How 'Loki' Director Kate Herron Built Loki and Sylvie's Bond
The director breaks down "Lamentis" and what's to come.
The most recent episode of Disney+'s Loki offers our hero, the trickster god of Asgard, the chance to get to know his new companion who may or may not be a version of himself. "Lamentis" moves the action away from the Time Variance Authority and offers a chance for Tom Hiddleston's Loki to chat it up with Sophia Di Martino's Sylvie, another Loki who has been causing chaos across the timeline. Trying to escape Gugu Mbatha-Raw's Ravonna Renslayer, they are zapped to a moon that's about to be destroyed.
Director Kate Herron saw the episode as a "character study" that just happens to be taking place at the end of the world. During the hour, Loki, for the first time in the MCU, confirms he's bisexual, while he and Sylvie start to untangle some of each other's mysteries. Herron, best known for her work on Sex Education Season 1, spoke to Thrillist from her childhood bedroom about Loki's coming out moment, developing Sylvie, and variants.
Thrillist: Loki is confirmed bi for the first time in the MCU. It's a huge step forward for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and I know you tweeted about how important it was to you. How did it come about?
Kate Herron: I thought the writers wrote it in really beautifully. It's a small step in the sense that it's just he's talking about it, but then, see, it's a big step because people online have been like, "This is massive for me. This helped me come out," or, "In the country I'm from, this is huge." I was like, "OK, that's great." It was just nice because in the comic books, he's been written as bi. He's also being written as pan, and I think, for me, it was just getting to acknowledge his identity in that sense because it does build a part of who someone is. I just thought, "Well, it's canon in the comics, so if we can find a way to do it, that can work within our story."
What were the discussions about how you wanted to stage it with Tom and Sophia?
I think, honestly, it was just for us about it feeling like a natural conversation, but that kind of fell more into the tone of the overall scene. Bisha [Ali], the writer, her two touchstone references were Children of Men and Before Sunrise, in the sense you're seeing these two characters get to know each other, but it's in this very complicated, apocalyptic world. They're trying to suss each other out and he's like, "Are you a Loki? What's your story?" It's almost like an intimate thing in the sense that it's like a character study, right? But the backdrop is an apocalypse because it's Loki.
What were the challenges of finding these relationship moments amid this apocalypse? It feels like a romantic film in some ways, this relationship that's brewing between these two characters.
For me, it was just about it becoming a character study. Not necessarily romantic, but Loki doesn't have many friends, you know? He builds this friendship with Mobius across the second episode. It was really about crafting out characters that, by the time they get to the city at the end of the show, they're going to work as a team. And they have to have gone on a journey and maybe they'll be friends, we don't know, but at least they are at a point where, "OK, I've got your back in this moment."
I remember reading in Bisha's writing, you really felt like you were with the characters and I remember that I loved the idea of [feeling] like you were in a real apocalypse for the first time, which sounds silly. When Loki and Mobius are at Pompeii, for example, that's shown through Loki's POV, right? He's joyous and he cracked the case. Pompeii was horrific, but we're seeing it through his perspective and he's in a completely different headspace. Whereas Roxxcart, it's got an element of this cracking the case when we start to peel back a bit and be like, "No, these apocalypses are quite scary." And I think then, with Lamentis, it was the next step. It was like, "Actually, this is quite a scary scenario here." The key for the finale bit was that I wanted the audience to feel like they were along for the ride with Sylvie and Loki as they try and get to the ark. So, that's why I was like, "We should just have it as this big epic shot."
How did you conceive of Lamentis?
I'm very story-driven and I remember that Bisha, she's a sci-fi genius, and she had written in a lot of backstory and history of the moon and the idea that this mining colony and they dig below the surface to mine its ore. Kasra [Farahani], my production designer, was really inspired by that, and he was like, "Why don't we have this amazing black sand and the purple ore is below the black sand?" Then, there's elements of it that tip a little bit Western in places because of the big expanse and the look we did with some of the shots and the ghost town aspect. It was always to make the apocalypses feel visually striking and different to one another because the TVA are our base and, obviously, we spend a lot of time there. That has a very specific look. Whenever we leave the TVA, I think it was really just about making them feel real in some way. Because like Roxxcart, I wanted that to feel like a big futuristic store, but I suppose in the sense of Children of Men, it has some futuristic elements to it, but it doesn't feel so futuristic that it's not something real to us.
It says a lot that like in each of these apocalypses, there are people going to be taking advantage of other people. Is that something you're hoping to tease out throughout the show?
Definitely. I mean, we see hints of it in the storm shelter and Roxxcart. Like I said, these are just poor people that are trying to shelter and the place that's sheltering them is like, "Oh, great. Well, you can pay this much for a bottle of water if you're thirsty." And it's definitely something we're carrying across [the season]. I know that Bisha, as well, she built this amazing world with Episode 3 in terms of the class system. And obviously, we're seeing it through Loki and Sylvie's POV. You know, neither of them are good or bad. A complete, pure good hero would probably join the queue and be like, "Well, hopefully we'll get on the train." But they're not those characters. They're going to try and get on it.
This is the first time we're really getting to know Sylvie. We don't really even know what she is. How did you and Sophia work together to get her right?
