Keep an Eye on Gugu Mbatha-Raw's Mysterious 'Loki' Character

The actress breaks down Ravonna Renslayer, who is going to be a big deal.

gugu mbatha-raw loki
Marvel Studios
Marvel Studios

Gugu Mbatha-Raw has only had a few short scenes in the two Loki episodes that have aired so far, but the imperiousness of her character implies she'll take on a bigger role as Disney+'s latest Marvel series moves forward. It helps if you've caught the name of the Time Variance Authority administrator the actress is playing. The studio wasn't keeping it a secret in Episode 1, but the show held back her full name until TVA agent Mobius (Owen Wilson) lets it drop as they flirtatiously discuss his plan to use Loki for his own investigation. She's not just Judge Renslayer. She's "Ravonna," as in Ravonna Renslayer.

While you wouldn't know it from just watching the series, Ravonna has a storied history in the Marvel comic books. She hails from the 40th century and eventually links up with the Avengers and Kang the Conqueror (who will be appearing as the villain in the third Ant-Man movie). But, as Mbatha-Raw, who starred in the Black Mirror episode "San Junipero" and also appears in the Apple TV+ series The Morning Show, explained in a recent Zoom interview, the Loki team essentially started from scratch when it comes to Ravonna. Here's our conversation about her entry into the MCU.

ALSO READ: When Does 'Loki' Take Place in the MCU Timeline?

Thrillist: Before taking on the role, how much did you know about your character?
Gugu Mbatha-Raw:
I wasn't familiar with Ravonna Renslayer, I hadn't read the comics. Before I spoke with Kate Herron, our director, I was really starting at square one. We had a two hour conversation where she pitched me the whole show and how my character fit into the world of the TVA. It was a lot to take in. It's a whole new element of the MCU that we haven't really seen on screen before. It was really exciting.

How much did you explore the lore around Renslayer?
Luckily, I was kind of told that what we are doing is sort of an origin story for Ravonna. So in a way that was kind of good in that I felt like I didn't have to bring a bunch of stuff from the comics because there is so much there. We are sort of starting [before] all of that stuff. That gave me a lot more freedom to create something, and also just know there's lots of potential for the character.

Your back and forth with Owen Wilson in these first two episodes is wonderful. What did you want to bring to those scenes and the relationship between Renslayer and Mobius?
Owen is such a gifted actor, he's so smart and he's so great with comedy and improv, and just very sharp-witted. That's always great to work with as an actor. We'd always established that Renslayer and Mobius have a long history together. It's professional, it's like a working relationship. I think deep down, she probably does have a soft spot for him or they do care about each other. At work, she has this really high status position, and she's worked really hard to get there so she's not going to lose any of that. And then, of course, Owen is such a fun actor to work with in that way, and the character of Mobius is charming and knows how to push her buttons to get what he wants and to get her to be more lenient on the case for Loki.

Am I wrong in reading flirtation into that dynamic?
You'll just have to keep watching to find out. I don't know. We'll see. It's definitely an interesting dynamic between the two of them.

How did entering the world of the TVA, from the production design to the costumes, shape your performance and perception of the character?
It was so great. Very early on, I saw the concept art and the designs for the set and I was especially excited to see my office with the '50s modern drinks cabinet and the reel-to-reel tape recorder and all of her trinkets from previous missions and then this big desk with the power pose of the Time Keepers. It was really cool to be in that space. And then the costumes were very unusual, really. The browns and oranges of the TVA, you wouldn't necessarily think of as the most flattering but they do bring that '50s bureaucratic energy to it. But also just beautifully cut suits, but that also really moves if we need it to move because it's got this tailcoat. It was fun and a departure from a lot of the costumes you see in superhero comic book female characters.

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In the first two episodes, Ravonna is mostly seen sitting at a desk. When does she get involved in the action?
We establish her behind the judge's dais and then we see her behind her desk in her office, but obviously, toward the end of Episode 2, she does leave the office. She has to grab her time stick and she has to get to work and she's somebody with a military background. She started as a hunter herself. She does know how to fight, but because she's kind of progressed through the ranks, it's not something she has to do very often, but when she does, it's because things get really bad. Further down into the show, hopefully you'll get to see her get a little more into the action.

We don't even know the background of the people working in the TVA. How were you thinking about time in relation to playing her and what she's experienced?
As Mobius says, time goes differently in the TVA, it's just a completely different concept of time and that's the thing with the Time Keepers. In some ways, she's indoctrinated with this very, very black-and-white idea of what time should be and how things should go. That's how she's succeeded: playing by the rules of time and the sacred timeline. The idea of free will for Renslayer at least initially is just a completely chaotic idea. That's interesting to play with, and obviously the concepts of her reality kind of shift as the show goes on and I can't wait for people to see that.

Do you expect that Loki will not be the last we see of Renslayer? 
There is always that potential, and I think when there's a character that's in the comics, there's a lot of ways things could go for her, and especially when you're dealing with time. Things can go any period in the future, in the past. So that's really the exciting thing. Obviously, with a Marvel project, you know that most things are shrouded in secrecy. You have to protect the stories and make it exciting for the fans, but also knowing that there is potential for a future for this character is also really cool.

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Esther Zuckerman is a senior entertainment writer at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @ezwrites.