notions of like, what the job was going to be, needed to be, should be. I just kind of was on the ride. If you just give yourself over to the ride of working for Marvel, it’s really exciting. It’s really fun. You have the biggest toy box in the world to play in and with. For me, especially coming from my first show, “Sweet/Vicious,” I already kind of had a brain where this was a place that I wanted to go in my career. So to get here, I was just like, “Hell yeah, I’m in for whatever this is.” Every job, there are days when it’s really challenging, where you’re beating your head against the wall. But there are also days where you’re in a trench with two Chrises and Taika on a stage in Australia, you’re like, “This is insane.” So I think it’s just riding the waves of having a very high stakes job that is also incredibly fun.
Are you anticipating working with Marvel again?
I don’t know. At this point, I’m very open to wherever life takes me. Something that I’ve learned in this business is that you can try to plan and plans will be thrown back in your face and you’ll be laughed at. So I have stopped planning. If I get a call and they want me to come in and pitch on something, and it’s something that I feel like I would be right for, yeah, I would work with Marvel again. The one thing I’ll say is Kevin really understands putting together writers and directors and executives and projects — creating that creative soup. So if Kevin feels that I am right for something, I really trust him, because I think I would be set up for success.
This interview has been edited and condensed.