Sophia's an amazing actor. We've worked together before, but it was so nice to be on this crazy giant set with her and be like, "We're actually doing this." She has this amazing vulnerability in everything she does, but she's also so funny, and so quick and powerful. I'd seen her do all these amazing performances across the years, and I felt like, "Oh man, I just want to see her read for Sylvie and just see what she brings." And obviously, she read for it and everyone was like, "Oh my god, she's amazing."
I suppose you always start from the outside, right? We worked with my costume designer, Christine Wada. And we were like, "OK, so she has this cloak, obviously." She's in this cloak because she's in disguise. But then, you can also attribute that to her hair. Her hair is dyed blonde. We've seen lots of characters in many novels and movies do that. They go to the toilet and they dye their hair a different color if they're on the run. That was interesting to me in just sense of who her character's paying homage to because she's called Sylvie. It's like, "OK, so where is this character with their identity?" Because she doesn't like being called Loki; her hair is a completely different color.
I think that's the thing that's really key for her is that she's a completely original character, completely born out of our writers, and that, for me, was exciting. And then, it was really just working with Sophia with the backstory and being like, "OK, so, yeah, what is she like?" She said, by the end, it's like, "I don't really know anything about you." And she was like, "Yeah, thanks for the tactical advantage." But obviously, as the show unfolds, we will reveal more, and, for lack of a better analogy, we peel back the onion more.
Did you think about how Loki and Sylvie were going to echo each other in certain ways?
We definitely [it] built in across everything. With our stunt coordinator, Monique Ganderton, we'd be like, "Oh, let's find a place for them to mirror each other." I mean, you see it, right? When they both go for each other at the elevator before they fall through the time door. It's like they're doing the same move and it's like, "Oh, that's so annoying." Likewise, in the finale, when they are both running to the ark, how they are fighting is identical. She's not like "a faded photocopy," like he says. She's her own character. She's different, and they've had different lives. They're not going to be the same. And I think that the fun thing is, where is the line of similarity and where do they become someone else, which also falls back into our Loki, right? Because he isn't the Loki from the last 10 years of Marvel, he's now on this very different path.
How did you get into moments of vulnerability with Tom?
We had this amazing chat, obviously, when I first got the job, and I think for me, it was always coming from I want to pay respect to what's come before. I love the character and I love the character across the comics. I also love his interpretation of the character. I wanted him to, I guess, know that it was in safe hands in that respect. But something we were both synchronized on completely was that there has to be a reason to go back. He always describes Loki's personality as keys on a piano. And we've seen certain keys, but we haven't seen all of them. And I think for us, the real thing was almost like leaping off this cliff together and being like, "OK, I've got your back and let's see these different shades to this character that we can explore in the show that we haven't got to do before."
What was it like opening up those fissures in the Loki pompousness and Loki attitude that you see in The Avengers in moments like the train scene?
The train scene I love because Loki doesn't get many wins and it's nice to see him having a nice sing-song. He's just enjoying himself. Because I think that's such a funny way, as well, to show the difference between him and Sylvie is that she's on a mission. She's like, "We're going to get off this moon." And when she's offered a drink, she's like, "No, thank you." But Loki's like, "Yeah, I'll take the drink." I remember I had this diagram with Christine from costume. People will see it as the show goes on, but across this episode in particular, Loki's lost his Variant jacket. He doesn't have that by the end, and it's like, as a Loki, he's transforming and in that sense, it's almost like his outer appearance does as well, in the sense that his jacket's gone, but also he gets more dirty. And Sylvie's the same. She loses her horns on the train, and she loses that coat that we've seen her hiding under in the first two episodes.
The drunk scene was so fun. Was that as fun as it looked to execute?
It was very fun, yeah. It was very surreal because when you film scenes with music, obviously, like Tom singing a cappella, we don't have a musician playing the actual song, but it was really fun. I think it was just nice and everyone was up for it. And Christine designed these beautiful costumes for all the passengers on the train. I think Tom had a good time and he improvised that line, "Another," which obviously is an amazing reference to his brother. That's the thing with Tom as well, is that he's the Loki encyclopedia. If you have an actor who's played a character for a decade and is like, "Oh, I'm going to throw in this great line." It's like, "Yeah, please."
What was the song?
We wrote that specifically for the show, and it was just meant to be a song from Asgard. It's something that he would have heard, that maybe Sylvie would have heard. But I think it's just probably a song that they sing when they're having a party. I've seen people do translations of it online, which is incredible.
The other big reveal is Sylvie's announcement that all the people working for the TVA are variants. How did you think about depicting that and threading that line through these first three episodes?
I wouldn't want to spoil anything, but I would say that yeah, as she said, everything is not what it seems and even in our design, people have picked up on certain things. Like the way that they dress, or the posters and that there's something a bit more going on there.
I always think of the first episode like a prologue, and then the second one is this new adventure and you're like, "Oh, it's going to be this detective story." Then, I love that he meets Sylvie and, it's cheesy, but she completely opens up his world. I think that's the fun thing of it: The story takes this tangent and it's actually what you think is not the truth. And I think that is something that echoes across our whole show, the idea of good and evil, and also echoes back to Loki himself.