How the Women of Loki Steal the Show

When Kate Herron pitched herself as director of Marvel’s Disney+ series Loki, the first slide said, “Sorry.” Self-deprecation comes naturally to Brits, and the London-born filmmaker wanted to ease the Marvel Studios bigwigs in Burbank into her vision for the Disney+ series. But, admittedly, it’s also a word she frequently uses in conversation. “I say ‘sorry’ all the time,” Herron tells ELLE.com over a Zoom call from Atlanta, where she’s finishing up post-production for the final episodes of the series. “I just throw it into sentences.”

With Loki, Herron has nothing to apologize for—especially when it comes to the seriously unapologetic female characters who force Tom Hiddleston’s God of Mischief in a dramatic new direction. “I’ve been so swept up in the Loki story,” the director enthuses. “I just wanted to be part of whatever his next chapter is.”

The Loki of the limited series is not the same one who perished at the beginning of Infinity War. Rather, he’s the scallywag who appeared in Endgame during a “time heist” to 2012 and the events of the first Avengers movie. When the time- and space-traveling Tesseract (the space stone) gets knocked to his feet, this Loki—who just wreaked havoc across New York City—manages to escape his avenging captors. It’s an interesting way into the Asgardian god’s solo story; at this point, he hasn’t gone through the trials and familial tribulations that transform him from villain to antihero in the lead-up to his demise. But for Herron, that made for a far more exciting story. When she read the initial scripts, penned by head writter Michael Waldron and his writing team Elissa Karasik, Eric Martin, and Bisha K. Ali (who is now show-running the Ms. Marvel series), she immediately related to them. “‘I am Loki, God of outcasts. They see themselves in me and I in them,’” Herron says, quoting a line from Daniel Kibblesmith’s comics run for the character. “That’s why I connect so much with the character. I haven’t always felt like I fitted in, and I loved that underdog story of seeing him have room for change and for growth.”

The series opens with Loki becoming ensnared with the Time Variance Authority (TVA), a bureaucratic organization that exists outside of time and space and monitors the “sacred timeline,” controlled by the ominous Time Keepers. The demigod is given a choice: face being erased from existence, since his spontaneous Tesseract trip turned him into a “time variant,” or help Agent Mobius (Owen Wilson) and the Minutemen, military enforcers who track down timeline disruptors, stop a threat that endangers the past, present, and future of the universe. “He’s so chaotic and we’ve put him into a place of complete order,” Herron explains. “That alone is going to spark some interesting reactions from him. Identity is the core of the show, and also that gray area between good and evil. Is anyone truly good or truly bad?”

Loki is ultimately a sci-fi detective series, and Herron’s vision for the TVA, a world never seen in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) before, was one inspired not just by its Marvel comic appearances and sci-fi noirs like Brazil and Blade Runner, but her hometown. “I grew up in southeast London and there’s a lot of brutalist architecture. A Clockwork Orange was filmed down the road from me,” she says. “I also used to work in a lot of offices. There were a lot of older computers that were really archaic, that didn’t work, and I thought it’d be really fun if the TVA didn’t have this futuristic technology. You can’t quite place it in time.”

The TVA is presided over by Ravonna Renslayer (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), a former Hunter who has risen up the ranks to secure her position as a judge tasked with overseeing TVA operations. Mbatha-Raw was in Herron’s pitch presentation for the series, but it’s not the first time the British actor, known for her lead roles in Belle, Blinded by the Light, and Fast Color, has been up for a Marvel job. “I felt happy taking on Renslayer because she is powerful in her own right,” Mbatha-Raw explains. “She’s not a love interest, she’s not a damsel in distress, she’s worked her way up. I’ve worked my way up in a different way in the industry, and I like the fact that there’s a complexity to her that maybe wasn’t around in some of the things I’ve been offered or auditioned for in the past.”

gugu mbatha raw as ravonna renslayer in loki

Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Ravonna Renslayer in Loki.

Marvel Studios

Wunmi Mosaku, who plays Hunter B-15, a high-ranking officer of the TVA, joined the franchise in a rather covert manner. “When I got the call I got the part, I hadn’t realized I auditioned for it, because it was all top secret,” Mosaku recalls. “I was very excited. I watched every film Loki was in.”

In fact, Mosaku’s audition impressed the casting team so much that they reshaped the character, who didn’t exist before the series, for her to play. “Wunmi was someone that blew us all out of the water,” Herron says. “That role was originally written as a male character. Some of my favorite women in sci-fi, like Ripley in Alien, were originally written as male, and it’s so exciting that she can fit into that group of badass women in sci-fi.”

“I got to start from zero, build up, and figure her out,” Mosaku adds. “The TVA, what they were built for, is quite simple: to protect the sacred timeline. Anytime I come into contact with anyone outside of the TVA, it means that they have disrupted the timeline, so my personality comes out in how she deals with those disruptors. She doesn’t pull any punches. She’s completely, authentically herself.”

Mbatha-Raw and Mosaku relished the opportunity to take on physical performances. Their characters are seasoned fighters, and the two trained together during rehearsals to prove just how handy in a fight they could be. “Stunt training is a joy because I come from a dance background; I love the physicality of fight choreography, and it was nice to get to figure out how Renslayer would move considering she’s now in a suit,” Mbatha-Raw says. “She’s not a scrappy fighter; she’s a very precise, elegant, lethal fighter, but she doesn’t waste her energy.”

director kate herron on the set of loki with stars tom hiddleston and owen wilson

Director Kate Herron on the set of Loki with stars Tom Hiddleston and Owen Wilson.

Chuck Zlotnick

For Mosaku, playing a strong, curvy action character was a form of representation she’s rarely seen onscreen. “I love that I have my natural hair, I have my West African physique, and I’m really playing the strength of my physical body,” she says. “‘Strong’ looks one way a lot of the time, like it’s a certain body type, and actually, ‘strong’ is many different shapes and frames. If you’re strong, you’re strong—however you look.”

Loki is the third Disney+ series to launch in the last six months, following in the footsteps of WandaVision and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, all of which explore supporting characters who’ve made a lasting impact on the MCU in the last decade. This expansion of superhero stories across film and television, and the enticement of big stars and indie filmmakers into its creative fold, has earned ire from some cinephiles, critics, and industry names like Martin Scorsese and Jennifer Aniston, who see it as a somewhat stranglehold over entertainment. Mosaku disagrees.

“It’s such a shame. We all need to eat, and sometimes doing things that give you a platform means you can do more,” she says. “I love theater, but this is fun. My job is fun and there are moments where it’s really difficult depending on what you’re playing and the world you’re inhabiting. It’s exhausting and draining, but there’s also so much to be said for Black Panther. That’s not superficial. As soon as I watched that film, I wanted to be a part of the MCU as a serious actor.”

How long Mosaku will be a part of this world is yet to be determined, as viewers will have to wait weekly to learn the fates of B-15, Ravonna Renslayer, and, of course, Loki. But as with all the live-action films and TV series in the MCU, their narratives are all threaded together, so it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that their journeys continue to the big screen. Mbatha-Raw suggested the series as an “origin story” for Renslayer while Waldron went to co-write the script for 2022’s Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. But in the Time Variance Authority that is Marvel Studios, CEO Kevin Feige is the ultimate Timekeeper, and it’s up to him to decide just how sacred these characters are to his timeline. And he likes to keep things close to his chest.

“Our show is going to connect with other things that are going to happen in the MCU, so that’s obviously a big responsibility, and also very exciting,” Herron says. “But that’s probably all I can say!”

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